Archive for August, 2010

A Sense Of Community

Monday, August 30th, 2010

On Saturday morning, I went to Havenhands the Bakers in St James’s Square in Boroughbridge*, then on to the Post Office before going to Ripon to watch the start of the Annual Raft Race in the Ripon Canal Basin.  On that short journey, I met several people who I knew really well in both personal and business life, and a few others who I knew well enough to pass the time with.

It made me realise why I enjoy living in the country, in a rural space, rather than in a town or city.  I love that sense of community that gently underpins life in our rural community-scape.  We know the current Mayors of Pateley Bridge and Ripon quite well, which sounds grand but it’s not especially so in our small community – this ain’t London or New York.  We know the family that runs Boroughbridge post office, many of the local postmen, the local courier drivers, a good proportion of the local policemen, the local vicars and Dean of Ripon and many of the local schoolteachers and so on and so on.  You soon realise how many people you know who create the fabric of our local community.   And we know many of the local business people well enough to have an idle natter with, and we do have those chats.

I like that, having been brought up in a rural Northumberland.  City life never fitted comfortably, and the money never got close to compensating for a loss of that fabric that can bind people together.  While some business gurus talk about the business environment giving that community spirit, it does not really work, as there is always a hint, an undercurrent, of tension and aggression; business does not forgive mistakes and transgressions, whereas real communities live with, forgive and forget, and perhaps are defined by their own sense of forgiveness and tolerance for day-to-day transgressions amongst their own.

I feel that the Internet can go some way to recreating that sense of community and rebuild a fabric for society and go some way to letting people have a sense of belonging to something, a community, and hopefully that is a civil and decent digital and online community.  Maybe the Internet and its web can bring people together in a way that Governments really have failed to do, in spite of the billions in cash spent and huge amount of brain cells and legislation proposed on areas such as social inclusion and redevelopment.  In the end, it is people and communities that matter not politicos with an agenda to grab power.

Recently, Ripon as a community celebrated its founder, St Wilfrid, with the exuberant St Wilfrid’s Parade, full of joy and singing and not a small amount of indulgence.   This weekend our real life community had fun with its Annual Raft Race held at Ripon Canal Basin, where teams competed on a course in a mobile swan and on home-made, but rather professional, rafts; then on Sunday, it was the turn of the duck race held by The Water Rat at Alma Weir in Ripon.  What is great is the huge amount of fun and joy that people have when taking part in these community events – just look at the smiles on peoples faces and in their eyes.

That’s community, that’s North Yorkshire.

Photos from St Wilfrid’s Parade 2010 (more at Facebook):

A Vampire Screams

A Vampire Screams

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

Photos from Great Raft Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Happy Face

Happy Face

Pirate Boat

Pirate Boat

Pirates Rowing Hard

Pirates Rowing Hard

Getting Dunked...

Getting Dunked...

...And Splash

...And Splash

Photos from Great Duck Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

In The River Skell

In The River Skell

* I bought croissants, jam doughnuts, cinnamon Danish and a loaf of bread which Havenhands bake every day on site and the bakers still live above their bakery.  How about that – I bet you thought small village bakeries like that had died away and the only ones were the new wave of hip, ultra healthy microbakeries.

New Razors – Old Razors

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

I have been spending the last week  and a bit shaving with two new razors that I bought on Ebay.  They are Gillette Razors from the late 1950s – a Red Tip and a Blue Tip Super-Speed Razors.  Why, you might rightfully ask; well, with razors, Gillette is like your mother’s cooking in bakery comparisons, everyone always say “X is great but not like an old Gillette”.  So I reckoned that you needed to try an old Gillette to discover the truth in the statement.

Gillette Red Tip Razor From 1950s

Gillette Red Tip Razor From 1950s

They both look very stylish in a futuristic 1950s way like a Chevrolet El Camino, with sleek handles and decent designs on their handles that definitely improve the grip.  The handles are short at just over 7cm long, while the weights are a light 46g for the Blue Tip and a weighty 66g for the Red Tip.  I find the handles a tad on the small size for me, preferring the 9½cm handle of the Mühle razors, but that is a small price to pay for the really excellent balance on the Gillette Red Tip.  The Gillette Blue Tip, being much lighter but with the same razor head, is less well balanced. 

