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Here’s a beautiful thing to make and eat when you can get ahold of Sweet Eve strawberries grown in Somerset, England, or any locally grown, freshly picked strawberries. Of course, they’re great on their own. So sweet and juicy! It turned into a sunsplashed summer’s day today and our late afternoon kitchen is bathed in honeyed sunshine, which sets everything aglow. The blueberries are from Lustleigh, a village about 4 miles from home.
Tonight I made a summer supper of oven-BBQed chicken, stovetop grilled veggies with harissa marinade and corn on the cob
(during which time the kitchen got pretty smoky (maybe this is what cooking in Heaven is like!))
We also had a fantastic new wine with dinner: Navazos-Niepoort 2009.
It’s a fascinating white wine made as a recreation of how still white wines were made 150 years or so ago in Jerez. This wine was fermented in sherry barrels but is unfortified. There are floral and citrus notes on the nose with the tangy notes of fino sherry. The wine is quite buttery yellow with a reddish tinge. On the palate there is a lightness of body which is initially slightly surprising if you think you’re about to get a mouthful of sherry. Very good!
Steve has been really busy with his work this weekend and will be away most of next week, so I decided to make a special treat for dessert – strawberries with balsamic vinegar.
Here’s how do it:
- 500g (1 1/4 lb) fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
We had some new friends over for brunch this morning and I picked some luscious, fragrant roses from our front garden and set them afloat in a bowl we received for our wedding. They got this morning’s sunlight.
They have been subtly perfuming our living room all day long. Now the sun has journeyed West and gone behind the rooftops (it’s setting earlier with each passing day).
I think it’s time to join my husband in the living room, where he’s been working all afternoon, with a bowl full of succulent summer berries and share the rose-scented late summer evening.
Inspiraculum will be ‘off the air’ for about a week. Steve and I are flying to the Amalfi Coast for a week’s honeymoon. I didn’t pick up a camera once over the past two days, but here’s a photo taken by our lovely friends John and Jayne at our flat after our soul wedding ceremony.
I’ll be back in about a week following our romantic Italian honeymoon.
The wedding quilt has had a long, significant role, especially in America. Such a quilt would be given to a newly married couple as a wedding present, or a bride to be would piece a special quilt top for her marriage bed. In the 1800s, quilting bees were popular and were often held to mark special occasions, particularly engagements and weddings. Girls were expected to sew several quilt tops for their dowries; these quiltings were often equivalent to engagement announcements.
The ‘traditional’ wedding quilt pattern is a Double Wedding Ring, contructed from a series of interlocking circles.
For part of my dowry, I’m making a wedding quilt which will hang at the altar during our soul wedding ceremony and afterwards, at the head of our marriage bed. The design is based on my photograph ‘Cleaved’ which I’ve written about here.
The background and slate pieces are silk dupioni and the rose petals will be printed onto cotton. My first step was to make a full-sized cartoon. I put the image into Photoshop and produced an outline drawing which I printed onto acetate.
I borrowed an OHP from work and used some huge sheets of brown wrapping paper I scrounged from IKEA to project and draw my cartoon onto.
I had some screens made from some of the emails and hand written letters that Steve and I exchanged in the weeks after we had met and were living 200 miles apart . . . . . .
and these words written by Rainer Maria Rilke, which I had sent to Steve when he asked me for my favourite quote.
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”
I ordered my screens from Thermofax Screens. They have an online custom screen ordering service, in which I email my text/image as an attachment. Claire Higgott is an absolute gem and gives very helpful advice, often suggesting how I can order a slightly smaller screen to get the same result. The turnaround is super fast and they have a good selection of pre-made screens to choose from too.
Steve helped with the leading (vertical spacing between the lines of text), line breaks and how the lines will fit around the rose petals.
My first step was to screen print the quote onto the fabric. I had three screens made, each with four lines of text.
I made guides from freezer paper with staggered cut outs so I could screen four lines of text at a time.
