Marrakesh

So near and yet so different.  I’d been wanting to visit Marrakesh for years, and finally went this spring.  It was all I’d hoped for and more – a feast for the senses, exciting, friendly, beautiful, warm (hot actually, despite it being early spring and very frosty back in England)… and so other-worldly.

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Book a Riad over the internet, find a cheap flight and go – just for a long weekend.

Take a lightly packed case – you’ll need the space for bringing home your leather purchases!

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Marrakesh – Majorelle Gardens

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The Majorelle gardens are not to be missed – a 12 acre botanical garden designed in the 1920s – 30s by the French artist Jacques Majorelle.  The fact that it was designed by an artist rather than a botanist is reflected in the clear structure, use of striking architctual plants (including an amazing collection of cacti) and bold colour… the characteristic blue is set off so well by the bright oranges and vivid reds of the nasturtums (even in February) is now known as ‘Majorelle Blue’.

The garden has been open to the public since 1947, and was sold to Yves St Lauren in 1980.  His ashes are scattered in the garden and there is a beautiful memorial for him there.

Spring: Rhubarb Custard Cake.

Spring:      Rhubarb custard cake.

A great way to use up homegrown rhubarb – this is a very moist, almost damp cake – different, but well worth trying…

400 g rhubarb stalks, cut into short lengths about 1.5 – 2 cm long.

150g custard

250g soft butter

250g sugar

250g self raising flour

Half a tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla essence

4 big eggs

Good quality jam to top cake with – strawberry, cherry or raspberry, perhaps (red jam looks pretty with the fleks of pink rhubarb)

Heat Oven to 200c, and line a 23 cm spring clip cake tin with baking paper.

Put the washed and sliced rhubarb into an ovenproof dish, cover with 50 g sugar, then wrap foil tightly over the dish, and bake for about 25 minutes.  When done, drain rhubarb – you can drink the juice!

Make some custard – if you don’t have any powder, use cornflower and sugar… if you’re feeling lazy, use ready made.  You need 150 g, but if you’re making it, may as well make a sensible amount – sure it will get eaten!

Take out 3 Tbs custard and set aside.  Put the rest in a large mixing bowl with 250g softened butter, 250 g sugar, 250g Self Raising flour, 4 eggs, half a teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, and mix it all well with an electric beater.

Put about a third of the mix into the tin, then layer up with some scattered rhubarb, and more mixture.  Finish with last few bits of rhubarb on top and saved custard blobbed on!

Bake in the oven for about 60 minutes – cover with foil towards the end of cooking if you think it’s getting a bit too coloured.

When a skewer comes out clean it’s cooked – except remember that the custard will remain runny, so a bit tricky to tell!

Again, because of the runny hot custard, and the dampness of the cake due to that and rhubarb, leave in the tin for a little to settle – then turn out carefully and remove baking paper.

When ready to serve, top with some good quality strawberry, cherry or raspberry jam… delicious, and even better when still warm.

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Spring Baked Rhubarb

Spring: Baked Rhubarb.

To cook rhubarb without it going squidgy (?), wash and trim into short lengths, then put into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with sugar – it is very tart without – use a gererous cup of sugar for each 6 cups of chopped rhubarb.

Cover tightly with foil and bake in a hot oven until tender.

Try mixing in some rosewater, orange segments or zest, ginger… or once cold, stir in some small sweet strawberries and blueberries – yum!

I often have other berries such as red gooseberries, Jostaberries or blackberries ripe at the same time – toss these in after baking, and let them steam under the foil seal – they will add beautifully flavour and appearance, but maintain their shape.

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Moroccan Style Lamb Tagine.

 Spring: Lamb

Moroccan (style!) Lamb Tagine.

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A ‘Tagine’ is the heavy pottery cooking pot with a conical lid, from North Africa.  I don’t use a tagine when I make tagines, because they seem such a strange shape – so much lid compared to the base of the pot – means that they take up virtually the whole oven, and only contain a relatively small quantity… not any good if you’re trying to bake lots of things at the same time to save on fuel…  I use a Le Crouset, but any heavy based pot with a lid would be fine…  and I recommend roasting Mediterranean vegetables at the same time as cooking this Tagine – a lovely combination with cous cous & a crisp green salad.

Serves 2.

About 550 g or 4 pieces of neck of lamb – cut into large chunks.

I tsp of cumin seeds, I tsp coriander seeds, half a tsp fennel seeds – ground down into powder in a pestle and mortar.

