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Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas dinner in Leiden Holland. Stage six.

Hi dearest Phil, Emma and Ronald here from Leiden. Merry Christmas to you! As for our Dutch Christmas, I'll free-associate for you:

Christmas in the Netherlands is two days, not one, called "First-" and "Second Christmas Day." They have equal importance, though church services are only on "First Christmas Day" (25th December) and Christmas Eve. This means that you can see your family on one day and your in-laws on the other day. The same happens at Easter and Pentecost.

Emma and Ronald

The main difference between Dutch and English Christmas is gift-giving. In the Netherlands, gifts are traditionally exchanged on Sinterklaas, the evening of 5th December. A gift is accompanied by a personalised rhyming poem, and it is traditionally wrapped to look as if it is something else. The focus is on children, but adults exchange gifts as well, generally as a "secret santa" so that, within a family, you only have to buy a gift and write a poem for one other family member.

Sinterklaas, or "Sint Niklaas" - Saint Nicolas, is the basis of our Father Christmas. Apparently, when the Dutch and English lived in the US, the English became jealous of the Sinterklaas tradition, and so Father Christmas, or "Santa Claus" (sounds like "Sint Niklaas") was created.

All this means that the Dutch Christmas does not centre around gift-giving or Father Christmas, since all this happens earlier in the month. This leaves Christmas free to be a pleasant holiday with an optional religious element, and a strong focus on family.

There is no traditional Christmas dinner: indeed, "Christmas Dinner" to the Dutch generally means English turkey roast. However, there are some typical dishes. In strictly-puritan Katwijk, they eat pork filet in a creamy sauce. Many families eat game, in particular jugged-hare. A more recent tradition is "gourmetten," where you sit at the table with a special grill pan and grill your own meat and fish. (I'm not sure what this is called in English, but I've seen the sets for sale in Lidl so we must have it). In general, the aim is to sit at the table together as long as possible, so meals tend to consist of several small, luxurious courses and not one huge roast.

Although there are no set menus, there are some traditional Christmas sweets. There are little chocolate wreaths, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and filled with fondant, chocolate holly leaves, and "Duivekater," a sweet white bread which resembles brioche.

Emma and myself rehearsing in Leiden October 2104

For me, as an English girl living in Holland, Christmas seemed a bit of an anticlimax at first. However, I have come to enjoy it and even prefer it. There is no last-minute shopping, no fighting for the turkeys in the supermarket, no manic gift-buying and wrapping, no compulsory over-eating and drinking... It is more like the English Easter: a quiet day off.

And what did I cook for my in-laws? Since they're not strict puritans, I chose game.

 We had five small courses:

-Butternut squash and ginger soup with sesame oil
-Scallops wrapped in parma ham with a crystal ginger glaze
-Mango and passion fruit sorbet in limoncello
-Venison casseroled with cranberries and chestnuts (see link) with gratin potatoes and green asparagus
-Lemon posset (see link) with raspberries and gingerbread

They left at around 22:00 and Ronald and I went for a short walk. The streets were quiet, and through the uncurtained windows we could see families sitting round tables in various stages of their meals. It was very cosy.

I would like you to think that it was a calm, quiet family Christmas. But that would be a little lie. For there was one chaotic element: my five-month old kitten. She wanted to try everything. She even stole a raw scallop which we extracted from her and threw away. And, poor thing, when she tried to explore on the table itself, she singed her whiskers in a candle flame before we could grab her.

Naughty kitten

Still, it was a wonderful day, and I would really recommend Christmas in Holland. Lots of love xx M and Ronald.

A fascinating foodie Christmas in France from the blog of Ken Broadhurst.

I am sometimes not able to find the time to read other people's blogs as much as I would like to and today (realising I had nothing from my beloved France in terms of the recent European Christmas dinners blogposts) I found Ken Broadhurst's delightful festive posts from the Loire on my listings.

Here are a list of my favourite December 2015 blogposts from him. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Phil x

The turkey is in the pot.

Talkin' Turkey.

Culinairement -en-radote.

Foie Gras for Christmas.

Le Pere Noel in Saint Aignan.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

European Christmas Dinners. Stage Five. Roast Duck and Beef Roast from Karlsruhe!

“Hi Phil, sorry we have no pictures of the meals but I was so busy with meeting with my family and my godson. However, I will try to describe it for you." Lena and Sascha xx Fondest greetings from Karlsruhe!!!!

