CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

_____________________________________________________________________________

CHATELAINES

“Chatelaines” … what a delicate, intriguing word.  If you don’t know what they are, let your mind wander a bit and come up with your own definition.  Could they be a buttery, flaky French pastry you’ve never heard of?  Or perhaps, a little embroidered purse into which you’d put your loose change?  Maybe, they refer to a member of a European family, perhaps third or fourth cousin, who ran off with the chambermaid.  If you do know what a “Chatelaine” is, you are better informed than I.  I had no idea.  But these practical items were quite popular for centuries, and are still around today.

A Chatelaine is nothing more than a “key chain” … a key chain most often worn by women heads of households, but also some men, from early Roman times through to the 19th century.  During this period, women’s clothing did not have pockets, and women did not carry handbags.  Unthinkable, I know.  So where did women (and some men) keep the keys to the larder or the tea chest?  What about those small embroidery scissors or their watch?  Not to mention their snuff box or perfume vial.  This very practical accessory, the Chatelaine, would hold all of these and other essential items, which a head of house, a nanny, or nurse might need at a moment’s notice.

Derived from the French word for “Keeper of the Castle” or “Mistress of the Chateau”, the Chatelaine would be affixed by a hook to a leather belt, cord or chain worn around the waist.  This hook would then have a series of smaller hooks or chains hanging from it, each holding one of these essential tools.  Not only were these essentials vital to the daily household chores, it was a status symbol letting others know this was a woman “in charge” and took her domestic responsibilities seriously.

Mrs. Hughes, wearing a Chatelaine, had a very prestigious and respected position as head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.

One of the most important uses of a Chatelaine was to hold a watch.  With no pockets and wristwatches were not as yet invented, the need to have a watch handy was vitally important, especially if you were overseeing the running of a manor house.

Victorian Antique Chatelaine

As with most items, Chatelaines eventually became a symbol of a person’s wealth.  A wealthy person might wear a very decorative and ornate Chatelaine made from precious metals and adorned with precious and semi-precious stones.  As handbags became the fashion, the Chatelaine shrank in appearance and functionality, but was still a popular ornamental piece.  Men began wearing them from their waistcoat to carry their watch.  Women began wearing them more as a decorative accessory around their neck and even around their wrist.  Perhaps this was the origin of what we now know as a “charm bracelet”.

Punch, a very influential 19th century British weekly magazine, notorious for their  sophisticated humor and satire (and is known for creating the “cartoon”), came up with an interesting use of the Chatelaine to aid mothers of young children

As I mentioned above, Chatelaines are actually still very popular. Today’s Chatelaine may look a little different and some may be purely decorative, but not all.  How many of us wear a Lanyard to hold our eyeglasses or company badge?  This very practical accessory, the Lanyard, is also a modern day form of a Chatelaine.

You can find modern day replicas of the classic Chatelaine on Etsy or EBay, as well as department stores.   But they are not only found on the runway and in fashion magazines, they are also quite popular as a ‘punk rock’ accessory in the form of a chain belt worn by both men and women, to hold wallets.  Worn primarily with jeans, but they can be worn with just about any outfit.  So, the name may have changed, but I believe the practicality of being able to have handy what you need, at a moment’s notice, will never loose its appeal, and if it can be decorative too, why not?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References: Millys Marvels, Mental Floss, Louis Dell’ Olio, Wikipedia,
_____________________________________________________________________________

CORNED BEEF and CABBAGE?

How did corned beef and cabbage become associated with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day?  It just seems strange to me … especially considering  you’ll be hard pressed to find corned beef in Ireland.  Cabbage?  No problem.  It’s plentiful and prevalent in many dishes … along with potatoes, turnips, carrots.  Colcannon (cabbage and potatoes) being the most popular cabbage dish.  I think the dish that comes closest in Ireland to what we call Corned Beef and Cabbage is Cabbage and Bacon.

But don’t get confused.  Bacon in the U.K. is slightly different from bacon here in the U.S., we get our ‘bacon’ from the belly of the pig and it’s almost always smoked.  Most of us like our bacon cooked til crisp.  In the U.K., bacon comes from the back of the pig and usually not smoked … and definitely not fried til crisp.  U.S. bacon is available in the U.K., but it’s referred to as ‘streaky bacon’ (probably because of the streaky layers of fat).  We, on the other hand, generally refer to U.K. bacon as Canadian bacon (the fat is on the outside), not that it is, of course.  Have I confused you?

Canadian bacon left, U.S. bacon top, U.K. bacon bottom

Why am I trying to explain the difference in bacon?  Because Cabbage and Bacon is a heartier dish than we imagine, more like Cabbage and Ham, and is definitely old fashioned ‘comfort’ food in Ireland.  In fact, you’re more likely to use a ‘joint’ of ham when making Cabbage and Bacon.  But what isn’t ‘comfort’ food in Ireland is Corned Beef and Cabbage.  In fact, Corned Beef and Cabbage doesn’t even exist in Ireland.  Why then is it so endemic to celebrating St. Paddy’s Day here in the States?