Fresh rosemary, and thyme if you have it, snipped.  A bay leaf.

1 Large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut up small.

Olive oil.

4 sweet Potatoes, 2 large sliced onions, 2 cloves of garlic – cut up small

1 tin of tomatoes, I cinnamon stick or a wine mulling spice bag, a generous handful of dried apricots or other dried fruit

Fresh Corriander to snip on the top, and Cous cous or rice to serve.

Pound spices in pestle and mortar then toss lamb cubes in them.

Heat oven to 190c, then heat the olive oil in heavy based pan then brown meat.

Lift meat out and set aside.  Brown onion, garlic and sweet potato for a little while.

Add rest of the ingredients and 3  wine glasses of water.

Cook with lid on for about 60 – 90 minutes – remove lid for last part of cooking to let it thicken.

I added some sweet chutney before serving, and garnished with snipped fresh herbs from the garden.

I served it with basmati and black rice, as the friend I was cooking for doesn’t like cous-cous.

… Memories of a wonderful trip to Marrakesh in February – one of the friendliest and most interesting places I’ve been to – so close and easy to get to, yet so different    – I was struck by all the beautiful, intricate doors lining narrow earthy streets – see ‘Travel’ category blogs for some of them…    

We had great intentions to eat in the central square, which turns from busy thoroughfare to bussing, frantic pop-up restaurant heaven in the evening – but when it came to it, at the end of a long day exploring and bargaining, we always returned to the tranquility of our Riad, and ate some simple, tasty home cooked dish, then stumble up the narrow stony winding staircase to our velvety bed, adorned with cushions and throws in all the reds, golds and burnt ambers you’d want from a trip to Morocco  –  can’t wait to return, but I think this tagine is as close as I’ll get for a little while!

Egg inside an egg…

I had a text from Jass when at work on Tuesday – ‘Ava’s just laid the biggest egg ever’   

Phew, I thought – that’s supper sorted!

Well, it was really big – even in a general comparison sort of way, not just compared to the tiny precious offerings we hope for from our girls.

When she gently cracked it into the poaching pan, a little white came out – then another surprise – inside was another, complete, bantom-sized egg.

I’ve heard that when first laying chickens produce some strange shaped eggs, but this seemed really egg-trodinary!

… I’d love to hear about any other weird and wonderful eggs out there…

Everyday beauty on a London street.

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Walking to work yesterday, I felt the sun on my face for the first time in weeks –

doesn’t everything feel – and look – SO VERY much better in the sun.

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Familar streets, but I noticed the wonderful new spring flowers –

peeping through fences, over walls,

around gates and struggling with overgrown shrubs trying to strangle them,

bulging over pavements…

Fresh colours, sparkling in the weak morning sunshine.

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The streets I walk along every day are busy,

noisy and usually bustling at that slightly frenzied time of the morning.

But there is so much beauty too.Image

I had my phone with me, and thought –

let’s take a moment, & just a few photos of flowers in the next dozen of front gardens to celebrete the Spring.

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What a wonderful variety of colours, textures and scents…

and this was just a few homes in a short stretch of a local street.

My phone’s camera doesn’t do them justice,

but they are all beautiful in themselves, and in the context of the London street – a tiny treat.

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The warmth, pleasure & uplifting feeling of inner tranquility struck me:

nature has the power to revive the spirits despite rush, fatigue & the day ahead!

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It reminded me of a talk I went to last year by Anthony Robbins – www.tonyrobbins.com/

some of  which was really moving and memorable –

one of his messages was – what you focus on gets bigger – 

I believe that is very true, and have tried to focus on positive things as a result…

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How easy, yesterday morning, to focus on the beauty to be found on the streets in London,

and the everyday beauty around us all the time, if only we can see or hear it.

Sadly, the very special person, who I went to the Anthony Robbins talk with

did not perhaps hear that phrase in the same way – walking through London was a tortous business –

focusing painfully on the loud sounds, the bustle and the hastle… stress, upset, unbearable assault on the senses…

Yet on the same street, yesterday, I found beauty,

the buzzing of bees as they found the early honeysuckle,

the purring of a cat stretching in the sun, and birds singing to welcome in the day –

maybe police sirens, yelling mums trying to get children out of the door, and impatient dads revving the car too –

but in the background, not something to focus on today –

the everyday beauty of  nature  is such a precious treat,

and worth focusing on amid the rush.