Blueberry Crumble Bars

Corn.  Cattle.  Pella Windows.  Dutch letters.  Red covered bridges of Madison County (somewhere my initials are carved into one).  Elk Horn’s Danish windmill.  Butter sculptures at the the state fair.  Moths as big as birds.  Fishing in my aunt and uncle’s backyard.  The Hawkeyes.  The best writers’ workshop in America.  Glenn Miller, John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Donna Reed.  Electrical storms in summer.  Fireflies.  Farm life. These are a few of the things that come to mind when I think of Iowa.

Well, that and bars.  By which I mean bar shaped baked goods–the treats that make the Midwest go round.  Iowans love them.  I love them.  And as a woman with strong family roots there, I felt it my duty to finally post about them.  Most tend to be of the chocolate variety, but mine are blueberry.

This morning at the greengrocer’s my four year old chided me.  “Blueberries aren’t in season, mommy.”  I trained her too well.  “That’s right, darling.  In England they’re not, but lucky for us they are in . . . (I picked up a carton and read the label) Spain.”  “Morocco too.”  I needed a few more cartons and the Spanish ones ran out.

Below is my blueberry bar recipe.  It’s a crumbly one with notes of almond and fresh lemon.  As the sky was so blue today and the sun so warm, it felt like the most appropriate bar recipe to bake.  I love it as much as my Grandpa Jim loved the Hawkeyes.  My hope is you do too.

where corn is king

ISF-butter-moneybags

Butter sculpture

Me at my Grandmother's

Me at my Grandmother’s

moth

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

The Sorensens

The Sorensens

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My aunt and uncle's backyard

My aunt and uncle’s backyard

mama in iowa

at coco's downtown harlan

james warren

Grandpa Jim

 

Ingredients:

For crumble:

1/2 cup caster sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

125 grams unsalted butter

1 egg

 

For filling:

4 cups blueberries

1/2 cup caster sugar

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon cornflour

 

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 4/ 350F/ 180C.

Lightly butter a small ceramic dish and set aside.  The measurements of mine were 8×12 inches.  If you like lots of crumble, use a smaller dish.  8″ x 8″ would be perfect.

Mix all the ingredients for the crumble, except for the egg, in a large bowl with your fingertips.  Combine until it resembles a fine meal.  Then incorporate the egg.

Place 2/3 of the crumble in the bottom of your dish.  I use my knuckles to push it into place.

Then in another bowl mix the lemon juice, zest, sugar, and cornflour.  Gently stir in the blueberries and coat.

Pour the berry mixture on top of the crumble layer.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the crumble on top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow the bake to cool completely before cutting into it.  This will give you a better set bar than just a lot of crumble.

baked crumble

blueberry crumble bar

Blood Clots, Codeine, Cookies and Cashmere

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.  Actually, that statement’s not true but it is how I felt Wednesday afternoon.  Just as John McClane picked a bad day to give up smoking, so was Wednesday the worst possible day to wake up with debilitating chest pain and be coughing blood.  In case you don’t live in Britain and are not aware, Wednesday was the junior doctors’ strike.

People were protesting Jeremy Hunt’s contract outside the hospital entrance as I staggered into A&E.  Inside, people with various ailments were packed like sardines.  Some patients with cannulas held their own IV bags as there weren’t enough stands to go round.  In triage a medic apologized to me for the wait.  She explained that with the strike there was only one surgical doctor in the hospital that day.  It was plain to me that present staff were clearly working overtime.

I was relieved when I finally saw the doctor who had not only the same surname as my mother but also the same comforting kindness.  When I explained to her that I was suffering from crushing chest pain that radiated round my back, she ordered an x-ray and a full blood panel.

Not long after a trip to the radiology department, a nurse named Nadine was giving me an injection in my stomach and telling me I was to be admitted.  She put me in a bed and hooked me up to oxygen as my levels were low.  As I lay there in a bay sectioned off by a paper curtain, I was too distracted by the sounds around me to read.