Let’s start at the beginning.  Although the British had been ruling Ireland since the takeover in the 12th century, Brits did not live there, preferring to be absentee landowners.  In Ireland, cattle were beasts of burden and unless they were old and not able to plow the fields, or the cows to produce milk, they were not slaughtered.  Cattle was a sign of wealth and the only time one might be slaughtered was if there was a festival or celebration.  And, even then, it was only the wealthy English landowners who could afford to part with this valuable beast of burden.  Pigs were, and still are, the most prevalent animal raised to be eaten.

The English, however, were ‘beef eaters’ (the tag name given to the Queen’s guards).  In fact, Englishman, Robert Bakewell is credited with creating ‘selective breeding’ and was the first person to breed cattle for the beef industry, increasing their size and quality of meat.  Eventually the beef industry in Ireland grew and tens of thousands of cattle were being transported from the English-owned cattle farms in Ireland to England; but the government (as government’s always do) became involved and prohibited the transportation of live animals.  Now what to do?  Ireland had an abundance of salt and the process of salting to preserve food goes back throughout history.  Thus began the slaughtering of cattle and salting of the beef to preserve it.  The size of the salt crystals used to preserve the meat were enormous, as large as corn kernels some said … and so the name for this very salty, preserved meat soon became referred to as “corned” beef.

Pastures near Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Shaylyn Esposito

Irish ‘corned beef‘ was relatively inexpensive and, because of its ability to be stored for long periods of time, became in demand around Europe.  Although this was a huge export product for Ireland, the Irish couldn’t afford to buy or eat it.  It was the English who owned and controlled the industry.  Sadly, the Irish, who were producing this valuable export product could, at best, only afford potatoes and a bit of pork.

Detailed map showing where the Irish settled in the U.S. 1890 census.

Now fast forward to the heartbreaking potato famine which decimated Ireland beginning in 1845 and lasted seven long years.  It is estimated that well over a million Irish families escaped to America to avoid starvation.  Most landed at Ellis Island in New York City and, for lack of funds to move on, were forced to settle in the run-down tenement areas along the waterfront and in the Jewish neighborhoods.

The Jews were also new immigrants to America and were living in these same run-down, tenement areas.  The two groups formed a sort of kinship.  Both groups were discriminated against, forced from their homelands, penniless and starting their lives over.  As they started to settle in and progress financially, businesses began opening up, jobs were had and, finally, there was money for food.  The Irish began purchasing their meats from Kosher butcher shops, which sold a version of “corned beef”, much different from what they once produced.  But, it was delicious and they grew to love it.  All of which brings us back to today and Corned Beef and Cabbage!The cabbage, potatoes, turnips and carrots are traditional, but the Jewish-style brisket is definitely American born.  To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Americans today (and those wanting to be Irish) will pin a shamrock on their lapel, order a green beer and enjoy Corned Beef and Cabbage.  From high-end, fine dining restaurants to local mom and pop diners, on kitchen tables and celebrations across the country, we’ll all be tucking in to this homespun dish.  You still, however, won’t see it served in Ireland.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Wisegeek, Smithsonian, History Place, Irish Central, History, Wikipedia
_____________________________________________________________________________

ABERFAN

I wished we had known about Aberfan before we traveled through Wales.  We would have visited this little hamlet to pay our respects.  Although the horrific catastrophe took place over 50 years ago, I wonder if that community has ever really healed.  Losing half the town’s population of children, 116, and 28 adults in a matter of moments is something which, I imagine, you can never really ever put behind you.  And, this preventable tragedy actually happened to this tiny Welsh coal-mining village on Friday, October 21, 1966, at 9:15 am.

Coal mining, or “black gold”, played a huge part in the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  Wood was in short supply by the 19th century and coal was needed to fire the blast furnaces for the iron and copper industries.  The dangerous job of mining coal was the center of discontent for most of its workers.  Uprisings against employers were commonplace.  Although the Factory Act and Mines Act were passed, which were meant to prevent women and children under the age of 10 from working underground, they were by and large, ignored.  Accidents, long-term health problems and other catastrophes continued.

Did the coal-mining company knowingly and willfully disregard the maximum amount of unstable waste which could be piled up, on a sloping hill, on top of an underground stream, even though they were warned repeatedly?  We’ll never really know.  The National Coal Board, however, was responsible for maintaining these waste sites which hovered dangerously close to these small towns and, it’s obvious, they didn’t.

The aftermath of the Aberfan disaster. 1966

But all it took was a very rainy season that year.  Local residents noticed that flood waters were actually dripping down from the coal mines.  The situation was dangerous!  Meetings were held between the local representatives and the National Coal Board.  Although the National Coal Board admitted knowing there was a problem, they did nothing.

It was the last day of the school term, and after a night of heavy rains, at 9:15 am on Friday, October 21st, as the children of the Pantglas Junior School were seated at their desks, with their teacher at the helm, about to begin their first lessons, a deafening roar could be heard outside.  It didn’t take but a few moments for this 30′ high avalanche of debris from the mine to wash down the hillside and completely engulf the little school, a row of houses, and a farm.  1.5 million cubic feet of sludge crushed the life out of this community.  A torrent of water then engulfed the sludge caused by the broken water mains.  It all happened so quickly, the children didn’t have time to flee for their lives.  Teachers threw themselves over the children to protect them.  116 children died – ages 7 to 10 … 28 adults – 5 of them teachers … many more injured.