It really took a lot of planning and even so, I accidentally screened one line of text two inches lower than I should have. But I managed to scrub the fabric paint off with a nail brush and Fairy liquid, thus averting disaster. Whew!!
I’m very, very pleased with the result.
I chose a font called ‘ Dali’ that I found on dafont.com and used Argent Moiré Setacolor fabric paint. I’ll probably use the screens of our love letters to make shadows and texture on the background fabric.
My next step will be placing the slate pieces and printing the rose petals.
It is said that in the 16th century the Sultan of Persia displayed his affection by presenting a crimson tulip to his beloved as a symbol of the burning flame of his love. The tulip’s velvety black center represents a lover’s heart, darkened by the heat of passion. Tulip is the flower of spring and symbolises imagination, dreaminess, the perfect lover and the red tulip expresses irresistable, undying, passionate love.
Our friend Philippa who is helping us design a labyrinth walk for our wedding came to see us this week and brought these delicious heart shaped cookies.
I used this portrait of my hands taken by our wedding photographer Emma Solley to make a Valentine’s Day card for Steve.
Heart in my hands
Steve’s birthday is four days before mine, so we get a whole week to celebrate and last week we went to Kent and East Sussex.
When travelling, the road is wider than it is long. Not only are there all of the new places to discover and experiences to have, but also the rich inner stirrings of memories, associations, feelings and new connections being made. I feel steeped in the experiences of those six days. Here are some of the things we did: camped (Steve’s first time!), visted a medieval castle with a moat; saw Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in a little church in Kent; bought a fish poacher (our very own!); had a guided tour of Farley Farmhouse, the home of photographer/model/gourmet cook Lee Miller and her artist-curator husband Roland Penrose, by their son Antony and grand-daughter Eliza; bought my wedding dress; toured the site of the Battle of Hastings (1066); visited Sissinghurst Gardens; found the grave of E. Nesbit, one of my favourite writers; fell in love (me) with a spiral staircase in a Modernist building; watched the lights of Brighton Pier come on at sunset and took no fewer than 500 photos between the two of us.
One of our very special birthday treats was a night in the luxurious 4-star Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells, an elegant 18th century mansion dating back to 1766. The prefix “Royal” dates to 1909, when King Edward VII granted the town its official “Royal” title to celebrate its popularity over the years amongst members of the royal family.Indeed, Queen Victoria had stayed at the Spa Hotel three times. Royal Tunbridge Wells is one of only two towns in England to have been granted this (the other being Royal Leamington Spa). The Spa Hotel today looks just as it did in the postcard (sans Edwardian croquet players).
Steve had made the booking as a surprise and there was a bottle of champagne and a bowl of fresh fruit waiting when we checked into our room. We had eaten very well the previous few days between restaurants and gourmet meals on our camping stove, but this night’s meal took the cake. We ate in the Chandelier Restaurant in the hotel that night. We dressed up for dinner and had a laugh with all of the waiting staff from the bread boy to the wine waiter (who admitted he was afraid of the scary Italian maître d’). We ordered Chateaubriand which we have both always wanted to try, but hadn’t yet.
Ali, who carved the steak at our table and served the vegetables, went and asked the chef why it was called Chateaubriand and gave us a handwritten explanation. The Chateaubriand steak is a recipe for a particular thick cut from the tenderloin, which, according to Larousse Gastronomique, was created by personal chef, Montmireil, for Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand, (1768–1848), the author and diplomat who served Napoleon as an ambassador and Louis XVIII as Secretary of State for two years. This dish is usually only offered as a serving for two, as there is only enough meat in the center of the average fillet for two portions. It was exquisite. Steve likes his meat medium-rare and I like mine medium. The chef managed to cook this big hunk of beef medium on one side and medium-rare on the other. All of the vegetables were cooked to perfection and the jus had the perfect soupçon of Madeira.
Steve had also scheduled me in for a spa treatment on the afternoon that we left. It was a lovely, pampering finish to our birthday week away.