A woman was being sick in a nearby bin.  Around the corner, Evangelicals prayed at top volume and sang hymns to their afflicted.  The shadows of their waving hands sailed up and down the bit of corridor I could see.  And in the distance, a drunk man named Jim shouted abuse at everyone around him and dared them to call the cops.

This cacophony was drowned out though the moment the doctor pulled back the curtain and said she suspected a blood clot in my lungs.  Suddenly all I heard was Fantine’s voice in my head except it was my own.  Tell Cosette I love her and I’ll see her when I wake.  

My mind began to race.  I thought about how before school that morning I promised my daughter I’d play Candy Land with her when she got home.  I felt terrible for not being able to make good on my word and I felt worse still that I wouldn’t be home to read her a bedtime story that night either.  I wondered if non-British citizens were allowed to be buried in British cemeteries.  I struggled to recall the details of the life insurance policy my husband and I had.  I wondered if he noticed we were out of ham and that Helena would need something else for lunch tomorrow.  Eventually I quieted my thoughts the same way I did when I was a child and couldn’t sleep.  I sang Blue Shadows to myself.

The next day’s CT scan showed I didn’t have a blood clot in my lungs so much as I had multiple blood clots and on both sides of my lungs.  I’m told it’s treatable but that I am at risk of having a stroke.  On one hand it’s nice to understand why I’ve felt so terrible.  On the other, I hate knowing the only reason I lost half a stone in 4 days was because I’m actually quite ill.  My treatment will last about four months during which time I’ll be on anticoagulants to stabilize my clots.  I was warned the drug I’m taking will render me like a haemophiliac so I’m to take extra precaution not to cut myself.  Dihydrocodeine has been prescribed for the pain.

Considering the circumstances of Wednesday, I feel extremely lucky and grateful for the NHS who even on an understaffed strike day made sure I was properly seen to and diagnosed.  If it weren’t for their thoroughness I could have died.  Americans who are scared of socialized health care, don’t be.

My husband, Henry, has been a hero.  He has essentially been a single parent for weeks while the GP has struggled to find out what’s wrong with me.  He has also been a loving partner and the ultimate calm in spite of this storm.  Helena has lavished me with love and comes home every day with little smashed flowers in her pockets that she picks on the walk home from school.  I keep them next to my bedside next to the picture of me holding her when she came down with flu during the Mad Hatter’s tea party we had to celebrate her second birthday.

If you know me you know that most days I wear pearl earrings.  Recently as I was hacking and crying, Helena waited until I caught my breath again and brought them to me.  “Here, mommy.”  I put them on and changed out of my polka dot pajamas.  She was right.  Reinstating this little bit of normalcy did make me feel better.  I think it made us both feel better.  As did the cashmere dress I paired with a fur stole and a flick of black eyeliner.  My mama always said no one should have to look exactly how they feel.  Or as one of my friends has put it, “A little powder, a little paint, makes a woman what she ain’t.”  Some days this isn’t feasible, but on that one it was.

I think you’ll understand when I say I’m going to post here even less than usual.  Believe me, nothing I’m eating these days is worthy of being recorded–a teaspoon of Marigold powder in a cup of boiling water, half a banana, oat cakes, a bit of roast chicken and soft prunes.  I know, try not to be jealous.  Actually that’s not entirely true.  Today, I had some fortifying noodle soup at Tonkotsu and the weekend before I went into hospital, I made Claire Ptak’s egg yolk chocolate chip cookies.  Some of the dough is still in my freezer.  Hopefully just like the peonies of late spring, I’ll be back and full of color soon.

radiology a little powder, a little paint yellowpresents from Helena cookies

 

 

Auntie Marianne

Last Thursday, Auntie Marianne died.  Technically she was was my husband’s aunt, but I felt like she was mine.  The moment I married into the family she welcomed me with open arms.  At the end of every letter she sent or phone call we had, she told me she loved me and I could feel it.  It was genuine.  While her affection didn’t make me forget about my loved ones 5,000 miles away, it did make me feel like they’d be happy knowing I had her looking after me.  She made my life in London less lonely.