Hundreds of people heard the noise, stopped what they were doing, picked up a shovel and ran to the site.  It took over a week for rescuers to retrieve the bodies of the victims. “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children,” reported the New York Times.  The dead were taken to a makeshift mortuary set up in Bethania Chapel, where many parents had to endure the ordeal of identifying the bodies of their children.

Rescue workers at the site of the Pantglas Junior School.

Inquiries were held and findings resulted in this statement … “our strong and unanimous view is that the Aberfan disaster could and should have been prevented. … the Report which follows tells not of wickedness but of ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications. Ignorance on the part of those charged at all levels with the siting, control and daily management of tips; bungling ineptitude on the part of those who had the duty of supervising and directing them; and failure on the part of those having knowledge of the factors which affect tip safety to communicate that knowledge and to see that it was applied.”

Mourners walk through the center of town. 1966

A mass burial was held on the 25th of October.  The company was never prosecuted, nor any of its staff members.  Instead a paltry offer of £500 was paid to each of the families who lost a loved one.

Today they have moved on.  Well, some of them.  It’s still a very sensitive subject, which some refuse to talk about.  For the longest time, it was never mentioned in school, but now school children are being taught about this horrific tragedy.  Of course, the coal mines have been closed for years … and there now stands a memorial garden where the school once stood.  There’s also a community center setup by one of the childhood survivors, which is an integral place for young families.  The River Taff, once a smelly streak of polluted, black liquid running through the town is now a source of local pride and brimming with life.


The residents of Aberfan don’t want to deny the tragedy, but they want to be remembered for more than just that.  I do know should we get the  opportunity to travel through Wales once again, we will definitely pay our respects to this brave little hamlet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Walesonline, Wikipedia, MSN, Vogue, History Extra, Averfan Documentary

Princess Alice of Battenburg

Has anyone else been watching this season’s THE CROWN on Netflix?  I am spellbound by this remarkably well-made, historical drama.  From the stunningly beautiful and lavish set designs to the dramatic vistas and landscapes, the authentically-detailed period costumes, and, of course, the remarkable portrayals of each of the Royal family by such a talented cast, it’s very difficult to not get caught up in every nuance, image and monologue.  Some people may call this nothing more than a glorified soap opera, but it is so believable, so well made, I had to do some fact checking.  Is this historically accurate or has it been infused with ‘artistic license’

Not having any more information about the Royals than most people (supermarket tabloids, banner headlines on search engines), I’ve been intrigued by such a parade of complex individuals who’ve occupied the rooms of the palace and 10 Downing Street at one time or another.  One such person was the recent episode which introduced us to Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg, brilliantly played by Jane Lapotaire.  But a nun?  Living in a down-trodden community in Greece? Looking for charitable donations?  I needed to know more . . .

Victoria “Alice” Elizabeth Julia  Marie was born on February 25, 1885 at the home of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in Windsor Castle to German parents, Prince Louis of Battenburg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.  Alice’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy, and as a result, the family lived in, not only London, but Germany and Malta.  The eldest of four, Alice’s mother was very concerned by Alice’s lack of development.  Alice was slow in learning to speak and had trouble pronouncing words.  Through her aunt’s intervention, Alice was later diagnosed with congenital deafness.  Once diagnosed, Alice quickly learned to lip read and became proficient in English, German, French and Greek.

Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew
(1903)

She was a stunning beauty and grew to be one of the loveliest young women in Royalty.  At the coronation of King Edward VII, Alice met her future husband, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.  On October 6, 1903, she 18 and he 21, this handsome couple were married and moved to Greece where Andrew became a commissioned officer in the Greek army.  The marriage was marred from the beginning.  Little did Alice know of Prince Andrew’s bisexuality or extravagant lifestyle.  Regardless, the pair would go on to have five children, four daughters and one son. The youngest, Philip, born in 1921, six years after their youngest daughter.

As with most young, wealthy princesses, Alice had little or nothing to do but attend social gatherings.  On a trip to Russia in 1908 to attend the wedding of her husband’s niece, Alice became intrigued about plans to create a religious order of nurses.  When Alice returned to Greece, she found the country in political turmoil.  The turmoil escalated into war and the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912.  Alice quickly threw herself into helping the wounded soldiers by organizing field hospitals.  During this time Prince Andrew’s father was assassinated by a Greek anarchist so the family was forced to flee in exile to Switzerland.

Alice with her first two children, Margarita and Theodora, c. 1910

Just a short two years later saw the outbreak of WWI which caused horrific tragedy to Alice’s family back in Germany, most of whom were murdered.  The family had to give up all of their privileges, positions and titles, as well as their name.  From “Battenberg”, they were now known as “Mountbatten”.  With the end of WWI and the fall of the German empire, the Mountbattens returned to Greece, but once again war broke out in Greece only two years later and Prince Andrew, who was commander of the Military, was banished from the country.  This time the family fled to Paris.