Gillette Superspeed Red Tip

Gillette Superspeed Red Tip

Gillette Superspeed Blue Tip Razor

Gillette Superspeed Blue Tip Razor

The beauty of these classic razors is in the engineering of the head.  Both razors have the same smooth finished, compact and well-organised and built butterfly razor system.  By twisting the tip, the razor mechanism starts moving through its complex set of synchronised moves, opening up elegantly, ready to take the blade.  It really is a dream to watch rather than the functional and clunky butterfly mechanism on the modern Parker razors (you can watch a quick video on Youtube of the mechamism by me following this link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqt–_P19YU).

Butterfly Mechanism On Gillette Red Tip Razor

Butterfly Mechanism On Gillette Red Tip Razor

I was mildy apprehensive when actually shaving with these two little beauties, as the Ebay seller had dubbed the Red Tip “the most aggressive razor ever”, but it was as deadly as a cute, little tabby cat.  The angle of the Wilkinson Sword double blades was just right, flowing smoothly over the face and handling well over the edge of the face down to the neck.  While a little large, the razor head worked decently around the nose.  Overall, I rated the Red Tip a really good shave, while the Blue Tip was too light in the hand so, even though the actual razor head was the same, I did not enjoy that shave so much.

So the crucial question, will I be changing my shave?  No, not yet but I will try and track down a Gillette Fatboy; for me the Mühle R89 still gives a closer, neater overall shave, but the Red Tip is a close second.  As for the blade mechanism, that is a true joy and is much more robust and better engineered than the Parker razors.  It really is a pity that Gillette has switched from being a razor maker to a blade manufacturer, changing from a creator of long-lasting icons to becoming the billboard of our throw-away, use-your-blade-a-few-times modern culture.

School Reports And Memories Of Mowden Hall School

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

I went to small, all-boys prep school in Northumberland called Mowden Hall School, which still exists and is now a mixed prep school.  In fact, my father went there the first year it moved to Northumberland after the Second World War.  It seems so old fashioned and long ago, as we learnt maths from log books and were taught how to use slide rules, and there were no computers and Wales were great at rugby.

I cannot remember much about it really as it was all a blur, except for:

  1. Learning how to make a bed properly with sharp edges.  We would need to stand in silence to attention beside our beds after we had made them to allow Matron to say that we could go down after breakfast.  We slept on hard, wooden beds, with thin mattresses and only a sheet and thin rug for heat, which (with no dormitory heating) was freezing in the winter.  It taught you never to move in your sleep as this would wake you up when you moved to a cold patch, and also to run sideways in your bed when you got in, so that the friction heated up the sheets.
  2. The forced marches, two-by-two in our brown boiler suits,  in the morning before breakfast in silence to the teachers’ houses and back when we were juniors, then when we were older (oh the privilege you might think) a forced run for a mile down the South Drive before breakfast to keep you fit, but we already did 2 – 3 hours of games every day (rugby in Christmas and Easter terms and cricket & athletics in the Summer term).
  3. Having to wear shorts all year round, until you became a prefect aged 12/13 when you could wear long trousers, and freezing cold Airtex T-Shirts in the Summer (these were basically a material with holes in it to keep you cool in the heat, but we were at school in Northumberland, which is not renowned for its heatwaves).
  4. Some strange culinary delights: rumours that catfood tins had been seen out the back of the kitchens on the day we ate bright red meat in our shepherds’ pie; plates piled high with butter beans that we were forced to eat down, however vile they tasted – I still cannot eat them; gloopy, bright pink Angel Delight with lumps in it still as it had never been mixed thoroughly; or (for breakfast) fried eggs with a thick plasticky coating congealed onto the top, Marmite on Toast or Kojak’s Heads On Toast (baked beans in toast); but then there was custard and the choice of sweet tea or normal tea from 2 large urns that we drank in plastic mugs, and tuck on Sundays after Church.  I think my love of tea started at school as I would never have survived without its basic nutrients of water, milk and sugar and heat.
  5. At meal times, after grace was said, you had to eat in silence until the pudding course, when a bell was rung and the seniors would clear the tables and bring out the pudding and bowls.  The pudding was served, then a bell was rung and you could talk.
  6. There were also loads of positives: the slipper and pillow fights were great and involved loads of people; it taught you to survive in lean, mean conditions – I have never wanted for much luxury ever since and will eat anything that’s thrown at me, except for lasagne and butter beans; it gave me a love of books, science, nature and the outdoors.

Here are some extracts from the school reports that paint a picture that are strangely different from how I remember it.  I had thought I had tried quite hard most of the time, but my teachers obviously saw me as a lazy and middling pupil.  Except for where they did not appear to know who you were with those unhelpful reports that read “Satisfactory” or “Good progress”, they did not hold back their punches in the reports.

