Happy Christmas & festive food (public service broadcast #2 candied peel)

I’m about to go sans-net for the next week or so as I head ‘down south’ to spend christmas at my parent’s house with my parents & brothers which will be ACE.
I bloody love this time of year, giving presents is so much fun – although I’m completely crap at keeping presents that i’ve bought a secret, I feel like my brain might burst if I have to keep a present secret for too long.

In the spirit of the season (and because I’ve been cooking festive foods for the last week or so), I thought I’d leave one and all with a recipe for candied peel, which seemed suitably festive.

3x Oranges (Navels are good)
500g caster sugar
500g water

    First score the skin of the oranges, from top to bottom – cutting all the way through the skin, to the flesh. Do this all the way round each orange until you can pull the peel off (whole if you can manage it) – you should get about 6-8 pieces per orange.
    Place the pieces of peel in a pan of boiling water for 15 minutes, rinse and repeat (with fresh water each time) twice more – this helps to get rid of the citrus oil in the peel which is very bitter.
    Dissolve the sugar in the water in a non-stick pan, over a low heat
    Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add the peel to the syrupy mixture and simmer (very gently – do not boil!) for 2 hours
    Lift the peel out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool on a rack overnight.
    Toss the cool peel in a little caster sugar and store in an airtight container – I reckon it’d keep for about a month

Enjoy!

Hopefully I’ll manage to get some training done over the xmas break but as the entireity of England seems to have come to a grinding standstill due to a light dusting of snow I don’t know if that’ll be possible.

North/South divide

The South-East is so shit at weather.

North: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8418457.stm
“Last weekend we had temperatures down to -8C (17.6F). But it didn’t cause any disruption. The buses and trains were running and planes were taking off and landing at Inverness.

“I can only once remember a train getting stuck and that was in appalling weather a few years back.

“The train was caught in a snowdrift of about 5 or 6 ft (1.5m to 1.8m) in Sutherland.”

South: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8420057.stm
“Up to 20cm (8in) has already fallen in counties including Kent, Essex and Sussex and more is to come on Friday.

About 200 drivers on the M20 and M2 in Kent were stuck in tailbacks overnight and flights have also been cancelled. ”

a snowdrift of about 5 or 6 ft (1.5m to 1.8m) stops one train vs 20cm (8in) getting flights cancelled and drivers stuck

Public service broadcast #1 – Leek, Potato & Thyme Soup

Right, i had an infuriatingly unsuccessful search this week for a recipe on the ‘blogosphere’ so i’ve decided to, when i remember a decent one, post a recipe or two on here.

Leek, Potato & Thyme Soup
(serves 4 i reckon)

2 medium leeks – sliced
4 potatos – peeled & cubed
1 red onion – sliced
Bunch of thyme – chopped
1 litre of vegetable stock
Salt
Pepper
About a tsp Olive/vegetable oil (not too much or your soup will be oily)

  • Heat the oil over a medium heat in a big-ish saucepan
  • Add the potato, leeks and onion to the pan
  • After about 4 minutes, turn the heat down and sweat the vegetables for about 25 minutes – i find that cooking them long and slow like this really brings out the flavour of the leeks
  • Add the chopped thyme to the pan
  • Add the stock to the pan and bring everything to the boil for a couple of minutes
  • Season well with the salt and pepper
  • Reduce the heat and simmer everything for about 10-15 minutes
  • The soup is now ready to eat, you may want to season again to taste – i like to keep it unblended and chunky but you can give it a whizz with a hand blender if you want
  • Hope this was of use, it’s dead easy to make, pretty healthy and really cheap!

    Hand-made Christmas

    I don’t know whether it’s the fact that everyone thinks they’ve got no money, or a strange longing for a bygone age (that never existed) when everything was handmade and lovely but there seems to have been a bit of an explosion in people pushing the virtues of making things yourself. Of course this could be an age-old phenomenon that I’ve just managed to miss until now – which is the most likely explanation.

    As anyone who has followed this blog for a little while now may have guessed, I like doing stuff myself, I like making things. I like the process probably as much as the accomplishment of the end product. My aborted attempts at an indoor garden earlier in the year were thwarted only by a poor choice in soil (which resulted in a swarm of fungus gnats) rather than a change of heart or the onset of boredom. I am a firm, and I have been told maddening, believer in ‘I can probably do that’. And for the most part, I probably can.

