What I did on my holidays…

Some of you may have noticed (well I hope you did) that there hasn’t been a peep out of me for a while. Well the truth is I have been the victim of a strange hallucinatory effect called summer in England.

A summer like the one we have had this year comes along, oh about every 30 years, so I couldn’t resist the call of the great outdoors.

My favourite poem by Richard Le Gallienne goes as follows:

I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?

So there you have it. Mind you I have got a lot done in the garden and on the allotment so I can say that it was time well spent. But is that a measurement of a good summer? and why do I feel the need to justify myself for not ‘working’ even though I love my books and bookshop?

Anyway along with enjoying the garden I have picked up some great books and some tasty recipes so I am back in the world of Refried Books. I hope you’ll come and visit me.

Here are a few of the photos I have taken of my holidays.

A Little Christmas Liqueur Treat

Well we are on the upward slope to Christmas and like all other cooks and food lovers I am starting to prepare food before I think of anything else.

On my list of what needs to be prepared up front are a few bottles of liquid refreshment. The Damson Gin was set in place a couple of months ago and now it is time for the Curacao. I found this recipe while I was writing Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and comes from a recipe book handwritten by William Sayer in the1820s.

Curacao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curacao. A non-native plant similar to an orange the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added. This recipe uses seville and blood oranges to give the flavor and is obviously not as strong as the original as syrup is added. The recipe calls for three teaspoons of red barley (roasted for colour), but I omitted this as it is just for colour and difficult to find. I have also halved the amounts in the original but feel free to revert.  


1 bottle of pale brandy,

2 seville oranges

1 red orange

350g of sugar

2 inch stick of cinnamon

900mls water 


Place the oranges where they will dry very gradually until thoroughly dry when they will be ‘not larger than a pigeon’s egg’. I put mine in the airing cupboard but it takes some time. If you put them in a low oven be careful that they do not burn.

Then add them with the brandy and cinnamon to a large sealed jar, in a warm place for a week or two. When you are ready to make the Curaçao, remove the oranges and strain the liquid through muslin to remove the cinnamon and barley. 

Make a very clear syrup of the sugar and water, but not strong enough to crystallise. Cool, add the brandy then  mix it all together and store it in a sealed bottle.

I’m not sure what to do with the used oranges it seems a shame to throw them away, perhaps they would make good Christmas decorations. All suggestions welcome.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

The Staff of Life at Christmas

While we are planning our Christmas food the basics sometimes get forgotten. Don’t get me wrong I am planning my midwinter feast now, but while I was making the bread yesterday I realised that I hadn’t put bread on the Christmas food list.

Somewhere between Delia’s Mulled Wine Sorbet and Nigella’s Clementine cake I hadn’t given a thought to what I was going to make in the way of loaves and rolls.

This was mainly prompted by a review of a great video of Andrew Whitley’s DO Lecture on Bread – Why Bread needs Time. It was this lecture that started me down the bread-making road and I am so grateful, I love making bread and eating your own home made bread beats shop bought by a mile, unless you are lucky enough to have a good local real bakery.

I don’t want to sound holier than thou, I am definitely not a domestic goddess. Making my own bread doesn’t make me a better person but it does make me happy when I eat it. I like to make it by hand, the kneeding time with a bit of music in the background gives me time to think and gaze vacantly out of the window. My brother in-law on the other hand has  been converted to make his own bread by a bread machine, he made a lovely nutty, seedy loaf last time we stayed, great stuff. 

Bread really is the staff of life and by making it yourself you know what the ingredients are and where they come from, you can give the bread time to rise, you can be sure it has taste (something sadly missing from supermarket bread) and you can be sure that it will be digestable. Take back this staple and make it yours! Let’s be  nation of home bread makers rather than soft pappy bread eaters.

So back to Christmas, this year why not give someone (or yourself) a bread making book, or a bread machine or a course on bread making? You’ll reap the rewards next year.



and don’t forget to watch the video http://www.breadmatters.com/andrew-whitleys-do-lecture 

Oh and we will be having cinnamon rolls for breakfast and sourdough spelt loaf for sandwiches on Christmas day.

want some good baking books? click here

In Praise of Giving – Home Made Stuff

Yesterday I was given a posy of flowers from my friend’s garden, beautiful pink roses and lady’s mantle to be precise. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

I wrongly tend to think that giving flowers from my garden or something I have cooked is the cheat’s way out of giving a present or that I am a bit of a cheapskate. I took a bottle of rhubarb and elderflower cordial that I had made to a party last week rather than wine and questioned myself all the way there.

Wrong! wrong! wrong! Time to have a rethink.

Giving hand made presents seem to have been replaced by the need to show how much you care by how much you spend. Are we measured by how much we spend on each other? I know that those people who I call friends are not in any way like that, so why do I still so often suffer under the illusion that I need to prove my affection by spending money rather than time on them. I love receiving hand made or second hand gifts, chosen because the giver knows it is something I would love rather than consider where it came from or how much it cost. So why do I not practice more of what I appreciate from others?

True the same person who gave me the flowers gets a jar of my chutney every Christmas and my brother would rather have a jar of my Marmalade than the bought variety.

So, in future I intend to give more to friends and family in the way of time through something I have made or grown as a first option rather than a second choice.

and follow my own mantra – Every day give something away.