Faint praise – about the best it got

“Good: he has the ability to do really well, eventually.” [Latin, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“Without showing any natural ability, he appears capable of coping with any new difficulty as it arises.” [French, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“He is young & lacking in experience but, I feel, has latent ability, which has yet to come to light.” [Mathematics, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1] 

“He is cheerful and works with interest…” [Art, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1]

“His standard of work has generally improved, though his attitude remains rather immature.” [History, Easter 1980, Age 12.4 – S1]

Lazy, or just bored with the teaching?

“He works very well within himself and continues to make good progress without any fear of strain.” [French, Michaelmas 1977, Age 10.0 – MRi]

“A high mark, but in comparison to the rest of the form this is an appalling state of affairs.  He has given the minimum amount of work this term to attain respectable marks.  His marks are fair – his position is unsatisfactory.” [Geography, Lent 1978, Age 10.4 – MRi]

“He has a good brain and an eye (and even a word!) for imaginative detail, but he is ever chary of over-taxing either.” [English, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“I sometimes feel that he needs a “swift kick” to galvanise him into action.” [Academic Report, Christmas 1978, Age 11.0 – S2]

“Competent, but unexciting: he works at great length when, as in the case of his project, self-motivated, but more usually exceedingly difficult to prod him out of somnolence.” [English, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

“I am beginning to think that the detonation of a bomb beneath him at regular intervals might well be beneficial.  Is he really producing – ever – the best standard of which he is capable? I very much doubt it?” [Latin, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

Not a classicist

“His knowledge of grammar is fair, but his use or application of it in the exam was depressingly bad.  I have the impression (I hope that I am wrong) that his somewhat sardonic sense of humour is coupled with an unwillingness to lower himself to the nitty-gritty of hard work and learning.” [Latin, Christmas 1978, Age 11.0 – S2]

“At the moment he is a grammar-mangler of the first water.” [Latin, Summer 1979, Age 11.0 – S2]

“…and I do wish he would not appear quite so saturninely pessimistic in class.” [Latin, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1] 

“He often knows what is the right answer, and yet fails to achieve accuracy – “Meliora probo, sed deteriora sequor“* – which I need not translate.  It is particularly disappointing to see his English-Latin work continually marred by elementary grammar mistakes.  He must get a grip on himself; he seems to have developed a maturity of person which has not carried over to his written work.” [Latin, Easter 1980, Age 12.4 – S1]

Note *A misquote of Ovid who wrote “Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor” which means “I see the better course, and approve; I follow the worse.”

Not a natural sportsman, or perhaps did not enjoy rugby

“He is not slow and he has glimmerings of a natural jinking action…” [Games, Lent 1978, Age 10.4 – MRi]

“He has played quite well, but always at arm’s length.  Unless he is prepared to commit himself fully, his promising ball skills will seldom be exercised.” [Games, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

“…he tends to avoid the more violent physical aspects of the former [as a forward], while playing in the latter capacity [as a back] affords him too much opportunity to immerse himself in conversation and thus forget about the game!” [Games, Michaelmas 1977, Age 10.0 – MRi]

“…his performance throughout the term has been disappointing.  I appreciate his lack of enthusiasm for the game [rugby] off the field but he is now old enough to realise the urgency expected of him on the field – particularly during a match.” [Games, Michaelmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1]

Recipe For Wild Salmon With Pink Peppercorn Sauce

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This recipe began as one of those serendipitous events when on holiday this July in Scotland.  We had one of those small kitchens that has no equipment and a very temperamental cooker, plus we had brought almost no ingredients with us.  Then around and about, you could find a few basic ingredients to work with but not much, so I was standing there with some wild caught salmon fillets from the Galloway Smokehouse and not much inspiration, with the family screaming the cottage down for some grub. 

Sophie came in for a glass of rosé wine and then I knew what to do and off I went – I put the fillets into a large vegetable pot, sliced some lemons and put these between the fillets, then sprinkled some salt and pepper over the fillets, poured in about an inch of wine and gently poached the salmon with the lid on the pot; delicious and everyone finished their plates, so job done.

Back in Yorkshire and with more ingredients to work with, I thought that perhaps you could work that simple recipe up a bit more and finish it off with a sauce and felt that a rosé wine and pink peppercorn sauce would do the trick.  I made it yesterday after getting some salmon from Carricks mobile fish truck at Ripon Market and it worked a treat.  I reckon you could also serve cold cooked salmon with a pink peppercorn hollandaise sauce.