After all this turmoil, tragedy and disruption in their lives, it’s no wonder that Alice turned to religion.  She converted to the Greek Orthodox faith.  Her philandering husband didn’t help Alice’s now fragile state of mind.  With all she had been through, Alice began thinking she had special healing powers and was receiving messages from God.  The couple became estranged. Now diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Alice, aged 45, was forced to move into a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she lived for two years.

Alice tried many times, unsuccessfully, to escape from the sanatorium.  Under the care of many psychiatrists, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, Alice was forced to undergo invasive treatments to “cure her of frustrated sexual desires” which was Freud’s diagnosis.  Dr. Freud concluded that Alice was suffering from unsatisfied sexual frustration.  Her son, Philip, was just nine years old when his mother was taken from him.  Prince Andrew had no desire to raise his son.  He, in fact, ran away with a mistress to the French Riviera.  Young Philip was raised by other members of his family in England, living and being educated in exclusive boarding schools.  During this time, Alice’s daughters all married German prince’s and moved to Germany.  Alice did not attend any of the weddings.

When Alice was finally released from the sanatorium in 1932, she found herself alone.  With nowhere to go, she drifted throughout Germany for years.  The death of her daughter and her daughter’s family in a plane crash in 1937 was the first time in seven years Alice saw her husband.  It was at that time she reunited with the rest of her children and family.  Alice then returned to Greece to continue her charity work.  She wanted her son, Philip, to come with her, but he had a future with the Royal Navy.  When the second World War broke out, Alice’s family was split between Germany and England.  Her son and British family members were on the Allied side, while her daughters and in-laws were on the German side.

In 1941 the Nazis took over Greece.  Although many fled, Alice remained and became an activist, hiding as many Jews as possible in her home, smuggling in medical supplies and doing whatever charity work she could find.  In 1944 when the war was over, Athens was liberated but nothing changed in Greece.  The British were now fighting the Communists for control.  With no food, most people living in squalid conditions, Alice continued putting her life on the line with her dangerous acts of charity.

In 1947 Alice did get the opportunity to leave Greece to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to Princess Elizabeth.  Her visit was short lived, however, because she wanted to return to Greece where she organized a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, modeled after the one she had witnessed in Russia many years before, known as the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.  By June of 1953, Alice was now clothed only in the simple grey habit worn by many Greek Orthodox nuns, which she wore to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The military junta in 1967 forced Prince Philip to send for his mother.  Alice returned to London to live out her years with her son, Prince Philip, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace.  Now quite frail and deaf, but alert and cognizant, she continued to smoke and play canasta.  Then, on December 5, 1969, at the age of 84, with every one of her belongings given away at her request, Princess Alice of Battenberg died.

This remarkable woman endured more than most.  It’s sad to me that so few have even heard her name, never mind her incredible story.  I wonder if any of us could have lived through the terrors of wars, family members killed and murdered, a husband who betrayed her and children who seemingly left her completely on her own.  The British government named Princess Alice “Hero of the Holocaust” for her services during the Jewish Massacre, and in 1994 she was honored by Israel as ‘Righteous among the Nations’.

As fascinating as the episode on The Crown was, it barely scratches the surface of the dramatic life this woman has lived.  Were there some artistic liberties taken for the script?  Yes, of course.  But I don’t think it was necessary.  A remarkable story of a remarkable woman.  Thank you Netflix!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Crowns, Tiaras, Coronets, Famous People, Wikipedia, CNN, Elle,

WHITBY FISH PIE

Whitby is a charming, seaside village in north Yorkshire.  Although we have visited quite a few times, there’s no real reason for most people to have heard of Whitby … unless you’ve followed the career of Captain Cook or have read Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA.  Actually, quite a few literary geniuses have lived or visited Whitby during their careers.  In addition to Bram Stoker, you may have heard of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Lewis Carroll among many others.  Today, tourism is what keeps this quiet, little fishing village alive … well, that and “fish pie”.

As with most regional recipes, it comes down to whatever is available, and whatever the cook decides to do with it.  In Whitby, it’s the ‘catch of the day’.  For me, it was a quick trip to the grocery store, after which I decided to use cod.  And pulling from my bookshelf of resources, it was Paul Hollywood’s BRITISH BAKING which inspired this beloved regional dish.

I was a bit hesitant … not all of my attempts at Hollywood’s recipes have been successful … but this one certainly was.  We all loved it.  A hearty, satisfying dish, flavorful and delicious.  Perfect for a Sunday supper on a wintry night.  Serve it up with a tossed green salad and bottle of white wine.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

WHITBY FISH PIE
Serves 6 to 8.  Bake at 425º for 30 to 40 mins.

The crust (or purchase a pre-made pastry crust)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup icy cold water

The filling
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 diced white onion
2 stalked celery, diced
2 cups spinach, washed and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs. solid white fish, skinned, cubed
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 egg, beaten

I know after reading this list of ingredients, it seems like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t.  We all know a good pie starts with a good crust.  They are super easy, but if you don’t feel comfortable making one, store bought crusts have come a long way.