I once described her as having the diction of a Mitford and better posture than the Queen.  It’s true.  She absolutely did.  She was extremely grand.  That said, she loved champagne and potato chips on the sofa at home as much as she did high tea and caviar at The Wolseley.

Auntie Marianne was a stickler for manners.  The fact that my three year-old said please and thank you and knew the difference between can and may made her very happy.  The fact that she also knew how to cut her food with a knife and fork made her beam.

Lessons I already knew but were very important to Auntie: 1) Always write thank you letters.  2) Never show up to anyone’s home empty-handed.  3) If you’re going to get pre-packaged croissants, M&S is better than Waitrose.  4) Always take all the small buds off freesias and spray carnations to get better blooms.

Things I’ll miss about Auntie:  1) The way she’d greet us with an enthusiastic “Hello, my darlings!” whenever we reached her flat at the top of the stairs.  2) The smell of her Bvlgari perfume when she’d give me a hug.  3) Sharing a pot of coffee with her in the Spy Room at Durrants Hotel before lunch and shopping on Marylebone High Street.  4) The way she’d get excited about warm flat bread from the Turkish shop. (Also the way she’d get excited when her horse won the races!)   5) Basking in the sun with her on her roof terrace whilst summer breezes carried the scent of her roses down the street.  6) The way she knitted clothes for my daughter and her toys.  7) The smell of her house when she was making chutney.  8) The way she always listened to jazz.  9) The way she listened to me.  10) The way she never considered me anything less than family.

The last time I saw Auntie Marianne, she was in the hospital but I made her laugh really hard.  I am so glad because that’s exactly how I want to remember her.  Happy and laughing.  Always.

Rest in peace, Auntie, and tell Uncle Peter we miss him.  I promise to keep your best recipes alive.  I love you.

Baby Auntie in Scotland.

Baby Auntie in Scotland.

white rose red rose pink rose white flowers

Auntie smiling down at baby Helenaauntie holding marianne  auntie smiling at helena

Auntie's recipe for pickled onions.

Auntie’s recipe for pickled onions.

Auntie's recipe for Armenian lamb stew.

Auntie’s recipe for Armenian lamb stew.

nora mouse and LB button and LB rabbit, otter, and LB

Auntie Marianne and Uncle Peter.

Auntie Marianne and Uncle Peter.

Saturday’s Sundaes

Sometimes when the sun shines and the sky is blue, life feels like a Kinks’ song.  On Saturday, I found this especially true when surrounded by good food and family in the Chilterns.  As the sun came up, the t’wit t’twoo of the previous night’s owls gave way to birdsong.  At breakfast, gray skies rolled in and rain poured threatening our afternoon of fun.  Thankfully the sun soon emerged and everyone sighed a sigh of relief then began basking in its glow.

My three year old sat listening to the ticking of the clock in the foyer (she can’t tell time), until her cousins arrived for lunch at half past noon.  This is when the real fun began.  The kind of fun that starts with the holding of little hands in the garden, laughing at grownups, and racing up and down the lawn.  Of course this merriment ends with grass stains, wine stains, coffee stains, and endless laundry for days, but all of that scrubbing is worth every giggle and good moment.

Post chicken, ham, and leek pie, we taught the little ones about spread betting.  We had to.  It was the Grand National.  Unlucky for us, we were placing a bet on Many Clouds at the last minute but the William Hill server was too busy and the race started before our transaction completed.  C’est la guerre.

The children had no interest in the Oxford Cambridge boat race and thusly engaged in their own championship game of Beetle.  The winner got the rest of last weekend’s Easter candy.  The losers got sour grapes, marmite toast, and tea with Super Ted.

