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I have been ill for a frustrating amount of lockdown – Covid (mild, self diagnosed, with the Engineer developing an alarming but confirming case of Covid Toe), toothache (still waiting for the dental hospital extraction referral appointment) and then a gastric bug. It’s been boring for us all, and the Vicarage kitchen has rather suffered from a lack of creative input.

But as I started to recover a couple of weeks ago I happily remembered a recipe that I used to use frequently when we lived in South East Asia, but had almost forgotten. It’s essentially a South Indian rice recipe, and I remember being provided with it on field trips when I worked in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, when I was involved in a feasibility study for some enormous water pumping stations to supply the city.

Lemon rice is a gorgeous accompaniment to any Indian dish, but particularly anything barbecued, like tandoori chicken. It’s actually a pretty filling dish on its own, and because this version has peanuts, it’s a complete meal and so suits any family that has acquired a vegan *mother of teenagers face*.

I have made this using basmati rice and with Thai fragrant jasmine, but any type of rice would be fine. After our time in Malaysia and Singapore, our go-to rice is Thai fragrant jasmine. The Queen had not realised this, and had been buying standard long grain at university. Unfortunately, she had also realised that rice at home tastes much better and was distressed to find that we have basically spoiled her for cheap rice.

Ingredients

  • Cooked rice – I use 450ml of rice (3 rice measuring cups) for our family of 5 to ensure leftovers
  • Oil
  • 1 tspn mustard seeds
  • pinch of asofoetida powder
  • a handful of dried curry leaves, unless you can find fresh ones
  • 1/2 tspn grated ginger
  • 1/2 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tspn chilli flakes, or a couple of whole dried chillis broken into 2cm sections (adapt to your chilli capacity)
  • a handful of cashews – raw or roasted and salted are fine
  • a couple of handfuls of red skinned peanuts
  • 1 tspn turmeric
  • Good slosh of lemon juice – 3-4 tbspns I guess

All you have to do is heat the oil, and then add the rest of the ingredients together, apart from the lemon juice, and gently fry until the nuts are toasted and the mustard seeds begin to pop. Then add the oil and fried nuts and spices to the rice, with the lemon juice, and mix until you have a beautiful fragrant yellow rice dish. Try not to eat it all at once.

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I blogged for four whole days! In a row! More blog posts than in the whole of 2017, 2018 and 2019. I wrote on Ash Wednesday and then all the way to Saturday. And then it was the First Sunday in Lent and I had small rest. A lifting of the fast to feast for the Lord’s Day.

And a very good Lord’s Day it was too, thanks for asking. We had more people than usual at the All Age Service, with more songs than usual and a great feeling of joy as we read through God’s Very Good Idea together:

This is God’s very good idea: lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other.

God MADE it.
People RUINED it.
He RESCUED it.
He will FINISH it.

One of the final pictures in the book is of a church family eating together. A good illustration, because is that is what we did after we went through this story. Because the first Sunday of the month is our Community Church Day.

gods-very-good-idea-feasting

We didn’t have pink tablecloths but otherwise this is a pretty good depiction

Community Church Day is when we invite people who attend our midweek church groups (toddlers, kids club, Open Church) to join our Sunday congregation for lunch, with crafts, games and a Bible story in the mix. Other members of the community are also invited – we always try to take some invitations around to neighbours.

A few of us bring food to eat, and everyone pitches in to help with putting up tables, serving food, wrangling toddlers, playing games, clearing up and sweeping the floor at the end. This Sunday we had chicken curry, a yellow dhal, roast gammon, a huge lasagne, a vegetarian pasta dish and carbs in pretty much every form (including an enormous pile of chapattis). The glorious mix of food was matched by the mix of people, a reflection of the wonderful variety of God’s good creation.

A day like that is part of God’s Very Good Idea: lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. And our next Community Church Day is not on the first Sunday, because we’re going to celebrate Easter Day together: the very best part of God’s Very Good Idea.

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The Vicar and I first ate Bi Bim Bap (pronounced Bee Bim Bap) in Singapore, in a tiny Korean restaurant near the Vicar’s office. In those days he wasn’t a vicar, but an engineer working for a structural steel construction company. Bi Bim Bap means ‘mixed rice’ in Korean and my version isn’t terribly authentic, but we still love it. It’s simple and delicious and it’s my go-to recipe after cooking roast beef (we always have brisket) for Sunday lunch.

