Letters from the Front

Uncle Bobby WW1 1918
Bobby, aged 20, a year later

Nearly 100 years ago, aged just 19, my father’s eldest brother, Lionel Reid Hall – Bobby to his family and friends, Uncle Bobby to my sister, brother and me, Grandpa/Grandpop to the Jacksons, Whitlocks and Constantines – was posted to France on 25th February 1917.

Cold, wet, and at first often bored, and missing his family and many friends, he wrote regularly and reassuringly from the trenches to his loving and obviously anxious family living in Lichfield. Continue reading Letters from the Front

Jack Rabbit’s Ashbourne

St Oswald's Church, AshbourneAshbourne is a very delightful small market town although since it lost its cattle market the actual market side has dwindled somewhat. Its charms are still many…

…’The Gateway to the Peak District’, elegant Georgian buildings, Shrovetide Football, a magnificent parish church, lots of top quality independently owned businesses. It also its share of estate agents and charity shops. For centuries the historic Green Man and Black’s Head was the undisputed heart of the town where everything important seemed to take place and when it closed there was a great sense of loss.

Green Man and Black's Head sign, AshbourneFor several years the building sat there in the middle of the town – unseen here, but on the near right corner of this photo – increasingly and depressingly desolate. The heavy trucks thundered and rattled past (unfortunately the ‘Gateway to the Peak’ doesn’t have a full ring road) narrowly missing the famous and by then redundant Green Man and Black’s Head sign across the road and many foretold the demise of Ashbourne as a town of any note.

However, thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment and really had work of a band of local people determined to restore Ashbourne’s pride things are distinctly on the up again. The Green Man has been bought, and is slowly being restored to a new existence. Posh dress shops and other businesses are moving in and there are plenty of exciting plans for future developments within the site.

Jack Rabbit's external viewYesterday saw us savouring the delights of the latest of these. We had trudged – so to speak – somewhat grudgingly into Ashbourne, with a long list of rather boring things to do on a horribly blustery and wet day. Of course on the list was a trip to the Recycling Centre. Incidentally, they are so pleasant and helpful there it is almost a pleasurable task, except when the weather is foul, as it was yesterday morning.

Jack Rabbit's Ashbourne - opening dayWe needed our spirits reviving. Fortunately, I remembered just in time that Jack Rabbit’s, Ashbourne’s latest coffee shop/teashop/restaurant was opening on March 1st at the back of the Green Man, so before returning home we decided to pay a visit. We have friends involved in the project and we knew, knowing them, that we would be in for a (well-deserved, we felt) treat.

And as we approached, the sun came out. From the outside the very modern building – lots of unexpected shapes, glass and light – looked most inviting; inside it lives up to its promise.

Jack Rabbit's - view looking outAnd what a warm welcome we received. The coffee was delicious, John’s scone, still warm and freshly baked – I ended up sharing. There is an attractive looking menu, for brunches and lunches as well as coffee time treats, so we shall certainly return.

There are several really excellent cafes and restaurants in Ashbourne and Jack Rabbit’s looks as if it will quickly join the ranks of the best. Fortunately we still have many trips on the horizon to the Recycling Centre, otherwise John and I would be hard pushed to keep supporting all our old favourites, and this our newest favourite.

Perhaps I ought to remind one and all that my blog is entirely independent and non commercial – my thoughts, my opinions, my blog… I don’t benefit financially in any way, nor will it ever cost you anything (other than your time or perhaps boredom).

Bring Back Black Forest Gateaux!

Exposed by a Lifetime’s Recipe Collection…

Applying the ‘sparks joy’ criteria has continued overtime throughout the weekend. I am still decluttering, obsessively, focussing for the minute on a lifetime’s worth of ‘favourite’ recipes – see bird’s eye view below of a tiny selection. I am sure even Marie Kondo would be slightly impressed.

A lifetime of recipes Continue reading Bring Back Black Forest Gateaux!

Another New Supermarket for Ashbourne

With a flurry of excitement and an enormous fanfare of publicity, a brand new out of town supermarket opened in Ashbourne last week. Apparently according to all the excitement that was being generated, it was to be just what Ashbourne needed, but it seemed hard to see why, in a small town already served by a Coop, Sainsburys, Waitrose and M&S, and already concerned about the future of small local independent shops. Continue reading Another New Supermarket for Ashbourne

A Gluten-Free Delight:

Almond and Coconut Flourless Cake

At last! This is another very special recipe, from my secret stash of delicious maximum impact/minimum effort trusted favourite recipes. I have been promising to put it up for weeks, ever since it won 1st Prize at the Parwich Bake Off!  (Don’t inquire too hard about how many entrants there were.)

I am a fan of the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine, and cut this recipe out on one of our trips to Australia to see our daughter Sara and her family, husband Derek and their son Tom. I was interested merely because it was advertised as both delicious and easy to make. The fact that it is gluten free has proved an added bonus… Continue reading A Gluten-Free Delight:

Parwich Bake-Off Final Results!!

Judging is serious businessThere were many more judges than entrants for the Great Parwich Bake-off, which was disappointing, but a very jolly and satisfying time was had by all that attended, young and old, as we conscientiously tasted… and tasted again… just to be sure.