Finally, we had an all family boules tournament fuelled by brownie sundaes.  With hot salted caramel and chocolate sauce to choose from, everyone was a winner.  Below are my recipes for both.  I hope you enjoy them.  The brownies I made were Alice Medrich’s from Food 52.

through the window

foyer flowers

grand national

boat race

beetle tea with super ted

boules

henry

misti

 

 Sundae Sauces

Ingredients:

300ml of thick cream (double cream)

100g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), broken into pieces

2 tablespoons golden syrup

1 cup of caster or granulated sugar

100 grams of butter (cut into cubes)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

fleur de sel

 

Method:

For the chocolate sauce – In a heat proof bowl, combine the chocolate and golden syrup.  Place it over a simmering pot.  Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.  When the chocolate begins to melt, stir it.  Add half the container of cream and continue stirring to incorporate.  Take off the heat and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste and a pinch of fleur de sel.

For the salted caramel – Put the sugar in a small pot and melt over low-medium heat.  Stir constantly until melted.  When it starts to turn tawny in color, add the butter.  Be sure to keep stirring though take caution as the butter can cause the caramel to sputter.  Once that’s incorporated, add the remaining cream.  Take off the heat and add 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel and 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.

Serve over your favorite ice cream and enjoy.  Keep the remaining sauces in glass jars in the fridge and reheat as needed.  I keep them for about a month.

sundae sauces fleur de sel hot fudge caramel brownie sundae

L’Shanah Tovah!

Today is Rosh Hashanah or Jewish new year.  And it has always been one of my favorite feasts.  Typical foods for the celebration include honey, apples, pomegranates, and fish.  Fish heads symbolizing the head of the year.

Recently Henry, my husband, wrote a piece for the Guardian about discovering his Jewish heritage.  You see, he didn’t know about his family’s past until his grandfather’s funeral.  He writes, “What I remember most is something my grandmother, Dorothy Jeffreys, said before the service. She was distraught and, I think, on some sort of tranquilliser and kept insisting Don wouldn’t have wanted the send-off to be in a church, it should have been a synagogue. I asked her why and she said, “Because we’re Jewish.”  

This revelation led to all sorts of questions.  He reached out to older family members who knew his ancestors’ lineage and remembered their stories.  With our two year-old in tow, we drove to see them to learn about our family’s past to better understand the present.

So this year, I wanted Rosh Hashanah to be special for Henry.  I wanted to give him a meal that would help him remember.  Here is what we had:

Pan-fried harissa sea bass.  I marinated the fish in harissa, cumin, and salt for a few hours before dredging with flour and frying until the skin went crispy.  At this point, I flipped the fillets and continued frying for another minute more.

harissa sea bass

Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasted aubergine and basil with pomegranate and saffron sauce

eggplant salad

Israeli couscous salad

2014-05-19-17-20-33

Roasted figs with honey and orange juice, orange yogurt, cinnamon and toasted almonds.  I halved the figs, dotted them with butter, and covered them with a mixture that was 2 tablespoons manuka honey plus the zest and juice of one tangerine.  I then baked them for half an hour at Gas6/200C/400F.  When I took them out of the baking dish, I removed whatever liquid was in there and boiled it down until it made a syrup.  I glazed the figs with this.  Then I mixed more orange zest with yogurt and topped each fig with this.  Next, I sprinkled chopped toasted almonds on top then gave them a dusting of cinnamon.

figs glaze figs roasted figs

 

Honey rum tarte tatin.  All I did was take the elements I liked best from several recipes.  For me, that meant a pastry dough made with sour cream and a deep caramel sauce with honey and Cuban rum.  After transferring the tarte to a plate, I boiled down whatever caramel and apple juice remained.  When it was quite viscous, I poured it over the tarte but only after topping it with toasted almonds.  Then I placed it under the broiler (the grill if you’re in the UK) for a few minutes to get everything really golden.  Of course, I served it with more sour cream.

tarte tatin whole meal