Carrick's Mobile Fish Shop At Ripon Market

Carrick's Mobile Fish Shop At Ripon Market

For the poaching stock:

250ml / 8 fl oz rosé wine
125ml / 4fl oz water
4 slices of lemon
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1tsp white peppercorns (whole)
1 blade mace
½ vanilla pod, sliced down centre (optional)

For the wild salmon:

1tbsp sunflower oil
25g / 1oz finely chopped shallots
4 salmon fillets (about 200g / 7oz each)
¼ tsp Sea salt
¼ tsp Coarsely milled black pepper
100ml / 4 fl oz double cream
1tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

1.  Put all the ingredients for the poaching stock in a pot and bring to the boil with the lid on the pot.  When it starts boiling, reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes with the lid on, so letting all the flavours infuse into the stock.  You could skip this bit if you are pushed for time and go straight to the poaching of the salmon; in this case, I would replace the water-carrot-spice part with extra wine, i.e. just use 300ml / 10 fl oz rosé wine and the lemon slices and go straight to the next stage.

Ingredients For Poaching Stock

Ingredients For Poaching Stock

Finished Rose Salmon Poaching Stock

Finished Rose Salmon Poaching Stock

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 100oC/ 210oF and put a plate or serving dish in the oven to warm up for later.  Lightly oil a heavy bottomed, metal casserole dish and then sprinkle the chopped shallots over the base of the pan.  Place the salmon fillets on top of this and then season with some sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Gently pour in the poaching stock (or rosé wine plus lemon slices) half way up the fillets, reserving any of the excess stock for later.  Put the lid onto the casserole dish and gently poach in the stock for 8 – 10 minutes, depending on the size of the salmon, but try not to overcook.  Lift out the poached salmon and place on a warm plate, cover in foil and keep warm in the pre-heated oven.

Salmon Fillets On Shallot Base

Salmon Fillets On Shallot Base

3.  Pour the juices into a clean pan through a sieve to remove the bits and add any of the excess stock reserved earlier.  Bring to the boil and reduce the liquid to about 150ml /¼ pint.  Add the cream and simmer until the sauce has a thin feel to it, but would still coat a coat for a bit.  Add the crushed pink peppercorns.  Check and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, but do not add black pepper under any circumstances as it will ruin the effect.

Crushing Pink Peppercorns In Pestle And Mortar

Crushing Pink Peppercorns In Pestle And Mortar

4.  Serve on warmed plates.  Firstly arrange the salmon fillets onto the plates, then pour over the sauce.  Serve with new potatoes, fresh green vegetables or salad – perhaps a watercress salad.

Organic Salmon In Pink Pepper Sauce

Organic Salmon In Pink Pepper Sauce

Recipe For Business Success Cake

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I am a fan of those little self-published recipe books as within them you often get real recipe gems that have been handed down from generation to generation within families.  You also get a lot of rubbish, as well, but a recipe book with even only one good recipe is a decent book. 

Within a small Cook Book prepared for the St Clare Hospice in West Essex, they not only have some interesting recipes, but two of those quaint, sentimental recipes for life – one for marriage and another for motherhood.  To these, I have created my own, slightly jejeune version – a Recipe For Business Success.

Recipe For Business Cake

For the base:

6oz Good idea
3oz Some starting capital
1tsp Good luck

For the filling:

11oz Hard work and grind
3oz Busy sales & marketing
5oz Plain cost control
4oz Credit control
1tsp Some good fortune
1tsp Understanding bank manager
Juice of common sense

For the sauce:

12oz Youthful enthusiasm
1oz Good humour

Crush the Good Idea, melt the Capital, add Good Luck and stir togther.  Press over the base of a loose bottomed cake tin.

Mix together all the ingredients for the filling in a large mixing bowl and blend thoroughly together until light and creamy.  Pour over base in the cake tin.  Place in oven and cook on a high heat for 2 – 3 years, then reduce heat and bake at medium heat for another 7 years, then test for taste and to see how well it has come together.  Cook for longer if required.

Prepare the sauce by melting together the Youthful Enthusiasm and Good Humour in a small sauce pan.

Take the Business Cake out of the oven and serve immediately with the sauce poured over it.

If it does not work the first time, try it again but alter the recipe based on previous experiences.