"Lieber Phil, on Christmas Eve my mum made duck with red cabbage and dumplings – this is a very typical Christmas dinner in our part of Germany. Traditionally we would have it with Spätzle and Rotkohl as I have  already described. The duck is spiced with salt, pepper and sometimes paprika. The whole meal can also be served with mashed potatoes, asparagus and green beans too. It is especially nice to find baked apple sauce around the pork. Lecker!!!

Yesterday my boyfriend Sascha made almost the same as you made in England!!!! This is a special roast that is called Rollbraten in German. With it we had potatoes, mit Bratensoße (delicious roast gravy) fresh vegetables and a sauce of green pepper.

Typisches Rollbraten.

All the best to you for Christmas and we very much look forward to seeing you in May 2016!

Lena and Sascha. Karlsruhe. Germany.

Christmas dinners in Europe. Just when you think you can't eat anymore! Stage Four from the Rheinland!

Later last night my German friend Thorsten Feldmann from the Rheinland Palatinate sent me some more pictures and information about a meal for eight that his father had put together for their evening repast on Christmas Day. You would think that they were already stodged from the lamb lunch aber gar nicht! But not at all!

"Hi Phil! Here is the evening meal cooked by my Father.
To start, carrot ginger soup and a variety of four salads. For the main, stuffed pork cheeks with a broad variety of roast vegetables including Brussels sprouts, carrots and cauliflower. By the way, although we already full from the lamb at lunchtime the stuffed pigs cheeks (that you thought were chicken!) are for eight hungry people. Cheese sauce and gravy (jus) are added to finish the dish. For dessert we have marscapone cream and raspberries. We will sleep well tonight!"


The finished main dish with pasta!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas dinners. Stage three. This time to Buenos Aires.

This time I asked my friend and very talented artist Cheryl De Los Reyes Cruz, who is based in Argentina, how she had so far celebrated Christmas and I was fascinated to hear of a food based event on Christmas Eve that she had enjoyed before the promise of huge Christmas day lunch today.

Cheryl (left)

The event depicted through these photographs (below) took place in the barrio called Nunez in Buenos Aires around 10pm on Christmas Eve. She was with her friend Andrea Toledo and her family. Her uncle is a chef and Cheryl told me that he prepared some really amazing dishes. There was octopus salad, shrimp salad, tongue, a pineapple salad and roasted pork with prune stuffing. She enjoyed plenty of wine and champagne and loved listening to others performing Karaoke but (laughing) insisted that she didn't perform herself! The dessert was a lemon mouse with dulce de leche.

More fascinating detail sent to me midday on Boxing Day. Copying the spelling correctly took some doing! Thanks Cheryl.

"Hey Phil, just to let you know and for more authentic detail : the octopus salad is called Pulpo al Olivo (Peruvian), shrimp salad is Coctel de Camarones. The pork dish is called Carre de Cerdo Mechado con Curuelas. Chips de Batatas y Guarnacion de Peras Cebollas Confitadas. The dessert is Mousse de Maracuya con Mereings y Salsa Toffee.The chef's name is Jorge Sanchez."



Christmas dinners in Europe. Stage Two. Turkish kosher lamb.


This lovely and aromatic Christmas dinner comes direct from my friend Thorsten Feldmann's family dinner in Germany's Rheinland Palatinate - a place called Offenbach an der Queich.

The 4kg of leg of Turkish Kosher lamb was marinated in olive oil and spices for one week before cooking. This was with sweet pepper, thyme, parsley, curry powder and salt. It was cooked for two hours at 175 degrees centigrade after a quick roast in the pan.

The finished lamb was served with ochre, potatoes and red cabbage.

Starters were an unripe spelt grain soup with dumplings of bone marrow plus a lamb lettuce corn salad.

For dessert the four of them had vanilla ice cream with hot raspberry sauce.

Christmas dinner chez Phil Lowe. Stage One.

Similar to last year I am hoping to bring in some European Christmas dinners to the pages of this blog from friends in Germany and Holland and maybe France. But first I will start by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you all for continuing to read my food based blog. As always it is a pleasure for me to share my passions for food with you.