When ready to cook, make the filling in one large saucepan, beginning with a roux, adding leftover cooked potatoes if you have them.  Dump it all into a large pie plate or casserole.  Then top it with the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.  Done!
____
The details:
To make the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add the chilled butter and cut in until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the beaten egg and, with a fork, mix together quickly adding the cold water as needed …

OR … put all the dry ingredients in your food processor and pulse for 10 seconds.  Add the cubed butter and pulse for another 10 seconds.  Add the beaten egg and as much water as needed to hold it together and pulse for a final 10 seconds.

The flour mixture should stay together.

Whichever method you use, when it comes together, turn out on a floured board and form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The filling:
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  When melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook til all combined.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy.  This will take two to three minutes.  Season with cloves, salt and pepper.

The bechamel should be nicely thickened.

Next, stir in the diced onions and celery.  The heat should be medium to low.  Then add the chopped spinach and parsley.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  You may need to add a bit more salt.

Add the cubed fish and fold in gently.  You don’t want to break the fish up.  If you have leftover boiled potatoes, add them now … or any leftover veggies you may have.  Turn off the heat and dump everything into a large casserole or pie plate.

Take the pastry out of the frig and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out to fit the casserole or pie plate.  Be sure to cut an air hole in the center of the pastry for the steam to escape.

Brush the edges of the casserole with water or the beaten egg and put the pastry crust on top.    Press the pastry onto the rim of the dish to adhere.  Decorate as you’d like, or not.  Brush the beaten egg all over the pastry crust.

Be sure to put the casserole onto a baking tray to catch any spillage … and there will be spillage.  Bake at 425º for 40 to 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


Take it out of the oven and serve right away.  A simple green salad and glass of white wine … maybe some crusty bread, perfect!  This is an old-fashioned supper dish and it doesn’t disappoint.  WHITBY FISH PIE … a steaming pie full of goodness and nutrition.  If you make it, please let me know.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Wikipedia, Visit Whitby, Paul Hollywood,

Portsmouth’s Dockyard

When hubby suggested that we visit the Portsmouth Shipyard while in England this past fall, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical.  A visit to a naval base?  My Dad worked at a naval base for years (one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in this country), so I’m quite familiar with touring historic shipbuilding facilities and what they have to offer.  I wasn’t, however, prepared for the fascinating, fun and intimidating adventure that was awaiting us.

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth

We chose to stay at a quirky little b&b along the waterfront, originally a 200-year old pub frequented by the dock workers.  The location couldn’t have been better.  We had views of the waterfront, the quay, the shipyard and the 560′ foot high Spinnaker Tower.  The weather was, what we generally refer to as, typical English … a bit grey, overcast and drizzly.  That didn’t stop us, however, from seeing all this unique little area had to offer.

Our first afternoon we visited the very touristy quay with all its fine, upscale shops and restaurants.  The next day, we took an exhilarating ride on a hovercraft, floating above the sea and traveling at 45 knots, to the beautiful Isle of Wight where we relaxed on the beach, hiked to the top of lookout cliff, ate local seafood and where I’d love to return … for more than a day.

But the reason we came here was to visit the Dockyard.  I wasn’t prepared for how pristine this working shipyard would be.  It was almost ‘elegant’ in its presentation, and a bit intimidating with its  20′ high brick walls and imposing main gate, which prevent you from seeing what lies behind the walls.

In addition to the fleets of ships and repair facilities, the entry fee gains you admittance to children’s action stations and pirate adventures, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, harbor tours, a water bus, as well as the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  The highlights, of course, are the H.M.S. Victory, the H.M.S. Warrior and the Mary Rose.  Being very familiar with “Old Ironsides”, the U.S.S. Constitution, built in 1794 and now housed at the Boston Naval Shipyard, I was most fascinated to tour the equally famous British warship, H.M.S. Victory, built for battle against the American’s War of Independence.


When you step on board the H.M.S. Victory, you get to experience the ship as it was in 1805.  Not only can you inspect every nook and cranny of this fascinating vessel, observing where the sailors and officers ate and slept, the costumed crew take on the characters and give you a very real and personal look at how harsh life was like on board as they prepare for the Battle of Trafalgar.  Of course, I found the galley and the main cabin to be the most fascinating.  Others may have been more fascinated by the cannons and the coal-fired boiler room.  All  in all, I would absolutely recommend a visit to experience this piece of history.

The entry fee alone was worth our visit to the H.M.S. Victory, but our day didn’t end there.  We took a water bus across the bay to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  Having never been on a submarine before, this exhibit was incredibly fascinating to me (and the others in our group).  The first impression for me was trying to imagine how these brave men were able to withstand the claustrophobic conditions aboard this imposing vessel.