The classic recipes

Here are the classic recipes that you sometimes find printed in these sort of booklets:

A Good Wedding Cake

4lb love
½lb good looks
1lb blindness of faults
1lb pounded wit
2tbsp sweet argument
1 wine glass of common sense
1lb butter of youth
1lb sweet temper
1lb self forgetfulness
1lb good humour
1 pint rippling laughter
1oz modesty

Put the love, good looks and sweet temper into a well furnished house.  Beat the butter of youth to a cream and mix well together with the blindness of faults.  Stir the pounded wit and good humour into the sweet argument, then add the rippling laughter and common sense.  Work the whole together until everything is well mixed, and bake gently for ever.

[This was found in a church booklet of recipes printed in the early 1900s]

Recipe for Motherhood

Mix an abundance of patience laced with an ample amount of understanding.  Add daily two armfuls of tenderness.  Season with a sense of humour.  Blend the above with enough love to last from yesterday until tomorrow.

[Origin unknown – Came in a mothering sunday gift from a playgroup in the 1970s]

Life Really Does Begin At Forty

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I am 42 now and I have finally worked out what the phrase “life begins at forty” means.  It came as a Pauline moment as I was driving home the other day.  It really means that you only ever plan your life until you get to about 40 years old*, so now that you have reached that point you can reflect on what you have done so far – for better or worse – and then decide what you are going to do for the future.  It’s an acceptance of where you are and what you haven’t achieved, and that perhaps that’s okay and even a good place to be.

I am not Prime Minister, or even Deputy Prime Minister, I have not won Wimbledon, nor am a hedge fund manager earning bazzillions, nor a multi-squillionnaire Internet entrepreneur and I have still not written that book or painted a beautiful picture, and I will never play for England (at any sport) and so on.  But who really would want to be those in any case; let’s leave all that to those with the tunnel vision to succeed in shaping our world.  I just enjoy life, living and become randomly interested in things that will never make money, nor help you rule the world, but nevertheless keep me pottering on. 

Anyway, at the same time, I started trying to piece together my LinkedIn Profile, which was in a sorry state as I have never touched it nor accepted anyone onto my page, hence I look a lonely, unloved individual.  So while struggling to cobble together my disjointed career path (still a work in progress so anyone who remembers what I have done over the years please fill in the blanks), I became reflective on what I had actually achieved since university and where it is going.

In the end, this is what I came up with:

Massive Positives: love of a good woman (Sophie), 2 fantastic children, wonderful parents, siblings, lovely mother-in-law (yes really) and a lovely little cottage in a beautiful part of the world (North Yorkshire).

Achievements: setting up Steenbergs with Sophie and starting that on its tortuous path.  It’s like being on a small bicycle rickshaw in Mumbai that’s slowly, gathering its pace while manoeuvering around the gas guzzling juggernauts that speed past us trying to knock us out of the way.  But it’s a good ride and we’ll get their in our own time, on our own path and without damaging anyone on the way.

Regrets: only one surprisingly, being I wish that I had continued with Microbiology/Molecular Biology for longer than the degree at Edinburgh University.  I was quite good at it and actually enjoyed the nerdy science.  At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of education and conquer the world, but I did not let that path run for long enough.  In fact, I realised this about a year ago and is most of the reason that I have started doing a degree at The Open University in Environmental Studies/Science, so perhaps I will be able to overcome this one.

Mistakes: loads and loads of them, and still going on collecting more.  They say you learn from your mistakes – well, I have got a PhD’s worth already.  In fact, there is only one that I would count as truly bad and that was leaving investment banking to join Teamtalk.  The mistake was not Teamtalk itself, even though the experience still runs shivers down my spine and wiped the smile from my face and laughter from my body for many years afterwards.  It was more that I was too young and “wet behind the ears” for the tough corporate situation that it became, so while leaving investment banking was right I should perhaps have waited until I was older, stronger and more experienced or moved into a bigger corporate where I could have matured in a more protected environment.

What have I learnt? to be good and tolerant, to persevere with those things you believe in whatever the obstacles and to carry on smiling, laughing and dreaming.

Where’s that leave me: content in the most important family part of life and where I live, plus a lifetime still left to enjoy all of them, while nudging Steenbergs ever onwards and time to complete an Environmental Studies degree, and research my family history.  Sounds good enough to me.

* As an aside, I reckon we can only think in chunks of about 7 years maximum in normal living and about 41 years for life planning (or 29, 31, 37).  These are purposefully prime numbers as this is how humans have become hardwired through evolution.  So for relationships, investors and politicians, 7 years is long term and 41 years forever.  That random idea is perhaps for another day.

Axel’s Raspberry Cheesecake Recipe

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

My sister and her family came to visit at the weekend, so I was scrabbling around trying to come up with a summery pudding to create, while the rain was gushing down outside in torrents.  I decided that roast chicken with all the trimmings, followed by a cheesecake was the answer, but with some summer fruits inside the cheesecake and a bright red coulis drizzled over it. 