Steve and I each have our studio/work spaces on opposite ends of our home. The kitchen is right in the centre, at the heart of our home. It’s our shared studio where we make creations from food, sometimes separately, sometimes together. I keep my laptop in the bookcase and do an awful lot of my blogging at the kitchen table. The night before our housewarming party a couple of weeks ago was the big test for using it as a shared space.
The menu for the party all began (and originally ended) with Posh Nibbles, eg olives, sea salt & balsamic vinegar crisps, homemade gougeres and cheese straws, garlic & herb roulade, Carr’s water biscuits.
It was Steve who said ‘Let’s make a poached salmon’ and the whole concept was instantly elevated to a new level. The final menu became:
Poached salmon in aspic
Pork, juniper and pistachio terrine
Aubergine purée with pomegranate and almonds
Roasted spelt, red pepper and pistachio salad
Tuscan potato salad
Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart
Leek and gruyere tart
Meringues, fresh berries and cream
Tarte aux abricots
While Steve poached the salmon and made the terrine, I made the brownie, apricot tart and roasted the vegetables for the tarts and salads. It was good fun. Our kitchen is very spacious and we can clear the table for an additional work surface. At about 9 o’ clock, we went out to the White Horse, our local, for a takeaway stone baked pizza. We amused a couple of our friends when we said we’d been cooking all evening and had come out for some dinner.
Here’s some of the party food, followed by a the recipe for the star of the show.
The poached salmon was quite impressive to behold and, according to Steve, relatively simple to prepare. Our fishmonger, Fishes, in Exeter lent us a salmon poacher and serving platter.
Poached Salmon in Aspic
- A 6-7 lb. salmon, gutted
- One bottle of white wine – Chardonnay or Burgundy
- Fish stock, about 2 litres
- An onion, sliced
- Two egg whites
- Gelatine, one packet
- Cucumber, sliced thin
- Fresh curly parsley
- Cherry tomatoes
- Peeled, cooked shrimp
- 1-2 lemons, sliced thin
Place the salmon in the poaching pan, scatter with sliced onion and pour over the bottle of wine and fish stock. Add enough cold water to just cover the fish. Bring the liquid to the boil. Boil for two minutes and then turn off the heat. Leave the fish, covered for a few hours to cook through. Let the fish cool in the liquid.
Drain the fish and remove the scales and skin using the side of a knife blade.
Strain the poaching liquid into a saucepan, using a chinois or a colander lined with cheese cloth. As the stock will be made into aspic, you should clarify it so it is beautifully clear and sparkling. This is accomplished by beating egg whites into the cold stock, then heating it to just below the simmer for 15 minutes. The egg-white globules dispersed into the stock act as a magnet for all its minute cloudy particles. These gradually rise to the surface, leaving a crystal clear liquid below them.
Aspic (or meat jelly) is made by adding unflavored gelatine to clarified stock in the following proportion: 1 envelope of gelatine for 2 cups of liquid. Sprinkle the gelatine over the hot stock and stir to dissolve.
To decorate the salmon, Steve sliced the cucumber into transparent slices using a mandoline. Then he brushed on a layer of aspic and arranged the cucumber slices into an overlapping fishscale pattern, finishing with a final coating of aspic. Then the salmon was chilled overnight in the fridge. We had to remove the head and tail to make it fit, but these were cleverly ‘re-attached’ the following day by concealing the join with a layer of cucumber slices and brushing with a final coating of aspic.
The salmon was garnished with parlsey, tomatoes, lemon slices and cold shrimp.
To accompany the salmon, I made a Lemon Tartare Sauce and a Creme fraîche and Dill Sauce.
The star of the party
Neither of us got the chance to sample all of the food on the night of the party because we were pre-occupied with showing our guests around the flat and making sure they had everything they possibly desired. But we had really good leftovers for a couple of days.
A good thing to do with leftover salmon is to make an Alfredo Sauce with some lemon juice and capers, stir in chunks of salmon and serve over tagliatelle. I will post a couple of other recipes sometime later on. The beetroot and goat’s cheese tart and the frosted brownie were particularly fine.