I got up about 8.30am today after crawling off to bed around 10pm last night. I had been at work until 7pm and by the time I got home it was around 8pm. I was lucky with trams and bus. At least I remembered to take my joint of beef rib roast out of the freezer before I went to sleep. Likewise a bag of Heston Blumental chicken stock that I had stored at the back of the freezer since August 2014! I knew it would come in handy one day.

Something nice happened on the way home from work too. I popped in to the local Sainsbury's Local store in the village and, quite by surprise, the manager there gave me a bottle of Prosecco as a Christmas gift!

Back to today. The rib roast is in the oven to cook for four hours on a low heat. I had added some spices to the cooking water for extra flavour - basil leaves - star anise - cinnamon bark and cloves inserted into the top of the joint. Later in the day I will be adding some small onions for even more flavour. The veg will be new potatoes, carrot and broccoli spears.

Given that I never had the inclination to cook myself a meal last night I was quite hungry this morning and made myself a fry up with the local butcher's Lincolnshire sausages, three rashers of smoked bacon and a fried egg with a wadge of chutney on the side. As a treat I also had some smoked salmon with fresh lemon juice and a crunch of black pepper.

Michael Ball's Christmas cd is on the stereo and I have cracked open my first beer. More blog posts to come...

Later in the day...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Up to my ears in Salmon! Plus news of potential new horizons.

Today marks two days before I break up for the Christmas holidays at Tesco ( I have Christmas Day and Boxing day off) and my male work colleagues Paul, Alan and I have been hard at it selling lots of whole salmon, a few carp, various other fish and plenty of half price meat offers. The day has gone by quickly and due to our fun and banter together the whole experience has been rather fun. Plus - making the customers happy through our helpfulness, finely honed knife skills, combined knowledge and professionalism adds to an overall very satisfactory experience.

Paul, Phil and Alan,

This is the fifth year working on the Tesco counters for myself and 2016 may well bring in some major work changes for me as I direct my working life towards writing for and promoting things theatrical in the East Midlands rather than working for a large supermarket corporation. My time at Tesco has mainly been enjoyable but has also been disappointing sometimes in fulfilling my original (perhaps naïve) foodie expectations of working alongside a group of like-minded individuals. Perhaps I am exceptional and didn't ever realise it until later down the line.

Although I have always endeavoured to promote myself as a knowledgeable professional on the meat and fish counters my focus of interest has, of late, increasingly veered towards the theatrical arts and my constant reviewing and theatre writing activities outside of work. Setting up in mid October 2015 has furthered my desire to change and follow an entirely different route workwise. Saying that I will always continue to use this blog as a forum to promote my lifelong love of food.

Fresh Scottish Salmon

Kissing Carp

I know that recently I have neglected this blog somewhat in terms of regular content but it is only because I have felt this urgent need to promote my new website and that takes time and lot of effort extra to the 36.5 hrs I work at Tesco plus ten hours a week travelling time. It has been like doing two jobs and at times exhausting. However, every minute spent working and writing for EMT and also for Sardines magazine and reviewing for the Nottingham Post newspaper has been worth it. My two days off each week have been dedicated to pushing myself to add interesting content to the theatre website.

As a friend recently said "You must be constantly at it!" This is true but I believe that no-one else is going to do this writing work for me and to be honest although the actual job of reviewing a play, after returning home from the experience, takes me into the past midnight early hours - sometimes after being on the go at Tesco since 7.30am - I feel tremendous pleasure from doing a good professional writing job to support the production and the theatre involved.

Another time related quote may well be appropriate as I ease myself into full-time dedication to developing EMT and that is the old adage about retirement. "Eee since I retired I don't know how I ever had time for work!" Well, this ambition ain't exactly retirement - quite the opposite - but I hope that the actuality of the proposed new working environment, to be, is equally as fulfilling!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Corner shop life in Chaddesden Derby in the 1950s

Back in 2003 I used to contribute to the Derby Evening Telegraph Bygones section and enjoyed recalling my youthful times in the world of Derby's then prevalent butcher's shops (1970s and 1980s) and of my scouting years and other such nostalgia. Today's post comes not from me but from a piece that I kept from one of their Bygones sections in 2003 written by the late June Pearson of Fenny Bentley in Derbyshire.