This monstrous, grey, monolith of a ship was beyond intimidating.  The H.M.S. Alliance is England’s only remaining WWII submarine and what an absolutely incredible experience this was.  A retired submariner guide takes you through the entire ship beginning in the engine room and ending in the torpedo compartment.  He’s not only very informative, but entertaining as well, providing you with all the ‘inside’ information (including how to use the toilet flushing system*).  You have the opportunity to not only view the world through the periscope and push the horrifying ‘dive alarm’, you’ll observe how these brave men lived and worked on this undersea, iron amphibian.  Each compartment is staged to replicate exactly how it would have been during WWII, from the jacket still hanging on the peg, to the canned milk for the tea, to the photos of their true loves pinned to the wall.

In addition to the Alliance, there is a submarine museum where you can tour Britain’s first submarine, the Holland I, and learn about John Holland, who developed the very first submersible vessel.

From the Victory to the Alliance and everything in between, our visit to Britain’s oldest Naval Base, the Portsmouth Dockyard, was truly memorable.  Restoration of these vessels has been a considerable and expensive undertaking,  but so worth it.  And in order to continue the restoration, the ticket prices are a bit high, but when would you ever get the chance to experience anything like this?  I’m sure you’re thinking this would be great for kids and families and may not interest a lot of people, and I was certainly skeptical, but take it from me, you’ll never forget your visit to Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Dockyard.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* Just for fun:   How to Use the Submarine Toilet Flushing System:  After entering, close door “A”

  1. Open waste tap “B” and flush tap “C” with lever “D”, causing door “A” to be blocked.
  2. Open cover “E”.
  3. Move lever “F” to “use”.
  4. Use lavatory “G”.
  5. Open waste tap “H” and flushing tap “I”.
  6. Move lever “F” to “flush” position (do this more carefully the deeper the submarine is submerged) until compartment “J” is barely filled.
  7. Open shut-off valve “K”.
  8. Move lever “F” carefully to position “eject”.
    Compartment  “J” is filled through “K” and “L” with air from the 12 ATM system.
  9. Move lever “F” carefully to the “air waste” position. In this position, the air flows out of compartment “J” through valve “M” to the foul water tank and on to the battery compartment through pipe “O”.
  10. Lever “F” stays in the “air waste” position when the lavatory is not in use.
  11. Close and lock taps “H” and “I”.
  12. Close lever “E”.
  13. Close taps “B” and “C” with lever “D”.

Note: If these instructions are not followed exactly as above, the contents of the toilet will spill out over and up and down the closet. If you are so careless, you clean it up!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Historic Dockyard, Boston Navy Yard, HMS Victory, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Wikipedia, John Holland

GBBO . . . what’s happened to you?

What has happened to the Great British Bake Off?  Now in season 10 (or is it 9, maybe 8?) it has become a showcase of unattainable, unrelatable challenges.  No longer is it a baking show to which home bakers can think about, perhaps some day, challenging themselves to bake that irresistible, classic cake/pie/tart/bread/roll/pastry.  Now the contestants are asked to bake scenic ‘landscape desserts‘, pita bread on an outdoor  fire pit, and what in the world is a ‘Kek Lapis Sarawak‘ cake?  I completely understand that this is a long-running program and there is a need to have new “content” for each of the 10 episodes, but biscuit chandeliers? REALLY?

Has anyone else noticed that the bakers are younger, more stylish, and dare I say, more attractive?  In past seasons, there was a wide range of ages.  But not so much any more.  Where’s the Val, Diana, Brendan, Norman and Nancy today?  Is this home baker now too old for the commercial Channel 4 audience?  Also, these much younger contestants, with their perfect teeth, coifed hair and slim  bodies appear to be in ‘character’ now … much like MasterChef.

Season 1, which (unless you have a streaming service) we in the U.S. have never had the opportunity to see, featured 10 home bakers baking in the imposing tent which then moved around the U.K. to six different locations.  It was all about the classic bakes, ranging from puddings to breads to cakes.

The judges were Paul Hollywood, a seasoned bread baker, and Mary Berry, the Julia Child of Great Britain.  Together with comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as the sympathetic, caring, yet off-beat presenters who were always there to bolster a sagging souffle, the show was an immediate hit.  Let’s not forget the music.  Combining cellos, violins and a xylophone, the tension-building introduction perfectly set the mood of the show.

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc

The logistics of a roving tent must have been too daunting because in Season 2 the tent became permanently setup on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a 17th-century mansion house.  The number of contestants increased from 10 to 12 and a “star” baker was introduced.  It was official.  The Great British Bake Off was a huge hit!

Season 3, which here in the U.S. is referred to as Season 1, is when the rest of us fell in love with this charming baking show.  We were tired of the gimmicky, cut-throat, competitive, backstabbing drama which was so prevalent in our cooking shows.  We all fell in love with this simple format and with contestants who actually cared about each other, helping each other out when a crisis was imminent.

Ian dumping his bake into the bin.

Yes, there was one incident in Season 4 when Diana is accused of leaving Ian’s ice cream out of the freezer, which caused his bake to fail, and thus being eliminated.  Diana left the show because she said the program was edited to make it look as if she left the ice cream out when, in fact, she had put it back into the freezer.  She departed the show because of how she was portrayed.