Ingredients

  • Rice (I use Thai fragrant jasmine)
  • Beef – minute steak if you don’t have any leftovers from Sunday lunch
  • At least couple of veggies to stir fry. Choose from bean sprouts/carrots/Chinese cabbage/baby corn/peppers etc – whatever you like or have in the fridge.
  • Garlic
  • Light soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Barbecue sauce – we use Bibigo Bulgogi Beef Barbecue sauce, which is authentically Korean, but any barbecue sauce will do.
  • Eggs
  • Chilli sauce – again we use the Korean one available in our astonishing multicultural Tescos, but any will do.

Cook your rice as usual. Then prepare all your ingredients: chop the veg, including a clove or two of garlic per vegetable, leaving each vegetable in a separate bowl. Slice your beef thinly. Make sure you have your oil, soy sauce & sugar handy. Hopefully your rice will be cooked and ready to go now. Heat up your wok or stir fry pan with a splash of oil. Pop in one portion of chopped garlic and once it is golden, add your first vegetable. Stir fry until cooked, then add a dash of soy (around 1/2tbspn per person) and a sprinkle of sugar (1/4tspn per person). Then put the cooked veg back in the bowl. Repeat with second vegetable. And then third, fourth etc if you’re feeling keen, but two vegetables is fine, honestly.

Then pop another dash of oil in your wok and add the beef. Stir fry until cooked (heated through if using leftovers) and add the barbecue sauce. If we’re using leftovers I also add leftover onion gravy at this point – so delicious. Heat through.

Then, using a separate frying pan, fry an egg for each person who’d like one – the Engineer is not keen, so his Bi Bim Bap comes egg free.

Now assemble your dish: rice at the bottom/side, vegetables and beef arranged in little piles on top, fried egg to top it all off. Squirt with chilli sauce to taste, then serve. Mixing is done by the person eating.

I would love to learn to make kimchi, the spicy pickled chilli cabbage dish, to accompany this. All recipes gratefully accepted!

Korean Vicarage Tea

Korean(ish) Vicarage Tea

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Another day, another minor declutter. Three items today, although I had to search again for the third, as the Queen vetoed the disposal of a Snoopy bag thing that she’s had for years but never uses. Are hoarding tendencies passed down through the maternal line? My friend who is organising our declutter challenge has posted some great thoughts about why it’s a good idea, where the idea came from – and what it might make us think about.

Also today: men on the Vicarage roof, having a nose about. They weren’t burglars but builders, trying to locate the source of the damp on the attic walls. Seems that there was a bit of a bodge job around some replaced roof tiles, plus some missing flashing round the chimney. They’re back tomorrow to try and fix it and I might manage a photo. Getting on our roof is a bit of a project – three storeys of Victorian vicarage takes you quite high in the air.

And I have been cooking like a mad thing. Tomorrow is our Lunch Club Lite. We used to have a proper Lunch Club, run by a brilliant team who produced fabulous home cooked roast dinners for about forty people every month. However, the team were feeling the strain and retired after much good service. I wasn’t able to commit to the work required for such a big project but offered to cook soup and fetch rolls and fruit, and so Lunch Club Lite was born.

So I was in the church kitchen with three big pans this afternoon whilst the toddlers toddled and listened to The Gruffalo. The menu includes soups of the broccoli and blue cheese, Melrose lentil and leek and potato varieties and there are three trays of flapjack just out of the Vicarage oven. We’re looking forward to getting together with some of the church family and neighbours from the parish and chatting over a meal. And then we have the exciting prospect of the Queen’s GCSE options evening. How on earth did she get that old (and tall – taller than me now)?

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This is a fabulously fresh, easy and tasty recipe. It uses ingredients I nearly always have in, so is great if extra mouths need feeding, or if I’m not feeling up to fancy cuisine. A perennial Vicarage favourite, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Ingredients

  • Potatoes – 2-3 medium per fairly hungry person, peeled (if not new) and chopped into large chunks
  • Greens – cabbage (white, sweetheart or Savoy) or Spring greens are fine – finely sliced – a good handful per person
  • Bacon (2-3 rashers per person – I normally use smoked streaky), or leftover gammon, chopped
  • 1 lemon (for up to 4 people)
  • Olive oil

Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, then add the shredded greens for 3-4 minutes in with the potatoes. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, fry your bacon in its own fat or gammon in some olive oil.

