Wednesday, 11 January 2017

My mayonnaise dilemma

I love making mayonnaise but the past few months, it hasn’t been emulsifying. It hasn’t curdled, it just stays thin. Shock horror. This was a mainstay of my mystic culinary skills (courtesy of the recipe from an original Cyclonic Wizz bought in Oz).

As my confidence dwindled, we tested different theories. Weather? Temperature? Humidity? Nothing changed. Equipment? A new blender produced the same watery result.

So, ingredients. We wondered if the sunflower oil I used had been thinned somehow. Not according to the labelling. I tried adding more olive oil, swapped to vegetable oil, experimented with combinations of the above. Still no joy.

Vinegar, then. White wine, cider, red, balsamic – all had the same sorry result.

The eggs? I tried every sort available, sometimes using up to eight for one small pot of mayo. I can’t even begin to describe the mountain of greasy washing up. Oh, I just did.

It must be the mustard, we concluded.

I sought help from my daughter, well trained in the mustard arts. Within seconds, my junior acolyte produced a classic mayo, using the exact same equipment – and most of the ingredients – as I had. Indeed, it was thick enough to stand a teaspoon upright in its glorious stickiness.

Her trick was she that she now uses no fewer than three types of mustard to gain emulsification – Colman’s mustard powder, any Dijon mustard and a whole-grain to finish the job. A good teaspoon of each for every 200ml of oil, in case you’re wondering.*

We were astounded, recalling quite clearly my days of making perfect mayonnaise using just a quarter of a teaspoon of mustard powder.

Confused, we peered at less than helpful food labels. ‘MUSTARD flour’ it says on the tin. No kidding.

Time to go to the sauce, I mean, source. I knew that Colman’s mustard powder contained flour, as I have several coeliac friends, so I thought that might be a useful place to start, rather than saying ‘what the heck have you done with your mustard mate?’

Unilever responded fairly quickly but the letter was so evasive, it simply exacerbated our suspicions. This is the gobbledygook they sent. Note the repeated use of the word 'information'.

In regards to your enquiry I would like to give you the following information. Mustard flour is the ground seed of the mustard plant from which some of the oil and most of the hulls have been removed. Mustard flour itself does not contain gluten. Although Colman's English Mustard is not gluten free as wheat flour is used as a thickening agent. This information has been provided in good faith using the most up-to-date information. Please note that the information is subject to change due to recipe amendments and therefore ALWAYS check the product label for the most accurate information. 

Talk about 'cut and paste'!

We still have no idea what is in the mustard powder, or why it doesn’t work to make mayonnaise any more. All I know is that I intend to keep a selection of other brands of whole-grain and Dijon stashed in my cupboard. At least they’ll cut the mustard.


So, this is my daughter Lauren’s M.O. for mayo, so thick it will support an upright teaspoon. You’ll need a hand-held blender and matching measuring canister:

Crack a single egg and place it at the bottom. On top, place a teaspoon EACH of mustard powder, whole-grain mustard and Dijon. Add a mere dash of balsamic vinegar, half a clove of garlic, pinch of salt and grinding of pepper. Make up to 200ml with a dash of olive oil, topping up with sunflower or vegetable oil.

Place the blender head gently over the egg yolk and whiz hard without rocking until you see the oil emulsifying. Draw up the blender very slowly until the whole mixture has set. You can go back in for a few more seconds to remix with herbs, lemon juice, spices or whatever and it will thicken further.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The shortest day ...

There’s something about the light in Bath. There's a great deal of it, and I wonder if it’s all to do with reflection. Pale gold stone, a river and a canal, much glass, big sky. I don’t have the answer but it’s a dazzling city in so many respects.

We took a break preparing for dinner for special friends and took a family walk from Henrietta Street, via the Holburne Museum, to Sydney Gardens, the canal and back via Bathampton.

Highlights? Cutely mad European folksy exhibition at the Holburne. Fab Christmas tree on the balcony. Kingfisher by the river. Blackbird eating scarlet apples. A majestic Husky called Thor with crystal eyes and a silver mane. Stoic ponies in an orchard. A glimpse into the new refurb at the terribly posh Cleveland House - its chandeliers all intact. The secret hideaway of Raby Mews. Medieval-style intricacy of plants around railings in Henrietta Park. Then a family pint at the Pulteney Arms. 

And now the nights will stop drawing in. More light! Astonishing.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The longest night ...