    However I did get slightly annoyed/bemused by something I saw on TV last week, ‘Kirsty’s Homemade Christmas’. The premise being that Kirsty (of ‘Location, Location, Location’ fame) makes handmade gifts and Christmas things and generally sticks it to the man (albeit in a very middle class way) and saves some money along the way. However it seemed to me that the resulting programme was either the most hilariously naive or cringe-worthyly-targeted thing possible. One episode saw Kirsty making her own baubles – lovely – however, here’s the catch, she was making them from blown glass. I don’t know how many people have the aparatus to do this at home, I know I don’t. We were helpfully informed that there were ‘courses available’ that would allow you to do this…but I can’t imagine that they’re cheap. The other episode that I caught had a similarly extravagant approach to crackers, with yards of expensive fabric and ribbons being employed. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem at all with the idea of making your own gifts etc, in fact I think it’s a great idea that should be applauded and promoted wherever possible, however it seemed to me that there were far more straight-forward ways of accomplishing some of the tasks addressed by the programme. Or maybe I’m just being curmudgeonly and it was, in fact, lovely festive fun.

    On the opposite end of the scale, for me, was River Cottage Christmas. Now I must admit, I bloody love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I admire his approach to food and am frankly envious of the life that, tv leads me to believe, he leads. This programme, again extolling the virtues of making your own gifts, seemed to take a slightly more basic and realistic tone, no courses were pushed and you didn’t need to buy any particularly ridiculous ingredients. Much better. I then spent the rest of the weekend baking and cooking (which I had forgotten, is incredibly theraputic).

    To cap off this weekend of festive diy I popped along to a craft fair at the Brudenell Social Club to see a stall being hosted by the lovely Cam, twoducksdisco and his fair lady friend, Sarah, Many Nice Things. You can read a bit about their stall on Cam’s blog, here; http://twoducksdisco.blogspot.com/2009/12/handmade-hard-times-handed-back.html. Again this just summed up my view that handmade is best made with love, care and attention. You don’t need your own glass-blowing furnace, hilariously expensive chocolate and enough velvet to coat your house.

    Talking of handmade with love, care and attention.
    Bon Iver-Flume
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvvQQHnpRfA]

    Jack Frost nipping at your bloody hands!

    The first really, really cold morning of the winter and (luckily?) i was walking rather than cycling into work. The last time i cycled when it was really cold my hands went numb, despite the fact i was wearing gloves – possible due to my awful circulation, my shins went bright red and my cheeks felt like they’d frozen. Probably just me being a huge wuss though.

    I’ve realised that it is time for me to ‘up the mileage’ if i want to stand any chance of meeting my current target of completing the marathon in under 4 hours 15 minutes. The slightly scary thing about all this is, i’ve never (knowingly) run further than 8 miles yet i need to be regularly running that, at a minimum, on a nigh daily basis by the end of the winter.

    My first mental block is to work out how far that actually is, i want to be doing two 10 mile runs, a 5 mile and a ‘long slow’ run per week by the end of january. I’m currently happily doing a couple of 6.5 milers mixed in with a 4 miler and a longer run when i can find the time at a weekend but the ease of that schedule is that i have pre-planned routes for these runs, i’m going to need to work out something new to meet my new targets as i don’t fancy just doing circuits of a route i already do. i sometimes find the monotony of running the hardest thing to overcome and new routes should hopefully help compensate for the fact i’m going to be running for hours at a time.

    i’ve also been pondering the prospect of doing some speedwork but in all honesty i don’t think i’d be able to motivate myself to actually do any, it’s hard, boring and i’d be doing it on my own – no thanks!

    if anyone has a decent running route that i could do from horsforth in leeds please pipe up! i contemplated retracing part of some of my bike rides but they’re all pavement-free roads and i think i’d get squished fairly quickly.

    Music – i had a rediscovering of Jimmy Eat World the other day, fab.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI8neuhPm_0]

    Words and Pictures and Work

    So as you may or may not I do an occasional podcast (www.tapes-online.co.uk) with a chap called Cameron who also happens to be an exceptionally good illustrator/designer/drawer of ace things (http://twoducksdisco.blogspot.com/).

    As you also may or may not know I also do web design outside of the 9-5 (under the title of ‘big things and little things’) and am currently doing Cam a website, I’m also working on a new site for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal (you may remember a mention from an earlier post, but probably not so here it is http://ashmannblogs.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/bike-rides-and-vans/) and a site for my brother who does things like talk about sport (http://tristanmann.wordpress.com).

    If anyone else wants a web site doing then drop me a line, i’m an (x)html/css/php chap really.

    Oh I am also going to try to keep up my music recommending, today it’s mirador by efterklang from their album ‘parades’ http://hypem.com/track/968772/Efterklang+-+Mirador+Live+ which is bloody lovely, it’s joyful, orchestral, beautiful and generally ace.