Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Day Out, Museum of London

Those of you that know me will be aware of my passion and interest in all things "London". This passion was ignited by my father taking me to the Lord Mayor's show when I was about 6 years old. Ever since then I have been slightly obsessed with anything to do with London, it's history, geography and it's people. However behind this passion there lurks a guilty secret. Why don't I visit the Museum of London situated in the City of London on London Wall? http://http// .

Well for about the first 20 years of my life there wasn't a"Museum of London", there were only two collections telling London's story with items accessible to the general public, one housed in the Guildhall and one in Kensington Gardens. It wasn't until the Barbican development was completed in the mid-Seventies, was there anywhere to locate a dedicated museum. Maybe this is one answer to the conundrum of my lack of visits, I never visited it as a child.

So today I thought I would make my way up to town and pay a visit. Now one of the problems about visiting the MoL is it's location in the Barbican, it is not close to any Underground station or close to a bus route and you have to travel on an escalator/lift from road level to gain entrance. I do like a museum/gallery you can just "pop" into for half an hour or so. No "popping" with the MoL. Maybe this is my problem.

On entry (free), the Museum is roughly divided in two, pre-1666 and post-1666, ie before and after "The Great Fire". Having done to death The Romans, Medieval, and Tudors I opted to go to the "Modern London" galleries. Was I disappointed? Yes I was. It was all very lovely with lots of high tech audio visual wizardry but if you weren't a child of primary school age or an overseas visitor there was little to learn or amuse. If the MoL inspires a child to love London, great, and any overseas visitor who can find the place needs to be highly commended, but for anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with London I was not impressed. The two highlights were a Victorian High Street with a collection of shops. This was good, but why so dark? I know this was pre-electric light and the air was foul with fog and smoke but the sun must have shone once or twice during Victoria 60 year reign. If you go to all the trouble to erect these rescued shops at least give them a bit of light. The second highlight was a small collection of paintings of London. They to, could have been better displayed. I certainly learnt more about the development of London at The British Library in their "London in Maps" exhibition a couple of years back

Another area of complaint on my part, there were lots of displays not particular pertinent to London, such as fashion, sport, war and domestic life. All very well and good but done much better elsewhere, such as the. Imperial War Museum and the Museum of Brands Trying to hard to be all things to all people perhaps? Or just too much stuff in their collections and feeling obliged to display it

To the shop and caff, an integral part of a day out. The shop had the usual collection of London "Tat" but my goodness was it expensive, £11 for a tea towel with "Fancy a Brew" on it. Am thinking of bring out my own range with "Are you having a larff?" on it and charging £15. Good selection of books though. The cafe was very crowded and seemed nice enough but also was a bit on the expensive side, so I gave it a miss.

Now you might think I am having one of my more disgruntled, grumpy days but I wasn't and on leaving the Museum I realised that I no longer had to feel guilty about my lack of visits as the general galleries had little to offer me, but I might consider becoming a "Friend" of the museum as this gives access behind the scenes and to lectures. But it's still an absolute pig to get to!

On leaving the Museum I thought I would wend my way back via St Paul's and Fleet Street. On descending to ground level and walking away it suddenly dawned on me, MoL has no soul or heart it is completely devoid of the "Spirit of London". It completely fails to capture any of that essence that makes London so special. Down on the street it was there, the hidden alleys, the odd buildings, the old shop, the little parks, the statues, the people. Whatever "IT " is, it's just out there! I don't think any Museum can capture this. So if you want to get to know London just go and walk around and become part of it.

As an example of the elusive "IT", I stepped off Ludgate Hill and into a beautiful Wren Church, St Martin-within Ludgate, a haven of calm and beauty just feet away from the crowds around St Paul's. This a 17th Century baroque English Church, yet on a Sunday they play host to the congregation for the" Salvation of the Chinese Church" with services in Mandarin and Cantonese. Also in the church are "Bread shelves" on which bread given by wealthy parishioners would be placed for the poor to collect over 400 years ago. This strange juxtaposition of things is but one small example of what makes London so great.

Post Script.
I used to work just off Fleet Street and thought I would make my way home, by getting a bus to Charing Cross and seeing what had changed. Well, no newspaper offices, long gone east. And all the Banks seem to be restaurants. But there was a luggage shop in Fleet Street that had a "Closing Down" Sale all the time I worked in the vicinity. It's now a men's clothes shop but it's still Closing Down................. and the sign seemed strangely familiar!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Summer Fayre BGS (2010) part 3

Now down to the main event, we set up a tea room and offer a cup of tea/coffee or cold drink (no NOT hot chocolate) and a piece of cake or a cream tea for £2.00 a portion. After a number of trials it has been decided to offer a choice of Victoria Sponges (Traditional/Coffee/Chocolate), Lemon Drizzle (almost compulsory) and Carrot Cake and Fruit Cake together with a Cream Tea of Scone, Jam and Cream. This is the most we can cope with in the general madness. I didn't make any of the cakes this year but very fine they were. By a general popular consensus it has been decided that I make the best scones so I will confirm this post to just that

THE SCONE. Now before we even start there seem to be the debate as to what the darn things are called. It seems to be a toss up between the "skon" and the "scone" or even the "scoon". However I think this is merely a smokescreen sent up as a distraction from those who can't make the said items. I maintain that this simple item is the crossing point between Cooking as Art and Cooking as Science. Scones is Science. The fewer the ingredients in an item the more precise the methodology and application has to be , see, as I said, science. The recipe I use comes from Mary Berry (the Ultimate Cake Book, now republished as Mary Berry's Baking Bible).

