Sunday, 23 April 2017

This week I will be Eating Mostly... Interwar Cookery

Day One Update

This is yesterday's food, but today I've been on the leftovers, so nothing to report, yet. Yesterday I wanted to go for a bike ride and take packed lunch, so I thought I'd do this dubious sounding concoction, Egg, Cheese and Banana Salad. Now I'll freely admit I picked this for ewwww value, but it also piqued my curiosity. I halved the quantities and made it straight in a box, so what I ended up with was basically a little lettuce basket with the ingredients in the middle. Reader, it was delicious. The cheddary taste went really well with the sweetness of the banana and the eggs, the lemon juice just added enough freshness to stop it being too gloopy, and the crispy lettuce was a great contrast. It also occurred to me that if you didn't do bread but still wanted some carbs as well as protein and veg, this is actually a great lunch to take to the office/on the train. 10/10, an unexpected win, and very easy to make.

For dinner I made this, and was quite looking forward to it. What I hadn't reckoned on was not having a mincer. I chopped up the meat fine, but then came to the mincing the aubergines bit. Raw aubergine, I now realise, has a weird rubbery texture and when I tried to chop it up with a handheld blender-thingy it just compressed weirdly and refused to give in. I had to chop it up small with a knife. Anyway I baked the results, and ate them along with rice. It wasn't a disaster but it also wasn't anything special, quite bland, and looked dry, although as a matter of fact, underneath the breadcrumbs, it wasn't especially. Verdict: way too much aubergine wrangling for an edible, if entirely undistinguised, result.

For dessert, I did better, with this unusual fruit salad which intrigued me. First of all, it was very pretty, a nice cheery yellow, interspersed with bright red grapes and cherries. I put the walnuts on whole. It was quite sugary due to the sauce, which was the only bit I had some doubts about. First, there was more sugar than needed, second there was too much sauce, and third I couldn't understand the point of the boil then boil again instructions. However I wouldn't leave out sugar or sauce entirely, as it made the sharper elements like the orange and pineapple nice and tasty. All in all, an excellent combination of crunchy things like cherries and apples, with softer, blander fruits. With the cherries, sherry, orange and walnuts it tasted kind of Chrismassy: I would definately make this at Christmas if I had guests, and maybe serve with ice-cream. Full disclosure: my hand might have slipped a bit when I added the sherry. Yesh. No regretsh.

Further adventures tomorrow.

Ever since I spent a week living out a Victorian cookbook last year, I've been wanting to do the same thing with another decade, and this week being otherwise a particularly boring one, now seemed a good time to try. Having resisted the blandishments of the 1970s I opted to go in for the 20s/30s. I have three cookbooks from that era so decided to use a combination of the three, and also to spread the enterprise over ten days, partly because last time I found it knackering having to blog every day. This will allow me to basically cook for two days, which is normally what I do anyway, and update the blog each day I cook something new.

Out of the three cookbooks, there's only one I'd cooked from before, the Complete Illustrated Cookery Book (1934). As a matter of fact this book is my go-to tome if I want a classic British recipe, but it is definitely a book aimed at a professional cook rather than a housewife. Despite being called 'illustrated', it mostly isn't. The second is Modern Cookery Illustrated (Odhams Press) which isn't dated but I'd guess is immediately pre-war. Modern Cookery Illustrated is aimed at the solidly prosperous middle-class family, and is the only one of the three to include gas and electric cooking temperatures. I'd never used it before, partly because of the dismal quality of the photographic illustrations, which make the food look entirely unappetising. However, once I started looking at the recipes, I realised there was actually a lot of nice stuff in there I'd like to try.It also has lots of useful info like seasonal times for vegetables and which vitamins each contain. It also has menu suggestions (which I won't be following) and a really useful thing I've never seen before: a list of what shopping you'd need to do each day to follow them, which would really take the brainwork out of food planning. There's also a list of common 'fails' with specific dishes and what causes them. These are both brilliant ideas that modern cookbook writers should emulate.

The third is The Bestway Gift Book, which is obviously aimed at a younger woman who has just got married and set up house, and has lots of attractive pictures. It's the only one that's clearly intended as present, and as such is quite heavily focused on sweets/treats rather than daily standards.

Anyway I decided to be a bit less 'planned' than last time, partly because I had three books to play with, and partly to follow the advice in the Odhams Press book to buy what looked fresh and wholesome. I went to the greengrocer, where it was immediately obvious that much of the vegetation completely failed to meet the standards laid out in the book. Ditto the vegetables in the supermarket. I bought bacon from the butcher (very much a staple in all these books) and some oxtail to make oxtail soup, and went to Sainsbury's, emerging at the till looking like I was doing the shopping for my great-aunt who's been dead since 1963.

One thing I did notice in all the cookbooks is that seafood I can't afford appears as quite a common staple: oysters, sea-bream, lobster. At this point I got cross that I had never in my life eaten lobster, so I bought a 43g tiny tin for £1.10. I'm quite puzzled as to how on an island all these things got impenetrably expensive, when they clearly didn't use to be. Answers on a haddock skin, please.

Anyway, I thought I'd want something to snack on during the week, so I kicked off by making these biscuits from the Bestway book. They were easy to cook, look classy and taste very pleasant, although I think they would have benefited from a pinch of salt. Would be ideal to take to a party or suchlike as a break from the endless cupcakes. But be careful, they cook really quickly.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: Lace in Fashion, Bath Fashion Museum

If you are going to the Fashion museum in Bath any time in 2017 you have an extra treat in store as they have an exhibition on all about Lace in Fashion. As well as modern designer pieces there are some going back to the 16th Century, when lace was rare, expensive and handmade. It then moves forward to the modern day, when lace is made by machine.

There's a couple of lovely Jane Austen-esque dresses, which as well as being beautiful are also simple and elegant, and look comfy to wear. Alas, this is soon subsumed in the high Victorian era of too much everything, swiftly followed by these ultra-fashionable late Victorian pieces which are just ouch. Fortunately World War one comes along and women are soon able to breathe again, in a variety of elegant and comfy drop-waisters which are also wonderfully tasteful.

Sadly the whole 'less is more' ethos of the inter-war years goes missing again in the 1950s, and while there's a couple of lovely 1950's lace frocks (including one owned by Princess Margaret, designed by Norman Hartnell) there's also a couple of horrors. Layers of tangerine lace do not for elegance make. The modern items in the exhibit are probably the least interesting, though I did swoon over a lovely, lovely pink and green dress by Alberta Ferretti.

If there's one thing I'd have liked some more of it's the background information about the lace and how it's made. I was curious about the huge handmade lace efforts of the Victorian era – it's easy to know about the kind of women that wore them, but what about the women that made them? Were they skilled, well-paid artisans, or slaving away in a factory? The dresses are amazing but I felt they were slightly bereft of stories – like this beautiful dress, knitted by a lady's grandmother in the 1930s as a wedding dress, eventually used for the wedding in 1946. What happened? Was the 1946 wedding to the man she was planning to marry in the 1930s, or someone else entirely? And what happened in between? And there's the lovely flapper dress, made in France, worn by an Indian Rani – who was she, and what happened to her? Clothes are an intimate part of women's lives, and as such if you're interested in women's history then any history of fashion is always fascinating. But I'd have appreciated a little more about the lives behind the fashion, as well. 

Admission to Lace in Fashion is included in the museum entry price.