The BBC series ran for six seasons, but when Channel 4 purchased the show, Mary, Mel and Sue left.  Paul Hollywood remained.  We were then introduced to Prue Leith as judge, replacing Mary Berry.  Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over for Sue and Mel.  Yes, they get the job done, but with gimmicks and slapstickish comedy, none of the clever, witty interplay we so enjoyed from Mel and Sue.

The first six seasons of this beloved show are constantly rerun on PBS, while Netflix has kept us up-to-date on the recent three.  Will I continue to watch?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t miss one episode.  But I do miss the eccentric, aging, snaggle-toothed, rural baker who is completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, but was such fun to watch.

_____________________________________________________________________________

CAKE

One of the oldest forms of what originated as a sweetened bread is cake.  In its simplest form, it is flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and butter, but it can be so much more than just that.  Cake can evoke so many different emotions and memories in each of us.  From the modest, but much-loved birthday cake of our childhood, to the multi-tiered symbol of love, the wedding cake, to the rich, decadent torte we enjoyed during our last extravagant dinner.  Or perhaps it was that $5.00 cake at the grocery store which looked so good you couldn’t pass it up.  Today a celebratory Cake is a ‘must have’ for most cultures at every occasion … from the baby shower to the anniversary dinner to the retirement party.

Duff Goldman photographed next to one of his designer cakes, a floral wedding cake at Charm City Cakes West.

I am fascinated by the incredible cakes produced on some of the Food Network shows. Watching episodes of Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes can leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate as a baker.  But you must know that lavishly decorated cakes didn’t begin when the Food Network started showcasing these professional bakers and their cake masterpieces.  It began during the Victorian era.

When hubby and I have a weekend free, we love to spend a Sunday afternoon strolling around rural town centers, browsing through curiosity and antique shops.  Recently I came across a fascinating  book entitled The Victorian Book of Cakes, Recipes, Techniques and Decorations from the Golden Age of Cake Making”.  Not the original, this reproduction, written in 1958, is taken from the turn-of-the-century tome which was the standard for professional bakers during the Victorian era. The recipes range from petit fours to pound cakes, slab cakes and shortbread, to gingerbread and marzipan.

The illustrations in this book are remarkable in that they are not photographs but drawn capturing the precise details from each original baked item.  The images of wedding cakes are astonishingly beautiful, each having won prizes at the London International Exhibition 100 years ago.

The book has hundreds of recipes, which are quite interesting.  Most use the same simple ingredients, but with very minimal direction.  The cakes are generally traditional fruit cakes, with nuts, spices, and rum or brandy, such as the wedding cake Prince William and Kate Middleton served for their wedding.

For leavening agents, although they do not call it “baking powder”, a blend of ‘cream of tartar’ and baking soda (two pounds of cream of tartar to one pound of baking soda) is used – which essentially is ‘baking powder’ (invented by Alfred Bird in 1840).  Yeast or beaten egg whites were also used to lighten batters, all of which leads me to think that most of these cakes were probably more ‘bread like’ and quite dense.

In a Victorian bakery or pastry shop there would be a variety of cakes and biscuits for sale from scones and shortbread to meringues, marzipan and trifles.  This book gives the bakery owner, not only recipes for its ‘best sellers’, but advice on how to display these confections and what to charge … with cakes starting at a shilling.  One description for a “SHILLING GATEAU” is described as “very saleable and enhance the general shop display.  They should be made from a good Genoese base, either a light egg mixture or a closer-eating butter mixing.  The latter seems to be the favorite of the cake-eating public.”  How fun!  I guess we ‘cake-eating public’ like a ‘closer-eating’ mixture … whatever that may mean.

In addition to the advice and recipes are the original advertisements for all the baking essentials required, from flours and sugars to cake stands and ovens.  One advertisement which I found interesting was for a “vegetable butter” made from “cocoanuts, as an excellent substitute for butter, margarine and lard”.  Why has it taken us another 100 years to fully incorporate coconut oil into our baking?

Times may have changed and although some of the ingredients have stayed the same, progress seems to be  mostly in the preparation, and in the myriad of flavors we have today.

I’m sure you’ve probably realized by now that ‘I like to bake’.  Breads, cakes, cookies, it really doesn’t matter.  I find baking to be relaxing.  It also provides a much-needed creative outlet.  Taking an assortment of unrelated ingredients and turning them into, hopefully, a confection that not only tastes good, but is pretty to look at, is quite satisfying.  Not all my ‘bakes’ have been successful, of course.  In fact, some have been complete disasters, requiring a quick trip to the nearest bakery when it was an occasion for which I was to supply the “cake”.  But, for the most part, they’ve been pretty decent.

I’m not sure any of us would enjoy making the seemingly simple, but on closer inspection, overly-complicated recipes in this “The Victorian Book of Cakes” today,  but I do feel challenged to try my hand at making one or two – some shortbread perhaps?  Not that I would ever do what Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  But, then again …

_____________________________________________________________________________

THE BEATLES

I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads wondering why in the world would I be writing about the Beatles.  What could they possibly have to do with a blog called TEA, TOAST and TRAVEL?  Well,  they certainly do qualify … definitely from England, and they were all “tea” drinkers.


