I’ve just finished a 30 -minute YouTube workout in my bedroom. My face is its usual shade of post-workout mahagony and I’m feeling grateful that my window isn’t overlooked. Hauling myself into a downward dog in knickers, trainers and half-rolled up Karrimor t-shirt isn’t my best look.
I’m also on day 5 of Paul McKenna’s hypnotic weight-loss app plan, teamed with his book ‘I can make you thin’. Having to disguise his beaky-faced book cover and hope the size 16 Arial isn’t as easily readable on the tube as I think it is bad enough. But I’m also working through feeling guilty if I chew my food less than 20 times (muesli is MUSH, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!!) or because I accidentally didn’t leave any of the delicious pasta I made for dinner on my plate like a reformed character.
This is the latest in what I jokingly call my ‘weight-loss fads’ to friends and colleagues. Though Paul disagrees – he (and many of his formerly fat and disturbingly convincing Amazon reviewers) says it’s a total change in your attitude to food. We’ll see how I’m getting on after 21 days of falling asleep to Paul’s hypnotic trance – spoken in tones not dissimilar to The Fast Show’s Swiss Tony. I half expect him to kick off with ‘losing weight is a bit like making love to a beautiful woman’. But alas, I remain disappointed.
I love making homemade gifts for friends and family. Handing over a sweetly wrapped cellophane parcel of homemade chocolate macarons, or a hand-wrapped box of homemade truffles is so much more satisfying than the ready-wrapped toiletry gift or hurriedly-chosen scarf (with matching socks – sorry dad).
I borrowed a copy of Annie Rigg’s beautiful book, Gifts from the Kitchen, from my local library in the summer and couldn’t bear to take it back. I renewed it so many times I could renew it no more, and consequently ended up with hefty fines (oops!). It’s choc full of delicious gift ideas – from homemade marshmallows to turkish delight, jams and luxurious cookies. I was eager to try making jam over the summer, but the sterilising process was a bit scary, and I just never got round to it.
This rainy autumn weekend, however, was the perfect opportunity to bite the bullet and get to know jam’s slightly weightier – and let’s face it, more interesting – cousin: chutney. Frankly – and forgive me if I sound like a massive geek/middle-aged, but I don’t care – I loved it! Particularly satisfying was scooping up enormous cooking apples neighbours had left outside their houses to go to a good home and turning them into something that will bring a smile to a loved one on Christmas day.
I’ve tried and tested three different recipes so far: sunshine-in-a-jar Pineapple Chutney (from this month’s BBC Good Food mag), Spiced Apple Chutney (another BBC Good Food!) and Tomato and Sweet Chilli Jam (from Gifts From the Kitchen). All will, I’m sure, be even more delicious once they’ve matured for a couple of months in a cardboard box under my bed, but my favourite so far has to be the spiced apple.
I think that’s partially because it was the cheapest, with foraged apples, a few raisins, spices and cheap as chips (and perfect with chips) malt vinegar. But it’s also because making it filled my kitchen with the most wonderful and nostalgic smells of Christmas; cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ground ginger, drifting from the stove and tapping me on the shoulder if I turned my back on the pan for too long.
I’ll be wrapping each jar in my own higgledy-piggledly special way, with mismatched ribbons, homemade paper luggage tags, and a sprinkle of love.
Makes 3x 330ml or 2x 500ml jars
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 3 red onions
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp black onion seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 pineapples (I used almost one ‘giant’ one courtesy of Morrisons)
- 1 red chilli – deseeded and finely chopped
- thumb-sized piece ginger, finely chopped
- 250g soft light brown
- 175 ml cider vinegar
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan/stock pot. Tip in the onions & spices and cook for 5 mins until fragrant.
- Add the rest of the ingredients plus 1 tsp of salt and simmer for 1 hour until dark golden and thick.
- Pour into sterilised jars and allow to cool before sealing/covering.
Spiced apple chutney
Makes 3-4 jars
- 225g onions, finely chopped
- 900g apples
- 110g raisins/sultanas
- 15g coriander
- 15g paprika
- 15g mixed spice
- 15g salt
- 340g granulated sugar (I used golden caster)
- 42ml malt vinegar
- Put all the ingredients into a preserving pan. Slowly bring to the boil until the sugar has dissolved.
- Simmer for 1½-2 hours, stirring from time to time to stop the chutney sticking to the pan.
- When it is very thick and you can draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan so that it leaves a channel behind it that does not immediately fill with liquid, the chutney is ready.
- Turn into sterilised jars, seal and cool.
- Store in a cool, dark cupboard for two to three months before eating.
How to sterilise jars
I don’t claim to be an expert at this in the slightest, but this is the method I used
- Wash jars and lids (if using) in very hot, soapy water and rinse.
- Pop them on a baking tray in a low oven (around 100 degrees)
- Leave for 5-10 minutes until completely dry
- While the jars are still hot, pour in the chutney and seal with either a tight lid, or a wax disc and cellophone cirle, secured with an elastic band. If using lids, check them the next day
- Store your chutney in a cool, dark place for a couple of months to mature the flavour.
The sandwich is a modest little thing. If it were a person, I imagine he would stand with his hands in his pockets, scuffing the floor with his shoe and trying not to make eye contact.
But this unassuming chameleon has a lot to be proud of; he can take on anything – from fish fingers to fillet steak, marmite to ham and mustard. Done properly, with delicious, fresh bread, a hearty filling and those crucial condiments to add ‘je ne sais quoi’, it is truly one of my favourite simple pleasures. In its versatility, you might say it’s a little like my absolute favourite pleasure – CAKE!
Though the summer we all waited so patiently for never materialised, autumn is already creeping in. The mornings are crisp, the nights are drawing in, and last night I wistfully put on a pair of socks for bed.
Limes are just glorious, aren’t they? They’re so versatile. They can go with almost every drink under the sun, with fruit, with vegetables, with meat or fish. They seem to have a wonderful knack of making you feel a little bit livelier and of bringing the sunsine with them.
I came back to Bristol this week from a short break in London after managing to bag a £1 room at the rather lovely Hoxton hotel in their pound sale (did I mention that I hold the title of Queen of Bargains?).