Once the potatoes and cabbage are cooked, drain & place in a serving dish and pour over bacon or gammon in its oil. Add the finely grated rind & juice of your lemon and perhaps some extra-virgin olive oil, and lots of black pepper. Serve immediately. Help yourself to seconds.

Lemony Greens

 

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When the Vicar and I lived in Singapore, we had a lovely neighbour who was from Mumbai/Bombay. We celebrated the Millenium on her roof and shared recipes. And the Vicarage cat came to us through her feline loving contacts. Nomi also taught me to cook dhal. Spiced lentils is a staple of Indian cuisine, and there are heaps of different recipes. When I cooked this recipe for our Tamil church friends, though, they pleasingly said that it was ‘restauarant dhal’.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of toor lentils (not the oily ones) – these are yellow pigeon peas and can usually be found in specialist Asian grocers (or Tescos in our tow-un). If you can’t find them yellow split peas or red lentils would work as well.
  • pinch asafoetida (if you can find it, otherwise not a biggy – it’s meant to decrease the wind quotient of the lentils, but doesn’t really affect the taste)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 tbspn black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tbspn cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup of curry leaves – dried or fresh if you can find them
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1-2 green chillies, chopped fine OR 1 tspn chilli powder OR 1 tspn crushed dried red chillies (use a smaller amount the first time you make this & increase next time if you’d like your dhal spicier)
  • 1 tspn turmeric powder

Cook your lentils in water according to instructions. I use a pressure cooker so I can cook them in about 15 minutes (plus all the time taken for the pressure cooker to calm down so I can open it without scalding my nose). When the lentils are cooked, you can add your asafoetida to make them less fartful. Then heat a good slosh of oil in the bottom of a frying pan. This oil will be flavoured and added to your lentils, so don’t skimp or you won’t be able to distribute the spiciness too well. I cover the bottom of my pan in oil – about 4-5 tbspns I guess. Heat the oil and then pop in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Once the leaves start to discolour and the mustard seeds start to get lively, add the garlic, chillies and turmeric. Once the garlic has cooked and taken on some colour, add the spiced oil to the lentils. And stir and serve. This is brilliant with rice, naan, chappatis or pitta. And freezes really well. Great for lunch or supper with another curry.

The spiced oil

The spiced oil

A pot of dhal

And a pot of dhal

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This is a Vicarage favourite (apart from with the Engineer, who has a Thing about fish). Very simple and quick to make, and great with rice or noodles and stir fried veg. It’s loosely based on a recipe from a great little series of recipe books (Periplus mini) I bought in Singapore, but alas unavailable in the UK.

Ingredients

These are per person – and are very flexible. I just tend to slosh the soy about and add a bit less juice, then scatter sugar/honey and ginger over.

  • a salmon steak (smaller or larger, depending on budget and fish consumption preferences)
  • 2 tbspns light soy sauce
  • 1 tbspn lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tbspn runny honey or brown sugar
  • 1 tspn grated fresh ginger

Pop your salmon steaks in an oven proof dish (ceramic or pyrex, not metal) and pour over the sauce ingredients above. Leave to marinade if you have a few minutes, otherwise pop straight under a hot grill for 8-10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and a little blackened on top.

We ate it with steamed rice and some cabbage stir fried with garlic, soy and a little sugar.

IMG-20140107-00298

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Vicarage life has been as busy as ever this weekend. A few highlights:

  • Gone is back. He’s just out of prison and has set up camp under our hedge. He had a hostel place available, but he hates hostels so hasn’t gone there. He spent his release money on an mp3 player and a mobile phone (which he’s already lost). The Vicar gave him a hat, scarf, gloves and a big coat. The coat is also lost. We also provided a sleeping bag, blanket and mat. But it’s pretty chilly there out under the hedge and Gone is frailer again. Trouble is that he’s one of those people who struggle to operate within the system that’s provided. He reminds me of the Lady in the Van whom Alan Bennett wrote about. Do pray for him and for all those trying to help.
  • We had a Ladies’ Craft Night. Dreamer had printed lovely fliers and told lots of people about the evening. And she and I had a meeting on Monday all about the crafts and plans for the evening. But then family illness meant she had to be away from the parish. So a couple of valiant church ladies stepped into the breach and helped me to set up and heaps of people helped to clear up afterwards. And somehow, by God’s grace, I managed to prepare the crafts AND a talk – all very simple, I hasten to add. And we had a wonderful night of chatting, creativity, delicious puddings and thinking about how Mary prepared for Christmas. Happily, the only problem was that there wasn’t enough time. So plans are now afoot for an Easter Craft Night – a great way to get church and friends together and share both the gospel and our lives.
  • We went out for Sunday lunch at SOMEONE ELSE’S HOUSE. An unusual experience for us – and a lovely one. Our friends are Tongolese so we ate rice and fried chicken and sweet fried dumpling and lots of other yummies with spicy sauce on the side. It was so so lovely to have a Sunday off catering and God’s timing was perfect – the Craft Night was the previous evening.
  • A couple of people have posted reviews of The Ministry of a Messy House over the weekend: Rachel found it encouraging and Gary‘s favourite story was the one about the communion bread (I think this is everyone’s favourite). Martha hasn’t posted a review, but an interview with me about the book.
  • My kitchen is very chilly. So much so that I’m even going to do some ironing and hope the heat from the steam will defrost my fingers.

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It’s not all cake in the Vicarage. There’s bread too. Last week I made my first couple of loaves of sourdough.

I’ve been making my own bread on and off ever since we lived in Singapore and the only bread to buy was either ridiculously sweet chewy sliced rubber stuff or tastier but eyewateringly expensive. I started with a bread machine that broke from overuse and since then I’ve generally used my Kenwood mixer to make the dough. I very often make dough for pizza at home or for breadsticks for our weekly Cake and Chat community coffee morning. Although, after watching The Great British Bakeoff the other week, I think I may be making the sticks all wrong – they’re doughy rather than snappy. Still tasty though. I hardly ever make a proper loaf.

I’ve been thinking about sourdough for a while. It’s the bread of geeks, as you’ll see if you google it, made without any added yeast but a starter made from flour and water which is left to brew its natural yeasts. And then I was reading the side of my flour bag (I suffer from acute narrative hunger and need to read everything – one reason why the internet is so bad for me) and there it was – a sourdough starter recipe. So I consulted Annalise Barbieri’s lovely blog because I knew she made sourdough and also some recipes I found online. And then I gave it a go.

The flour and water concoction magically became my starter over the course of a week and a very sticky dough became my first loaf.  Although it spread out rather alarmingly, it came out of the oven with a lovely crust and proper airy texture. The second loaf was less airy but less spread too. I’m finding it a fun way to make bread, especially since the recipe I’m using doesn’t involve much kneading, just a brief punch a few times over the course of a morning. It also keeps really well, although there’s not much been kept. Sourdough has a low GI and is easier to digest than bread made with added yeast. And a loaf cost less than 50p to make. Brilliant.

A couple of days after starting my starter, I discovered that it’s Sourdough September. So I seem to have timed it quite well. Anyway, I’ve just pulled a new loaf out of the oven and I’m going to call a friend now and invite her over for coffee and a slice of bread.

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This recipe is the favourite of Surfer, who is Godfather to the Joker. I used to make it when he came to pray with the Vicar back in the relaxed days of theological college. It’s loosely based on minestrone, but without the pasta. Pasta is a pain in soup cos it goes revoltingly soggy if you have leftovers, or want to freeze it. So this has beans instead and is easily made from things I normally have in the fridge and pantry.

Ingredients

  • 4 rashers bacon, finely chopped, or small pack lardons
  • Medium onion, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 leek, quartered lengthwise and then finely sliced
  • Tin of beans – haricot, borlotti or canellini
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes or jar/tetrapak of passata (sieved tomatoes)
  • Olive (or other) oil, mixed herbs

Fry your onion in a little olive oil and then add the bacon and cook until the fat begins to crisp. Then add other veggies, fry a little and add tomatoes and tinful of water or more to dilute to a soupy consistency.

Bring it to the boil and simmer for 10-15mins until the vegetables are tender. Rinse the beans and add to the soup, along with a smattering of mixed herbs or just oregano. Heat through and serve with crusty bread. This is good for May lunches, given the temperatures this year!

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