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Today I am writing about my experience of a recipe, rather than writing my version of a recipe.  I was hoping to find a recipe for Nice Biscuits (i.e. the rectangular, golden coloured biscuits flavoured with coconut with scalloped edges, usually stamped with “NICE” on the top), or at least a reasonable facsimile which could be made at home. Unfortunately, Googling “nice biscuit recipe” came up with biscuit recipes which were nice (as in delicious) rather than recipes for the actual biscuit. Googling “nice biscuit recipe coconut” wasn’t very helpful either – that simply yielded random coconut biscuit recipes which taste nice.

Eventually, I found Hartley and Palmer’s 1904 factory recipe for Nice biscuits. Huntley and Palmer’s was an extremely successful biscuit company headquartered in Reading, which operated from 1822 till the early 1990s. I was warned that this biscuit might be “not be as sweet as a modern chocolate biscuit” and “probably somewhat better for your teeth”, but was intrigued anyway. I made the recipe as recommended, using a heart shaped biscuit cutter (as I didn’t have one which looked like the original Nice biscuits).

At first bite, I’d definitely say my modern palate found the lack of sugar rather strange (despite my attempt to dust them with additional sugar). Also, the biscuits were not crumbly like usual shop-bought biscuits – although I thought this might be partly due to the very low levels of fat in it relative to modern biscuits. That having been said, after having had a few biscuits I became acclimatised to the sweetness level. It has made me think as to whether or not the high levels of sugar we are used to these days are really necessary.

Bara brith

At home we make our tea the old fashioned way, with loose leaf tea in a teapot. Unfortunately, sometimes there is left over tea in the pot that we forget about, which becomes strong-tasting and cold. Rather than throw the tea away, I sometimes collect it to make bara brith (“speckled bread” in Welsh). According to various sources on the internet, the origins of this loaf date back to the days when neighbouring villagers shared a communal oven. As the heat of the village oven begun to fade, a mixture of leftover dough and dried fruit would be combined and baked to make this treat.

There are 2 different styles of bara brith. One is said to resemble a fruit cake (with the use of chemical leavening) and the other more closely resembles a fruity bread loaf (using yeast). Due to the use of chemical leavening the recipe I use is technically the cake version, however it doesn’t use any fat and has significantly less sugar than a number of the other cake versions I have seen. Perhaps it is meant to be a modern bread version with the convenience of not having to wait for the yeast to develop?

I use a recipe derived from the old North Wales Tourism website. However, I personally made a few amendments:

    1. I found that the original recipe yielded too dry a dough -my mixed dried fruit (primarily sultanas) tended to soak up nearly all the tea in the first place. I use an additional 2/3 of the original soaking liquid amount when it comes to combining the dry and wet ingredients.
    2. I halved the entire recipe to make a single 1lb loaf rather than a 2lb loaf. This would involve halving the amount of egg, so for simplicity this was replaced with the equivalent amount of Orgran egg replacer or flax egg (1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 1.5 tbsp water). You might also be able to 2) use another egg replacer with binding properties 3) use 1/2 an egg, then cook and eat the other half or 4) make 2 lb loaves using 1 egg. I then adjusted the cooking time to account for the reduction in loaf size.

So, the recipe I use is as follows:

  • 224g (0.5lb) mixed dried fruit
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) tea + 100ml tea (1/6 pint)
  • 1 tbsp marmalade
  • 0.5 egg (using an egg replacer)
  • 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 0.5 tsp mixed spice
  • 250g (0.5lb) self-raising flour
  • honey to glaze
  1. Soak the fruit overnight in the tea.
  2. On the next day, mix the marmalade, egg equivalent, sugar, spice and flour. The dough should have a dropping consistency. Spoon into a greased 450g/1lb loaf tin and bake in a warm oven (gas 3, 325ºF, 170ºC) for 1 hour, or until the centre is cooked through. The original recipe suggested checking from time to time that the top doesn’t brown too much (covering with a sheet of foil or moving down a shelf in the oven if required), but I did not find this necessary.
  3. Once cooked, leave the bara brith to stand for 5 minutes, then tip out of the tin on to a cooling tray. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top with honey.

Coconut Crunchies

If you love crunchy biscuits and coconut, then this recipe is for you. I found this recipe on an old newspaper clipping – author unknown but annotated “delicious” – and decided to give it a try. The results were delicious indeed!

Here is my version of the recipe. The original recipe used pink food colouring, which I decided to omit. The recipe also suggested that these could be sandwiched in pairs with a little jam, but I think these are delicious just as they are.