I toyed with the idea of making the raspberry coulis first, then mixing that into the cream and making a pink cheesecake, which would have gone down a storm with the girls, but wimped out as I preferred the idea of getting bites of tart raspberry in clusters of flavour and differing textures, running through the smoothness of the cream cheese filling. 

Cheesecakes are remarkably easy to make and seem to be generally popular with children, and homemade ones are much tastier than shop bought versions that always seem really heavy, then sit like a lump inside your tummy like a lead weight for hours afterwards. You do not need to use raspberries and can substitute them for other summer fruits, like blackcurrants, blackberries or strawberries, so adjust the recipe accordingly.  Similarly, you do not need the coulis and could just serve it naked and pure, or with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Axel Steenberg’s Summer Fruit Cheesecake Recipe

For the base:

150g / 5½ oz digestive biscuits (or in US, Graham cracker or Nilla wafer)
30g / 1oz pecan nuts
75g / 3oz unsalted butter
1 tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade pure vanilla extract (that’s the sales pitch done; or any other good quality vanilla extract)

For the cream cheese filling:

350g / 11oz full fat cream cheese
100g / 3½ oz soured cream
150g / 5oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1tsp pure natural vanilla extract
Juice from ½ lemon (rest is used in making raspberry coulis)
Zest from 1 lemon

Good sized handful of fresh raspberries
4 pinches of Steenbergs organic mixed spice

For the raspberry coulis
350g / 12oz fresh raspberries, picked over and washed
45g / 1½ oz granulated sugar
Juice from ½ lemon
70ml / 2½ oz water

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF.

2.  Lightly grease and line the base of a 20cm / 8 inch round sandwich tin, that has a springform surround.  Place into a fridge to chill, whilst you prepare the biscuit crumb base.

3.  Place the biscuits and pecan nuts into a food processor and whizz until they reach a smallish crumb.  Take from the food processor, place into a bowl and then add the organic Fairtrade vanilla extract and melted butter.  Mix well until all the crumbs are decently coated with liquid – I use a knife for this stage.

Ingredients for cheesecake base

Ingredients for cheesecake base

Pour the melted butter into the crumb mix

Pour the melted butter into the crumb mix

4.  Get the lined cake tin from the fridge.  Tip the crumb mixture into the pan, then press the mix into the base and all the corners until even and nicely pressed down.  Put the lined tin into the fridge to harden.

Pressing cheesecake crumb mix into cake tin

Pressing cheesecake crumb mix into cake tin

5.  Now measure out all the ingredients for the filling except the raspberries or other fruit.  Put all of these into a mixing bowl or processor and mix/process until smooth and well mixed together.  It is worth scraping down the sides a couple of times with a spatula to make sure that everything has mixed thoroughly.

Ingredients for cheesecake filling

Ingredients for cheesecake filling

6.  Go and get the crumb base from the fridge, then evenly place a handful of fresh raspberries over the biscuity base.  Now pour over the cream cheese mix gently.  Afterwards, I then go over the raspberries to try and even them out a bit; do not overdo this tidying up, but you do not want someone to get all the raspberries, while someone else goes without – that would be really bad form.  Sprinkle delicately 4 pinches of mixed spice over the top of the cheesecake filling.

Pouring the cheesecake mix over crumb base and raspberries

Pouring the cheesecake mix over crumb base and raspberries

Cheesecake ready for baking with mixed spice sprinkled on top

Cheesecake ready for baking with mixed spice sprinkled on top

7.  Put centrally into the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until just set.  Remove from oven and leave to cool completely, then remove the springform outside ring of the cake and place the cake (still on its base) into the fridge to chill through.

Baked cheesecake just out of oven

Baked cheesecake just out of oven

8.  While it is cooling, it is time to make the raspberry coulis.  Place the raspberries into a pan, together with the lemon juice, water and sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for 10 minutes.  Leave to cool thoroughly.  While it is cooling, check the sweetness of the raspberries and adjust sugar level if necessary as they can be really tart.

Ingredients for raspberry coulis

Ingredients for raspberry coulis

Lovely cooked raspberries

Lovely cooked raspberries

9.  Process the raspberries throughly to a smooth paste either with a hand held processor or in a larger processor.  Now sieve the raspberry paste into a jug or bowl to remove the seeds.  You will need to squish the juice through with a tablespoon.  Put into the fridge to cool.