Today is the Winter Solstice. More accurately, it occurs for a fleeting moment at 10.44 here in England. This is when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. It occurs when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.4 degrees – away from the Sun.

The shortest day and the longest night  ... For the ancients, this was the moment to assert the power of light over darkness and prepare for the harsh months ahead. Although eclipsed by Christian doctrine and contemporary commercialism, this calendrical moment is still crucial to many, harking back to our primitive instincts.

As a Celt, I’m always aware of the Solstice, although I’m not saying I’m going to start hacking down mistletoe with a golden sickle, as the Druids were wont to do – or so it’s said.

I’m happy to finish the decorations with fresh greenery, make an ice candle and pour the mulled wine. This year, I've also made a sparkly 'fairy ball' with green lights and a small glass globe.

It's also a great time to curl up and read ... A Walk in the Park is a ghostly winter’s tale to mark the occasion (now out on Amazon). When I wrote it, I scared myself to bits!

The moon. The stars. One malevolent entity. 
A supernatural romance of astronomical proportions for the Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Gothic Bath

Just a few minutes’ walk from the bustle of cosmopolitan Bath lies a truly Gothic experience.  

The graveyard of St Mary’s, in Bathwick, has become an historical side note, through no fault of its own. The churchyard of St Mary’s was opened in 1809 when the original 12th century St Mary’s church was demolished to widen Bathwick Road. The mortuary chapel, now a ruin, was designed by John Pinch, as famous in his day as John Wood, but now forgotten. It was built in 1818, a year before Queen Victoria was born, and constructed out of the material salvaged from the demolition of the 12th-century parish church.

The chapel was used for baptisms and funerals but only for two years until the new parish church down the road was consecrated in 1820. By 1856, the churchyard was closed in favour of St Mary the Virgin Churchyard which opened in the same year at Smallcombe Vale.

The cemetery has a desolate feel, intrinsically Gothic. As I stood in the foggy dusk taking photographs, a bat appeared, completing mystic figures of eight between the yew trees. One can just about make it it out in the photograph below. Just the one bat, with raggedy wings. He didn't seem perturbed by my presence.
I am not that suggestible, but I swear something was moving in the shrubbery. A badger, possibly, for they do cause havoc in the grounds. At least I hope it was a badger, for one of the graves was partially excavated at one corner, and I can only hope that this is the perfectly logical explanation.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Solstice surprise

Many, many years ago, I used to be Features Editor on the Bath Chronicle.

A rollercoaster time it was, and, for the most part, a lot of fun, as we survived the storms of the 1980s and early 1990s, some literal, the rest figurative. I even wrote a book about it! Tomorrow's Anecdote is fiction but based on those turbulent days of Kinnock, Thatcher and Major.

Years passed. One of my former colleagues became editor after I left on maternity leave, and is now editor of the glamorous Bath Magazine. And to my surprise, I found myself writing features again.

Solace for the Solstice is a fun article about shunning plastic baubles this Christmas and releasing your inner Druid. I even took a few photos. You can find it here on pages 108-9.

Such fun. Thanks, Georgette. And I love the retro cover of this month's issue!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Dazzling Bath

Just a simple walk from Henrietta Street over to the Royal Crescent on a frosty afternoon.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Back to Bath

This is the post I’ve been eager to write for months. 

It’s official. We’re moving back to Bath.

Rob has a new research/teaching post and starts this month, so we’ve found somewhere new to live (tba) and are working out the logistics.

It’ll be complicated but we’re so thrilled that it’ll be a pleasant challenge rather than a ghastly slog.

From the first afternoon we arrived many, many, many years ago on a bright June day before Rob’s first interview at the university, we both fell in love with the place. Despite tricky finances and a collapsing housing market, we bought a lovely little terraced house, got our first dog (the wonderful Amber), survived various professional crises and, most memorable of all, celebrated the birth of our daughter, Lauren.

Years went by ...

Work took us to Kenilworth, and beyond, but now ... we’re back. Back to Bath. 

It has a wonderful sound. And since we’ve been here, the weather has been simply superb. Day after day of dazzling autumn sunshine, just as we enjoyed all those years ago when we first arrived and would trundle down to the Viaduct, a great little pub near the aqueduct and sit outside in the gorgeous sunshine. Some things have changed, but in many others, time seems to have stood still.

I’m taking so many pictures, my camera batteries keep running out – and I have three!

Today, I’ve contented myself with some simple shots of the surrounding countryside. Much more to come. Much, much more.

Happy sighs.

Now, where was I with that last manuscript?