Marion's Almond and Coconut CakeI am relieved to tell you that presentation did not come into the judging, which was purely on taste. I also feel a bit sheepish telling you that my gluten-free entry was the only one in that section, so inevitably it won 1st Prize; however, in my defence the cake was all but finished by the judges,  some of whom were seen returning for more and more helpings – and I did receive some very nice comments afterwards, although of course at the time no one knew who had cooked what. (Recipe on its way to the marionfs blog in a day or two.)

The Finished Roulade - 1st Prize!I also received 1st prize for my roulade but there were only two entries, so that was more by luck than the officially required technical skill. As it is I feel quite ashamed about the final toffee sauce whirls that are meant to be the finishing touch to decorate the roulade.

The ultimate winner overall was Linda Keyworth who more or less swept the board, and received many admiring comments for her presentation cake.

The winning presentation cakeSo busy chatting to all and sundry I’m afraid I missed it – so you will have to look on the Parwich blog to see  for yourself – who won the children’s section, and the many very beautiful cupcakes and lots more pics, many of them John’s.

Sandra judging the Cup CakesI think everyone is hoping that this event might be held again next year. It was a  lot of fun, and nobody need feel in the slightest overawed. The judges, all of us, were far more concerned with chatting together and enjoying the delicious tastes than having any concern over method or technical skill.

It was a great way for young and old to enjoy themselves together, and at the same time raising over ¬£100 for the Memorial Hall and the TearFund’s No Child Taken Campaign. Cheryl Woolley and her crew deserve our warmest thanks for organising it all.

Great British Parwich Bake Off!

Collecting ingredients for the Banoffee RouladeNot to be outdone by all the media excitement over the latest Great British Bake Off and all the hype about Nadiya the 30-year-old-mum-from-Leeds, The Parwich Memorial Hall committee has decided in its wisdom to run our own village bake-off, in aid of the Parwich Memorial Hall Fund and TearFund’s No Child Taken Campaign. You can read all about it on the village blog, to save me explaining the rules and regs.

The roulade ready to come out of the ovenFortunately it is all somewhat lower key than the series on the telly – no cameras, for a start, and in fact everyone will bring their entries to the hall tomorrow, having ‘made one earlier’ so to speak in the peace and quiet of their own familiar kitchen.

Everyone attending the event will  judge the entries, presumably also the contestants themselves, going round like Mary Berry and Paul Holywood, tasting our efforts blind. One hopes everyone will be as kind as Mary Berry, who always has something positive to say, however disastrous the result. You can’t have us all running out of the hall in tears.

I love cooking and wanted to support this fun-sounding village event so have spent this evening cooking, after a last minute rush to Janet Gosling in the shop-in-the-pub to stock up on bananas and cream, and round the corner to beg a swiss roll tin off lovely neighbour Sue.

The toffee sauce for the Banoffee Roulade
John took lots of photos every so often, when there was a quietish spell in between the excitement of the New Zealand v Wales rugby match but I cannot show any pics yet that will give away the maker.

Keen as I am to join in the fun, I have no aspirations, no hopes or plans to be crowned the Parwich Baking Star. I am only entering two of the four sections – a presentation cake is not my line at all, and I didn’t fancy my chances of making four identical cupcakes. All I hope it not to be made to look an idiot, which is rather likely if presentation is important, as no doubt it is.

I have never been great on presentation, although the taste is usually okay. I must admit, my Banoffee Roulade looks very cumbersome (that is putting it politely, I really should have used a piping bag for the drizzle, rather than a plastic spatula…).

Delicate work - rolling up the rouladeThe Roulade is a Mary Berry recipe, to be followed religiously. The other category I am entering is simply for a gluten free cake or pudding of one’s choice. I have a very faithful totally gluten free recipe cut out some years ago from the Australian Woman’s Weekly magazine. Again, it looks good, but not as obviously delicious as it is, or should be, anyway. I will put the recipe up on the blog after the competition.

We’ve been in London the last few days and I haven’t conferred with anyone so have no idea who else or how many others may be entering and how stiff the competition will be.

All will be revealed tomorrow…

Bridge Dainties

No, these are simply delicious biscuits – in fact Prize-winners as you can see – and not even particularly dainty; in spite of the name you do not need to be a bridge player, or indeed even a bridge-learner, to enjoy them…

The recipe for the so-named Bridge Dainties was given to my sister, Ruth Cragg (nee Hall) in about 1955 or 56 by the mother of one of her day girl friends. We were boarders at St Peter’s Diocesan School for Girls in Bulawayo, now Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia. Ruth has never, ever played bridge, in case you’re wondering. Continue reading Bridge Dainties

Maximum Effect with Minimum Effort…

Pesto Chicken with Cheesy Dumplings The aim to achieve the maximum effect with the minimum of effort has always been a useful mantra for me, at least in the kitchen department. One has to assume, naturally, that it’s a wholly positive, good effect that one is striving for.

In my experience a perfect cheese or a fish souffl√© is easy (honestly!) but whenever I produce one everybody falls off their chairs with amazed admiration – I assume it’s not surprise. It’s the same funnily enough with meringues which, again, I find could hardly be easier… Continue reading Maximum Effect with Minimum Effort…