June Pearson in the 1950s

I never knew June directly but we had a connection in that she worked in a small corner shop on the top of Cardigan Street in Chaddesden Derby. As a child I would often pop into its enticing environs with my granny Hampson to shop for a few items and June's eloquent and detailed writings struck a chord with me. Today I spoke to Jane Goddard of the Derby Evening Telegraph and was then able to get in touch with June's surviving husband Ken who gave me permission to use June's most excellent material.

Mr Fred Hanson and wife Ida (my granny) and my dad and mam.

My mother Marjorie Ethel Lowe.

What interested me the most was the detail of the things that were sold in the shop in the 1950s and her practices in working at the shop. All quite different from today's shopping experiences. Over to June...

“I worked at Mrs Jenning's corner shop as a shop assistant in 1957 and remember Philip Lowe's Grandmother as a customer as well as two of her daughters (Marjorie and Barbara) who came into the shop on errands for their mam. I also got to know many other people who were customers at the shop. My own mother traded at the shop and was well looked after during the war.

Part interior of a typical corner shop in the UK circa 1950.

Mr and Mrs Jenning's shop and house were built around 1935 before the vast Chaddesden housing estate was completed. It stood on the brow of the steep part of Cardigan Street, between Hillcrest Road and Cowsley Road. Previously they had had a greengrocery round and a Fish and Chip shop in the Cowsley Road area. In my humble opinion the Fish and Chip shop sold the best fish and chips in Derby. Mrs Jennings sister, Effie Wilkes and her husband owned this shop. Harry Wilkes also played in goal for Derby County in the 1930s.

In 1951 Mr Jennings died aged only 49 but Mrs Jennings carried on running the business with the help of her sister Ivy who lived in Repton. In addition to Ivy, Madge Johnson, who lived on Hillcrest Road, worked at the shop four mornings a week. Mrs King from Cardigan Street and Mrs Kitchen cleaned the shop every evening after it had closed.

Another girl I remember was Poppy Martin who was there before me and I gather was quite a favourite with everyone. My own working hours were 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Saturday with half day closing on Tuesdays at 1pm.

Monday and Tuesday mornings were spent re-stocking the shelves and cleaning. This was done with a smear of Mansion Polish and plenty of what they used to call 'elbow grease'. Most of the shelves in the shop were made of polished wood and there was also a rather nice glass fronted cabinet in which were kept numerous ointments and patent medicines.

Another corner shop in the 1950s

A double row of small wooden drawers running along the back wall of the shop contained nutmegs, drums of pepper, bundles of elastic, darning wool, safety pins, sewing needles, cards of buttons, boxes of Top Mill snuff and numerous other objects essential to living at the time. Many women would be adept at knitting and sewing and made their own clothes from popular patterns.

Wednesdays were spent making up orders for delivery on Thursdays and Fridays. Mrs Jennings delivered the orders in her car which was a Wolseley 15/60. I also remember her having a Jowett 10 and, occasionally, she would give me a lift home from school when she collected her son Geoff. It was a rare treat in those days. And she was a woman driver – a much derided species in those days, but she was always safe and followed the rules of driving to the letter.

On Friday afternoon Mrs Jennings would bank the week's takings in Derby. She was always in a tearing hurry to reach the bank before 3.30pm and I often remember (with amusement now) her going off to Derby in her slippers!

British currency circa 1950s.
During the week there would be a steady flow of travelling salesmen coming into the shop. Each of them would be hoping for an order, of course. We had regular ones who supplied us with sides of bacon, ham, butter, lard, sugar and cheese. Cheshire's of Derby and the Ceylon Tea Company were our main suppliers and at least six companies supplied biscuits. Some biscuits were sold in packets and some sold loose in half pounds and pounds. A half pound of biscuits would contain mostly plain plus one chocolate and one wafer biscuit, whereas a pound would include three chocolate and three wafers.

When a new product was being launched we would be given free samples. Soap, toothpaste and shampoo were always welcome and, when Knorr soups were introduced we were given soup from a flask to sample! Very nice it was too! We also sold a lot of Campbell's and Heinz tinned soup - the rich tomato and the chicken soups were the most popular as well as oxtail - even in the summer!


Vinegar was sold from a barrel which was kept in a yard at the side of the shop along with soap powders, bottles of Chlorus, crates of pop and cleaning aids.

Goodalls of Derby supplied us with pork sausages and pies. Johnstone's greengrocery wholesalers supplied us with potatoes, carrots and onions. Nothing got wasted as we always sold out.