Coconut crunchies – makes 15 medium, 20 small

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. desiccated coconut
  • 4 oz. White sugar
  • 1 level tbsp cornflour
  • 1 large egg – size 2 (or 50ml worth of egg replacer if you want to go the egg-free route – see notes)
  • A pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to moderate; gas mark 4 or 350°F/180°C.
  2. Line a baking sheet. Grease the baking parchment well and dust with cornflour. (You don’t want your crunchies to stick to the paper!)
  3. Mix the coconut, sugar and cornflour.
  4. Beat the egg (or egg replacer) with the salt and combine with the dry ingredients.
  5. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet, pressing each spoonful into a rounded, slightly peaked shape.
  6. Bake for approx. 15 minutes, until beginning to turn brown.
  7. Take them out of the oven and carefully remove them from the baking parchment using a palette knife (or other wide metal implement). Transfer to a cooling rack.

Egg-free route

I have made these successfully using Orgran egg replacer. As the egg acts as a binder, I measured the volume of the egg’s contents in ml, which is how I came up with the figure 50ml. The main differences are that 1) they don’t look quite as golden (no egg yolk) 2) they are possibly more crunchy than the egg-based ones – a bonus if you want them crunchy in the first place(!) and 3) they are more difficult, but not impossible to shape. 50ml may not seem a lot, but add more and you will find that your creations will start to go runny…

I might try making some with flaxseed replacer (another possible vegan baking substitute for eggs) to see if they impart more of a golden tone than Orgran.

One of my good friends grew up and lived in Liverpool for a significant proportion of his life. However – having made the decision to become a vegetarian at a young age – he has never been able to eat Scouse. For those of you who didn’t know, Scouse is a beef or lamb-based stew associated with Liverpool (supposedly popular with sailors who brought it from Northern Europe), to the extent that Liverpudlians are also known as “Scousers”. Occasionally, scouse was served minus the meat in it (“blind Scouse”) due to cost reasons. However, it is likely that it would still have utilised meat stock, and perhaps some Worcestershire sauce (which usually contains fish).

Having done an extensive Google search for meat-based scouse recipes, I then did a Google search for vegetarian scouse recipes. However, they didn’t look very authentic to me (having just looked at the meat-based recipes). Worcestershire sauce was a common feature in many of the meat-based recipes, however this was simply omitted from vegetarian ones that I found, with no attempt to replace it with a suitable alternative. One of the vegetarian recipes was also accompanied by a picture of a rather pale-looking broth, which did not look like the dish at all.

So here is my own version of the dish, which hopefully looks and tastes a bit more authentic. Note that I am not actually a Scouser myself and so I am not sure if this is truly as authentic as it can get – this is just my own interpretation based on a comparison of the various meat-based Scouse recipes I have come across. Suggestions from Scousers welcome 🙂

Vegetarian/Vegan Blind Scouse – serves 3-4

N.B. The Scouse stew in the picture also contains a few bits of cauliflower and cauliflower greens which needed to be used up at the time, added as part of the vegetable stock by my good friend the aforementioned Scouser 🙂

  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 onions
  • 700g of root vegetables e.g. carrots, swede, turnip
  •  450g of potatoes
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tbsp HP sauce – to make up for the missing Worcestershire sauce. Alternatively, use a dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce (e.g. Biona).
  • 2-3 tsps of Marmite and 0.5tsp of soya sauce – to contribute to savouriness and depth, if not using Worcestershire sauce
  • Seasoning (black pepper and salt)
  • TVP/soya chunks (optional).
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp of arrowroot or cornstarch (optional thickening agent, as with long cooking the potatoes should start to break down and thicken the stew anyway)

1) Chop the onions and fry them until soft in the cooking oil.

2) Peel and chop the root vegetables and potatoes.

3) Add the prepared root vegetables and potatoes to the pan and stir thoroughly for a few minutes.

4) If using a slow cooker, transfer the contents of the pan to the slow cooker. Add the vegetable stock, Marmite, HP sauce, bay leaf and soya sauce. Keep about 25ml of cool vegetable stock aside if using the thickening agent.

5) If using a thickening agent, whisk it into the cool vegetable stock until well mixed, then add this mixture to the stew.

6) If using soya chunks, rehydrate them in warm water and add the drained chunks to the stew.

7) Cook at low to medium heat for approx. 2-3 hours, so that the potatoes start to break down and thicken the stew.

8) Discard the bay leaf and sprinkle with thyme. Season well with black pepper and salt.

9) Serve with pickled red cabbage and/or pickled beetroot.

10) If desired, this mixture could be put in a shallow oven-proof dish, covered with shortcrust pastry (pricked to let steam out) and baked in the oven at approx. 190°C for 25-30 mins. to make Scouse pie.

Tiny origami cranes

A little while back, I received a message on Etsy asking what would be the smallest size origami cranes I could make. After a little experimentation, I decided that the smallest crane that I could make without too much difficulty (or a microscope of some sort!) would be 1.3-1.4cm across. Here are some pictures of my completed cranes:

 

 

 

And here’s one I made for myself, which I “captured” in a mini vial:

 

It’s been some time since I’ve managed to do a contemplative post; and for good reason – for the past few years I’ve been highly occupied with my degree. But now as I am awaiting graduation, I finally have more time to breathe, craft… and write out thoughts unrelated to my degree.