8oz Self Raising Flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
2oz butter
1oz caster sugar
1 egg

1. Get the butter out of the fridge so that it softens.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 220° C and lightly grease 2 baking trays.
3. SIFT the flour and the baking powder into a LARGE bowl, then add the butter and rub in the butter. As you rub in, LIFT the mixture HIGH above the bowl and let it fall back in gently. The SIFT, LARGE, LIFT and HIGH help to get as much air into the mixture so your scones are light as a feather and open textured. We are making scones NOT stones. Stir in the sugar gently with a FORK
4. You then get your rolling pin and taking it with, you you go to the farthest point in the house from the kitchen, you put the rolling pin down and return to the kitchen. You don't need a rolling pin for scones.
5. Break the egg into a measuring jug, then make up to 5 fl oz (150ml) with the milk and whisk lightly together. Using a FORK, stir the egg and milk into the flour mixture.- you may not need it all- the temperature and humidity can affect the amount of liquid required (see science again). Mix to a soft but not sticky dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, knead lightly with your fingertips and pat the dough gently until it is about ½ in thick.
6. Cut into rounds with a STRAIGHT sided cutter using a firm up and down action. Do not TWIST the cutter. Brush the tops of the scones with a little extra milk or any remaining milk and egg. Put the scones on the baking trays and IMMEDIATELY put them in the oven for about 12 minutes or until they are pale and golden brown. Lift on to a wire rack and cool. Eat as soon as possible.

Now all the words in Higher Case/Capitals are what, I believe make my scones the best. It may sound arrogant to say this but I just thought I was making scones, but the public of S.E.London has spoken and I have been praised an embarrassing amount over this. I also refer you to my earlier post "A Tale of Tea Sittings". Sad innit.

Meanwhile back to the Fayre. Hectic it was, we sold out and had to close early. In all £383.26 was made and together with the Hamper money. we made the most money. SO the team was Janet C, Janet Y, Lucy, Maria, me and Ray who just kept the plates coming from the washing up. And you know the really great thing, we can do it all again next year!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Summer Fayre BGS (2010) Part 2

The Cookie Jar.
As well as the lemonade in the Hamper I filled a Cookie Jar with the following varieties, Buttery Oat, Cranberry and White Chocolate and Chocolate Chip.
Here are the Recipes as requested by Ann, who won the Hamper.

Buttery Oat from Sue Lawrence (Book of Baking):
200g unsalted butter
100g golden caster sugar
150g rolled porridge oats
85g plain flour
¼ teaspoon bicarb

1. Preheat oven to 180°C and prepare baking trays by lining with baking parchment
2. Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light, then add the oats, flour, and bicarb and stir well until well combined
3. Using lightly floured hands, roll into approx 20 balls and place well apart on the baking trays. Bake for 15 mins until golden
4. Remove from oven, leave for 2-3 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sue Lawrence (Book of Baking):
125g unsalted butter
70g golden granulated sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
half a teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium egg
150g plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarb
150g chocolate chips or chunks

1. Preheat oven to 190°C and prepare baking trays using baking parchment
2. Beat the butter and the sugars together with the vanilla until creamy. Beat in the egg then gradually sift in the flour and bicarb. Once it is just combined, stir in the chocolate chips.
3. Spoon heaped teaspoonfuls on to the baking trays and bake for approx 10 minutes until pale golden and still soft in the centre
4. Leave for 1-2 minutes before removing the cookies to cool on a wire rack.

Cranberry and White Chocolate from Nigella Lawson (Feast)
140g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
75g rolled oats
125g unsalted butter
75g dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
75g dried cranberries
50g pecans roughly chopped
140g white chocolate chips or chunks

1. Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and rolled oats into a bowl
2. Put the sugars and butter into another bowl and beat together until creamy,then beat in the egg and vanilla.
3. Beat in the dry ingredients from the other bowl and the carefully fol in the cranberries, pecans and chocolate.
4. Put the bowl in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 170°C, and prepare about 4 baking trays.
6. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls with you hands, place them on the baking trays and flatten slightly with a fork.
7. Cook for 12 minutes until pale gold but still a little soft. Leave on the trays for about 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool. (Makes about 30)

Summer Fayre BGS (2010) Part 1

The Rest-a-While tea rooms, which has been such a success at the last two fayres poped up again on Saturday. See nothing new, all this "pop-up" restaurants malarkey, anyone invoved with running fayres or fetes have pop up tea rooms on a regular basis, summer and winter,and have been doing so for years.