Sieving raspberries for raspberry coulis

Sieving raspberries for raspberry coulis

10.  Before serving remove from the fridge to warm up a little.  Cut into smallish slices and place onto a plate, then drizzle over some of the raspberry coulis.  I served the cheesecake with some homemade shortbread for added texture.

Raspberry Cheesecake With Raspberry Coulis

Raspberry Cheesecake With Raspberry Coulis

Exercised About Barclays Settlement With US Authorities On Sanction Busting

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I have become increasingly bemused by the story about Barclays agreeing a settlement with the US authorities regarding violations of US sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.  The amount of the settlement was about $300 million (£192 million), which seems remarkably low, even though a lawyer from the Justice department stated that the settlement was “beyond what they [Barclays] earned” from the business transacted.

However, it is not the piddling amount that is exercising me, rather the fact that the story is a complete non-story.  Barclays broke the law in the US, yet we all just shrug our shoulders and regard it as a non-story, but if your neighbour broke sanctions or was involved in money laundering, I am sure that firstly, we would be thrown into gaol, but also treated with scorn by friends and family.

Where are the politicians nowadays who would stand up like Edward Heath when he denounced Tiny Rowland, the mining baron, as the “unacceptable face of capitalism” in part for breaking sanctions against Rhodesia.  Our economies and political systems are now so inextricably linked with the big mega-banks for financing governmental projects and deficits that they dare not complain or criticise.  What a damp squib it has been so far with the post-financial crisis review of banking across the Western world, and so (I guess) it will remain.

Have business and corporate morality really fallen so low that we just accept corrupt behaviour as an expected corporate norm?  Is business all about money and nothing else whatever the underlying basis of the transactions?  Perhaps it is and I am just a naive fool, but I hope there are some out there in the ether who try and conduct their lives – personal and business – with some basic ethics.

A Recipe For Meatballs In Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Cooking at home differs from fancy cuisine in restaurants in that it is about compromise.  While a top notch chef does not need to compromise on ingredients and quality, at home you need to juggle your precious time with what you have got available in your storecupboard and can find in the shops.  Also, you need to take into account what your family will and won’t eat; in a restaurant, the customer can chose his/her own menu to suit their mood and likes/dislikes from the menu, you have got to make one meal that satisfies everyone.

This recipe came out of that need to compromise.  My sister’s two girls do not really like potatoes and will eat pasta forever, while Jay wanted meatballs.  So I came up with meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti.  While everyone ate the pasta, some ignored the meatballs but enjoyed the tomato and red pepper sauce that they had been cooked in.  Success all round.

Ingredients For The Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce:

1tbsp cold pressed organic olive oil
1 medium sized onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 red pepper, topped and tailed, deseeded and roughly chopped
½ tsp natural sea salt
½ tsp coarsely ground organic black pepper
2 bay leaves (I used fresh from garden)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves (I used fresh from garden; if using dry use ½ tsp)
2 tins / 800g / 1lb 12oz chopped organic tomatoes (near enough 2lbs)
2tbsp white wine (optional)
1tbsp soured cream

Ingredients For The Meatballs:

500g / 1lb 2oz minced beef steak (organic and locally sourced, if possible)
1 small onion, finely chopped (or even minced to hide from fussy kids)
50g /  2 oz breadcrumbs (ideally use bread that’s gone slightly over rather than fresh, as they are more flavoursome plus it’s less wasteful)
1 egg
½ tsp organic nutmeg powder
½ tsp organic mace powder
½ tsp natural sea salt
½ tsp freshly fine ground organic white pepper
1tbsp organic sunflower oil

Ingredients For Tomato Sauce

Ingredients For Tomato Sauce

1.  In a decent sized pan, add the organic olive oil and heat under a medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes, then add the chopped red pepper and cook, stirring regularly for another 3 minutes.

2.  Add the herb and spice flavours – sea salt, organic ground black pepper, thyme and bay leaves.  Stir and cook for another 1 minute.

Frying Base Ingredients For Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

Frying Base Ingredients For Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

3.  Add the white wine and chopped tomatoes, mix together, cover with a lid, then raise temperature until tomatoes just start boiling.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer with the lid on for about 15 minutes.  Leave to cool.  While cooling, taste and adjust flavourings if you feel it is needed.

4.  Remove the bay leaves.  Then using a food processor or hand held blender, chop the sauce to a fine puree.  Stir in the soured cream until thoroughly mixed through.

Pureed Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

Pureed Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

5.  The best time to start making the meatballs is while the tomatoes are hubbling away for 15 minutes.  Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mixed through completely.  Cover and put into fridge for about 30 minutes to let the flavours flow through.