Christmas was always a busy time and the customers would spend money saved through the year in a Jennings' Christmas Club account. Ivy would decorate the shop top shelf with Cadbury's picture box chocolates, large tins of pears, peaches and apricots, tins of salmon and Nestle's cream. We would take orders for pork pies, ham, Christmas puddings, selection boxes and trifles. On Christmas Day Mrs Jennings would open the shop at tea time – for an hour – to sell ice cream. Back then (1950s) fridges and freezers were still a luxury in most homes.

Mrs Jennings had a daughter called Cynthia who was a school teacher. Her son Geoff's great love was motorbikes and most things that were noisy. On Bonfire night he always had lots of fireworks and loved everyone to enjoy them with him. He also had a very long sledge on which, when it snowed, as it frequently did in those days, Geoff loved giving the local kids a death-defying ride down the steep Cardigan Street to Kerry Street at the bottom. Sometimes a few of us would fall off on the way but nobody seemed to mind. It was all great innocent fun. We really had a good time and frequently went home with hot aches and chilblains. Cardigan Street was always known locally as Jenning's Hill!

In the 1950s having a telephone at home was quite a luxury and Mrs Jennings would often be called upon to phone for the doctor or to pass messages on to the nearby neighbours. My brother John, who was in the Royal Engineers serving in Germany in the 1950s, used to ring through to the shop to let us know he was coming home on leave. I then had to tell his girlfriend Gill to let her know.

In 1962 I left Jennings and settled into another area and didn't visit the shop for a long time but I was called upon to manage the shop one more time when Richard, Mrs Jennings' step-son got married. When Mrs Jennings (now Crocker) decided to retire in the late 1960s she offered the shop to my husband Ken and myself. Although it was a tempting offer we declined as we were happily settled in another area.

The years in Cardigan Street were very happy and neighbours would always give a helping hand when needed. Our immediate neighbours were Mrs Blanche and Mrs Fenner who were both very supportive to my mother during the war when my dad was serving in North Africa. I had four elder brothers who must have been quite a handful with my dad being absent from home. I have heard lots of tales of the things they got up to during the war but I am sure it was all harmless fun.

I haven't visited Cardigan Street for many years and, no doubt, I would see many changes now. Who knows – I may visit those old haunts once again one day.

June Pearson (née Redfern)

Article originally published by Derby Evening Telegraph Bygones 29th July 2003. Re-published and edited with their kind permission and the permission of Ken Pearson.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Friendly cat helps write website content.

Next door's cat Mr Harris is no stranger to my house. In fact I am surprised that he isn't scratching at my front door right now. He always seems to have an uncanny knack of knowing at which point I am the most busy and don't really need him to walk across the keyboard on my laptop or try to place his furry head on the caps lock button or press control alt delete with his dexterous paws.

Here he is warming his cat bum by the laptop engine. Mr Harris gets so thrilled to be by my side that he is prone to dribbling too. The feline saliva usually threatens to drip somewhere in the gaps between QWERTY and ASFGH. I have to keep moving his head away from the keys. At this point he thinks I am fussing him so he dribbles and purrs so much that the cat dribble goes even further, like in my cup of tea.

As the observant among you may have noticed I have a wall chart in my small kitchen now. This is so I can keep track of the increasing amount of theatre and show reviewing opportunities that are coming my way. To take my original theatre blog up to an even more professional level I have developed a theatre website through WordPress. It has been created so that I can promote theatre going throughout the East Midlands and is proving a hit. It has been a labour of love and I am more than a little obsessed by it. Here it is

I am still working full time at Tesco but I am hoping that the new website will lead to more paid writing opportunities in 2016 and arts sponsorship to enable me to seriously consider writing about theatre full-time.

I have been making big meals so I can just warm up a stew or curry for tea and I came up with a way to make Peshwari naan bread even sweeter than it normally is. I would normally place the bread in tin foil and warm through in the oven for about ten minutes before eating. Last Thursday night however I got inspired to drizzle the breads pre oven with Lyle's Golden Syrup and chuck on a few fresh pomegranate seeds as they came steaming out of the oven. Delicious!

Ah! I hear Mr Harris scratching at the door. I'll just tidy up the office kitchen side before he comes in. "Coming Mr Harris!"