Following a donation of a picnic hamper (empty) last year, Netty and I decided we would fill with home-made and luxury goods. Many chutneys had been produced during the year and have been put in the hamper. Netty raided IKEA and brought table "Furnishing" and made a lovely tablecloth.I was charged with making home made lemonade and filling a cookie jar with assorted cookies.

Here is a really easy recipe for the lemonade: 6 large lemons and 5oz granulated sugar. Scrub the lemons, then thinly pare the rind off of 3 of the lemons with a potato peeler and put in a large bowl. Add the squeezed juice from all the lemons and the sugar. Next pour over two and a half pints of boiling water, stir well, cover and leave overnight in a cool place. Next day, stir again and taste and add a little more sugar if necessary. Pour into bottles and chill throughly.Serve either straight or diluted with sparling mineral water and lots of ice.

Well the Raffle went really well and a cool profit of £149 was made. (thanks Penny and Vicky for selling the tickets)

Summer Fayre 2010 to be continued!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Feeding the Nation

Netz and I went to the Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, The Ministry of Food. This exhibition tells the story of how the Nation fed itself during World War II and survived rationing.Very interesting and thought provoking it was. Showed how resilient, resourceful and imaginative people were. Before the outbreak of war over 60% of the country's food was imported. WHY? Because "The Empire" would provide. But as the British Isles was cut off from the Empire and the rest of the world by the Germany Navy, we had to cope on our own.

Through the efforts of ordinary people and the sacrifices made by the Merchant Navy, the country managed to survive the German threat. Typically, a lot of moaning and tutting went on, but very few, if any food riots or civil disobedience occurred. Orderly queues formed, and despite the rationing and shortages the nation was fed and healthy but extremely bored. Two of the stars of the exhibition were Potato Pete and Dr. Carrot, and imaginative recipes using these two staple vegetables were concocted. Can't say cold potato sandwiches appeal though. Another side of the rationing was the avoidance of waste, you could be fined or indeed imprisoned for wasting food. A lesson for today perhaps?

The Restaurant in the IWM serves wartime food, and to enter into the spirit of the times we has nettle soup and a hunk of "National Loaf" for lunch

Where did the last two years go?

No excuses, just lots of changes that included a gall bladder out and a new kitchen in, I hasten to add not from the same place in either case. An appalling summer, an awful winter. Daughter progressing in her career and changing jobs and locations and just life in general, people coming and going and also ill-health from the computer, requiring cranking up that left one too knackered to bother with such indulgences as blogging.

In addition there was the small matter of organising a "Flower Festival" that took up a chunk of time and was a huge success and then there was the school summer fair and the harvest fayre and so the list goes on, I ain't been twiddling my thumbs!

Anyhooo as all the "hip and trendy" people say, I will try and resurrect this blog, and share my thoughts with anyone who cares to read

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

A Tale of Tea Sittings

YB and I recently spent a few days in York. It's a lovely place but so very cold in February and we will probably return again but at a warmer time of the year. However the cold did give us the excuse to visit a couple of tea rooms.

Now, Afternoon Tea is an indulgence, no doubt about it, and when one has set one's foot on the road to indulgence, that is exactly what one wants.

The first visit was to the Earl Grey Tearooms set in the picturesque Shambles. You enter through a shop which filled is filled with interesting preserves and teas and are taken into an attractive tearoom with historic beams and a general medieval feel. We ordered the Cream Tea and when it arrived, oh the disappointment!! We were each given 2 large very stodgy scones, a 50g jar of Frank Cooper red jam and a small portion of clotted cream, still in its manufacturer's tub, and also, strangely, some butter. Well, the scones were far too big to be light and soft and to compensate they had far too much raising agent in them which leaves that unpleasant after-taste/feel at the back of the teeth. Due to their large size and the stinginess of the cream and jam, you either could only have one adequately dressed scone or a mere scrape on both. What a waste! A whole shop of delicious jams and then this travesty. A score of 3 out of 10 here.

The following day we headed for the famous Betty's in St Helen's Square. Oh, the anticipation.

Betty's was originally founded in Harrogate in 1919 and the decor is reminiscent of that time and has the feel and grace of an ocean-going liner. We had to queue before we were taken to our seats and we ordered "Betty's Afternoon Tea". We were asked to choose two sandwich fillings from smoked salmon. ham, egg, and roast chicken. We opted for the ham and the smoked salmon. We also chose to Betty's own blend of tea to drink. When our order arrived we were each given a three tier cake stand. On the top were the sandwiches, the second level the scones and on the bottom 3 dainty fancies. The sandwiches were cut into slim fingers are were freshly made and delicious, although the salmon was a little too thick. The scones were as they should be, soft, light and fresh and were accompanied by generous helpings of jam and cream. The 3 fancies were a delightful lemon French Madeleine, a fruit tartlet with 4 different fruits and a small profiterole filled with chocolate. All were lovely except the profiterole which was rather overfilled with a rather heavy butter cream. However this are very minor faults and Betty's deserves a 91/2 out of 10. Well worth the £14.99 per head and we will be going again I am sure. As a souvenir we took home two of the famous Fat Rascals which are similar to a rock cake but much smoother in outline and are absolutely delicious when eaten warm.