Mixture For Meat Balls

Mixture For Meatballs

6.  Take from fridge and scoop out dessert spoon sized amounts of meatball mix and roll into balls and put onto a plate.  You can then put these into the fridge to cool again for 30 minutes which will make the meatballs firmer and less likely to collapse while cooking, but this is not necessary.

Shaped Meat Balls

Shaped Meat Balls

7.  Warm an oven to 100oC  / 212oF.  Bring the tomato sauce to the boil and allow to simmer. 

8.  In a heavy bottomed frying pan, tip the organic sunflower oil and heat until hot.  Lightly fry all the meatballs until golden brown and cooked through.  Put the cooked meatballs on a baking tray in the oven to keep warm while you are cooking the others.

Frying The Meat Balls

Frying The Meat Balls

9.  Put the meatballs delicately into the tomato sauce and cook in the sauce for 15 minutes.

Meatballs In Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

Meatballs In Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce

10.  Serve with pasta or rice and, perhaps, garnished with a little finely chopped parsley.

Meatballs In Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce With Spaghetti

Meatballs In Tomato And Red Pepper Sauce With Spaghetti

Recipe For Milk Shake

Sunday, August 15th, 2010
You spend hours and hours creating delicious home cooked food from scratch, buying the best ingredients you can find, then you hear you kids discussing the best type of chocolate or sweet and flavour of crisps (chips) in the back of the car*.  You feel deflated and slightly aggrieved that all that hard work is for nought.

Then, Jay, our eldest, says that he hates school chips (french fries) and much prefers Daddy’s home made fried potatoes, while Emily, our youngest, cannot eat enough of home-made roast chicken with all the trimmings made yesterday, and they both love home-made Yorkshire puddings.  Emily enjoys making a salad for us all today for lunch, while Jay even helped to mix the batter for baking cheesecake yesterday, which they both wolfed down greedily.

You justify yourself that it is all the fault of strong advertising that they see on the TV, plus the treat factor of eating what they rightfully call “bad food”.

Actually, I think it is only fair that you let your children have the choice and experience of eating all the manufactured foods as well, although strictly only once in a while.  You do not want them becoming cranky like you are yourself. 

So today, in the miraculous heat that appeared on this mid August day, after weeks and weeks of cold, rainy weather, and after the Premier League football season has recommenced, I decided that we should trial recipes for milkshakes for Emily’s birthday that’s coming up in October.  This was with some trepidation as it would open the floodgates to some seriously evil food groups, and lo and behold, I was dead right.  The chosen flavours were banana (me), strawberry (Soph), Snickers and separately Skittles (Jay) and for Emily Curly-Wurly and Rolos, respectively.

We played around with combinations of the basic ingredients and the recipe below is what we came up with; you can ignore the banana but we felt that it needed something to add some body to the milkshake, and a small amount of banana seemed to do the trick – too much and the banana flavour started coming through in the other flavours.  By the way, Jay could not finish the Skittles as they were too sweet and revolting, but they did enjoy the other flavours (“the horror, the horror, the horror” to paraphrase Kurtz in Apocalypse Now).

The Milk Shake Base

2 good sized scoops of vanilla ice cream, relatively soft scoop (we use Brymoor or Cream Of Yorkshire)
225ml / 1 cup full fat milk (don’t go all skinny and healthy here, as it’s pointless)
3cm / 1 inch of ripe banana

Your Flavours

This is really up to you, but it should be about 3 tablespoons in volume, so:

1 Curly-Wurly, 1 Pack of Rolos, 1 Snickers Bar
10 strawberries, ½ a banana

Or whatever you want, but some things really are just too sickly sweet, e.g. Skittles and Starburst.

Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor or juicing machine and mix up thoroughly.

Ingredients For Milk Shake

Ingredients For Milk Shake

Preparing The Milk Shake Base

Preparing The Milk Shake Base

Jay Chopping Snickers Bar

Jay Chopping Snickers Bar

Milk Shake Ready For Whizzing

Milk Shake Ready For Whizzing

Mixing It Up

Mixing It Up

Sophie Enjoying Strawberry Milk Shake

Sophie Enjoying Strawberry Milk Shake

* For those intrigued, the answer for sweets/chocolate was Curly-Wurly, Snickers and Starburst and (for the crisps/chips) BBQ Beef Hula Hoops and Ready Salted and Cheese & Onion Walkers Crisps.  And they both love Green & Black’s Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate slabs of chocolate.