Yesterday, I came to read an article on “Size Zero” in the fashion industry by former editor of beauty magazine Vogue (Australia), Kirstie Clements. I was outraged to hear about the extreme tactics used by some models in order to obtain an incredibly low weight/skinny physique. After all, models are supposed to be models in the first place for being genetically blessed with a beautiful body, why should they have to resort to practices which endanger their health as well? I suspect that in many cases, such models resort to such behaviour not necessarily always because they might have an eating disorder, but because they feel that it has become a necessity within their industry. I agree with many of the sentiments in the article, among them that “it cannot be denied that visually, clothes fall better on a slimmer frame, but there is slim, and then there is scary skinny”.

The affinity of the fashion industry for Size Zero has often been blamed for society’s preoccupation with losing weight. I recall a study by Becker (2002) which would seem to support this notion. I would also imagine that adolescents – who tend to be specially sensitive to socially-based information (as fMRI studies have shown – Sebastian et al 2010) – might be specially susceptible to pictures implying that thin and Photoshopped is beautiful.

But irrespective of the cause, it would seem obvious to me – as a member of society – that many people in developed countries have a dysfunctional relationship with food. The other day, I heard a friend of mine mentioning that despite her efforts to eat healthily, she had been “naughty” (or words to that effect) due to lack of sleep and snacked on sugary foods. Irrespective of whether one wants to/needs to lose weight, it is my opinion that food high in fat and/or sugar has a place within a balanced diet. Perhaps I am one of the lucky minority who feels that I am able to eat whatever I want (within vegetarian limits, of course) – yes, that includes sticky toffee pudding and chips – and still weigh in on the lower end of the “normal weight” BMI category. In my opinion, there should be no “bad” or “good” in diets, only “more”, “less” and “enough”. In fact, I personally think that “sinful vs. good” thinking with regard to food mirrors thinking in eating disorders. One only needs to read about emotional eating, feelings of self-control associated with food deprivation in anorexia and feelings of guilt in bulimia & binge-eating disorder to recognise some degree of parallel. That having been said, there are of course other factors that prevent such thinking from actually contributing to a fully-fledged eating disorder as such, such as healthy self-esteem (relative to the disordered), genetics, personality and upbringing to name a few.

Perhaps part of society’s obsession with slimness stems from the relatively recent abundance of food in developed countries. It is all very well to adopt a Seefood diet attitude (“I see food, so I eat it”) in times of scarcity, however food is relatively easily available and cheap to get in developed countries. It is all very well to eat for pleasure – I do so myself – however unfortunately I think this is where insight, willpower and personal pleasure derived from food come into play. Perhaps part of the reason as to why I am able to stay relatively slim is due to the very fact that I recognise that delicious treats are relatively cheap and in abundance in the first place; so I realise that I could eat that battered halloumi cheese whenever I’d like, as opposed to being obliged to eat it right now. I thought about this after having considered separate occasions where 2 other people I know (who happen to be watching their weight) who have mentioned that they “were full” after having consumed their meal, and then displayed a significant margin of indecisiveness when offered more food or dessert. I suppose it is easier said than done, for others!

So, it would seem to me that society’s psychological maladaptation to an abundance of food might partially be to blame for the thin ideal, given that being svelte has become an elusive state. Perhaps just as being curvaceous was a sign of vitality, good nutrition and wealth to support it in days long gone, being slim has become associated with having the money to have a personal trainer, a gym membership and health food (although in my opinion, seasonal vegetables, wholemeal grains and cheap proteins such as beans/pulses/eggs are widely available – and at prices comparable to those of crisps and sweets; and exercise can be done for free in the form of walking, gardening and other hobbies). It is just crazy and sad when the end response of the fashion industry is to go overboard, though.

Beeswax candles

I’ve always felt it a bit of a waste throwing away bits of candle after they had grown too short for use. So I started collecting the bits of wax from my spent beeswax candles to make my own candles from the remaining wax. Here is a picture of my latest batch:

By the way, I got interested in beeswax candles after hearing that long-term use of paraffin candles might be more detrimental to the respiratory system than natural alternatives. I decided to go with beeswax since soy primarily comes from the US, and I’m not quite sure how green (not to mention expensive) it is to ship candles/wax across the continents. Plus, I find that beeswax makes for a much harder (and therefore long-lasting) candle than soy. I have yet to try out rapeseed wax, but I might as well continue with beeswax since I have all these wax scraps 🙂 But remember, irrespective of wax type, when using candles its important to use them safely and keep the room they are in properly ventilated.