We just returned from a two-week visit to England and, never having visited before, this year we decided to go to Liverpool.  How surprised were we when we discovered this once down-on-its-heels city of the working classes is now a thriving metropolis with a world-class seaport district, high-end restaurants and shops, museums and a tourist mecca.  How did all this happen?  The obvious and logical answer, of course, is the investment over recent years by developers into revitalizing the city.  I say it’s because of four young men from the ‘neighborhood’ …. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

In making plans for our visit to Liverpool, I thought it would be great fun to take a “Beatles tour” … maybe finding a cabbie to take us around, or we might find a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus.  So, I started trolling websites looking for what we might be able to do.  Not only did I find a slew of companies offering organized Beatles tours, ranging anywhere from three hours to a full day, and anywhere from a private tour with an ‘expert’ Beatles guide, to full bus tours, it was impossible to choose.

Looking at the range of possibilities (and the costs), I choose one of the bus tours.  Now I had to choose the day and time to make our reservation.  Huh?  Although they offered tours every three to four hours, they strongly suggested advance reservations because they usually sell out before the day of.  Once again, huh?   This was just one of the many Beatles tours.  So, I selected one time slot which would work for our schedule …. sold out.  Okay, I choose another …. sold out.  Picked one for the next day …. sold out!  What the?  I had to switch to another tour group.  Finally, landed on the “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Made the advance online reservation.  Paid in full.  And exhaled!

Never having been to Liverpool, we wanted to get there early, poke around the city center a bit and get a feel for this coastal metropolis.  Thank goodness for “sat nav” because without it, we’d still be driving in circles, trying to navigate the many bridges and tunnels.  And when we finally emerged, it was beautiful!  Elegant ornate old stone buildings intermingled with the sleek, modern architecture of today.  With the help of the many tourist information stands, we found our way to the “Magical Mystery Tour” kiosk (located right next to the Beatles museum), picked up our “Tickets to Ride” and were soon in the midst of other like-minded tourees … all ages … all countries … all interested in The Beatles!

There we all were clustered in front of ‘our’ bus (of which there were many), taking selfies, waiting patiently for the doors to open.  As soon as they did, we piled in, jostling each other for the best seats.  The tour leader boarded, introduced himself and we were off.  We began at the stadium where tickets to Paul’s 2008 concert sold out in seconds to twice its capacity, when he played far into the night without ever taking a break.  We then drove to the ‘neighborhood’ where the four young men grew up, visiting each individual location, the schools, the hangouts, the barber shop, the church where Paul was a choir boy … learning about all the inspiration for their songs.  Along the way, the entire bus group would break out into song, everyone knowing the words, to the Beatles background music.

The tour leader was not only entertaining, he provided us with so many rich details on each band member, making it quite an intimate experience.  Starting from 1957 when 15 year old John Lennon started a skiffle band, to Paul McCartney asking his banjo-playing mother to teach him how to play the guitar, to Richard Starkey wearing a bunch of gold rings and earning the name “Ringo”, to Lennon wanting George Harrison in the band because “that kid can sing and he’ll get us all the girls”.  And learning that the reason the Beatles broke up was not because of Yoko Ono, but because of the death of Brian Epstein, the cement which kept these talented four together.

Yes, we stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Paul McCartney’s home, George Harrison’s home and more.  At each destination, everyone piled out of the bus, taking turns for our photo op in front of whatever icon we visited, while watching similar buses, taxis or limos pulling away with another group of like-minded Beatles fans.  I felt badly for people living on the streets where all this activity goes on day after day.  They still had to go to work, school, shopping, the dentist, whatever, and here we all were clogging up these narrow, little neighborhood streets.  Our tour driver insisted not only don’t they mind, they actually love all the attention.  I hope so.

Two hours later, our tour ended back in the city center where it really all started for the Beatles, at the Cavern Club.  This little below-ground club is where in 1961 the Beatles (before Ringo) played to the lunchtime crowd almost daily.  Today this alleyway of a street is the hub for Beatles mania!  The Cavern Club sits mid-way, but first there are Beatles gift shops selling absolutely every item you can imagine with Beatles images on them.  Outside the Cavern Club is a brick wall with the name of every known country, rock or blues musician.  And be sure to have your photo taken with John Lennon or Cilla Black.
Each year Liverpool hosts an International Beatles Week attracting thousands of fans, with concerts all throughout the city performed by hundreds of Beatles tribute bands from around the world.  And, if you are such an ardent Beatles fan that you want an all-consuming experience, then you must stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.  This high-end establishment is adorned with specially-commissioned artwork and memorabilia.  And, yes, it serves Afternoon Tea.

As I said Liverpool is a vibrant and thriving city now.  If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And if you want to argue that Liverpool’s amazing turnaround over the past 30 years is because of the investment of dedicated developers which has led to the revitalization and rebirth of the city, you may be right.  But I say it’s all because of four lads, who called themselves the Beatles.

~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Hard Day’s Night Hotel, The Cavern Club, Beatles Tours, Wikipedia,
__________________________________________________________________________