Macaroni Tuesdays

Macaroni

Every Tuesday morning I brought out my large oven dish, and set about making macaroni cheese

At Kelso High School lunch hour, a posse of teenagers came through my door, ready to eat the lot

I had a rough idea of how many there would be, but made extra to be sure

Now I look at the dish and wonder how long it would take my household to eat its full quota of mac and cheese. Maybe a week?

The teenagers are nearly thirty years old now. I wonder if any of them remember my macaroni

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School subjects

Boiled egg

Do you remember choosing school subjects?

Towards the end of Primary School we were given a form. Columns of Secondary School subjects from which we were to choose

The compulsory subjects had their own columns; then came the fun part…

We ticked our choices in pencil, and were instructed to take it home for a parent’s signature

I have zero idea why I ticked Latin. My mother had a very old Latin dictionary. Maybe I liked the binding?

Food and Nutrition, on the other hand, was a definite, positive tick. I really wanted to cook

So I walked home and showed the form to my parents. The horror! Had I erroneously ticked Arson? Shoplifting?

No, definitely Latin plus Food and Nutrition. But this was a problem

My mother, bless her heart, couldn’t cook. Did you read my posts around Christmas time? She was a clever woman who had won a place at university, before it was usual for working class families. But she definitely couldn’t cook

Why I was told not to tick Latin, I haven’t a clue. But I clearly remember why Food and Nutrition was unticked

“I can teach you to cook” said mum, without irony

At age eleven, I knew this was no more than a fantasy. I wanted to cook actual edible food. It wasn’t going to happen

Years later, when I was working and had a wee flat, I began to learn to cook. I’m still learning

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Automatically Sunshine

Dedicated to Mary Wilson

Do you know what an Austin Cambridge was?

Automatically Sunshine?

This Austin Cambridge was our family car when I was a thirteen year old, awkward teenager

Holding my brand new transistor radio, in the back seat of that car, I was waiting for the ferry and our family holiday. It was a sunny day

The DJ on BBC Radio One introduced The Supremes singing Automatically Sunshine

Now this wasn’t classic Supremes

This wasn’t Diana Ross

This was Mary Wilson, Jean Terrell and Cindy Birdsong

Fin de ciecle Supremes

My life rather changed that day. Sunshine was never again Automatic

__________

I will tell you more about that summer, and how I changed, in future posts

Do you enjoy reading my stories? I love writing them. My day job is shopkeeping

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Concussion

Scarring from a fall

Scarred for Life

My working life began one week later than planned. Because I fell off a bicycle

I was at a friend’s older brother’s home. He was married, had a Cairn Terrier. There were bicycles in the garden. We borrowed them for the afternoon and rode off to explore the countryside

If you’re thinking Enid Blyton, read on. One afternoon, when I was only sixteen and a half, had devastating consequences on my life

I don’t think I was going fast. There was a small hill. On the downward slope I lost control. Seconds later I opened my eyes on a hospital trolley and said “Where am I?”

I’ve always wished I had said something clever

Seconds had been hours, I’d been taken to the nearest hospital by ambulance. Road gravel (mostly) removed from my knee, hip and forehead. Stitched up. I’d been totally unaware of this, because Concussion

I was sixteen years old. There was no space in a suitable ward so I was allocated a bed in geriatrics with five “ancient” women

That was actually fun. I liked them and they enjoyed having a teenager in the room

So, the stitches…

One or two on my knee, under which a grey layer of road dust still remains

Several on my hip. Lumpy, bumpy, very messy. Not what a teenager wants on her body

But my forehead. I’ve never accepted the scar. It’s stared at me from the mirror for decades. It affected how I wear my hair, the glasses I choose. And I can’t raise my left eyebrow. My face is uneven

A nurse told me there was a mirror on the right hand side of the bathroom, and I might not want to see my face. I understood – my face was a mess – and took her advice

However I was young and had no idea how long my face would be bruised and scraped

Six days into my stay I was asked if I’d like to wash my hair and put on proper clothes. Fed up with lying in bed, I definitely wanted to get dressed

Nobody said my face was still frighteningly destroyed. I thought if they’re suggesting I get dressed, I must be better

So I crossed the ward to the bathroom, didn’t avert my eyes from the mirror, saw my face

Maybe I screamed out loud, maybe not. I certainly screamed inside. Black, blue, red, purple face. Hair still matted with dried blood that hadn’t been washed out because of the stitches

I managed to dress and wash my hair. Then I walked by the mirror without looking

On the morning I was due to leave hospital, eight days after admission, the surgeon who had stitched me up came over. “Never mind, you can get plastic surgery when you’re older”

I hadn’t said a word! Did he think I was going to complain about his terrible patchwork? Sue him? I hadn’t even noticed the twelve stitches within the devastation that was my face

But let me return to the concussion

Concussion has consequences way beyond a hospital stay and terrible stitching. For me the most evident result was a change in my periods. Until the concussion, regular and monthly. Textbook

The concussion happened in May. I didn’t have another period for months. Then they were irregular, unpredictable – for ever

Another issue was the start of my working life. Two weeks and two days after the fall I began my first job. (I hated it, soon moved to a different company. I’ll tell you another time)

Two young people were due to start on the same day. Myself and a young man. My concussion meant I started one week later than him

For five days he was “last in” – office junior

Then I arrived. Excellent! A girl! She can have all the rubbish jobs while the young man can aim high. Sexism 101

And lastly, the scar on my forehead. I cut a fringe. I parted my hair on the right. I chose glasses that don’t draw attention to my eyebrows – remember, I can’t raise the left one

When the pandemic came and I couldn’t get my hair cut, still I worked around the scar. This week I took a huge step and drew my hair right back, scar in full view. No-one seems to have noticed

I could say there’s a lesson in this story. But there really isn’t. I was concussed; I was scarred; I’m still affected by it

But I’m getting better

_________

Read more of my stories if you enjoyed this one. And you can find out more about me on my socials. (I’m a shopkeeper by day)

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Danish Blue from Fine Fare

“What are you talking about, Anne?”
If Fine Fare was part of your life, you already have an image in your mind.
If not, let me take you back in time…

Fine Fare supermarkets

The first proper supermarket in my town was Fine Fare. I was around 12 years old when it opened. For this story, I’m 17

I worked in the offices of a carpet manufacturer. Just around the corner was Fine Fare

I’d become interested in food and cooking, and was reading Elizabeth David books. I so wanted to eat something more interesting than mince, or filled rolls. So my lunch break destination was Fine Fare

My parents weren’t interested in food, other than as a method of surviving. I wanted more flavour, texture, enjoyment. One day I’ll tell you more Tales from Fine Fare. Today it’s Danish Blue

Cheese in my childhood home was something orange and cheese flavoured, known as cheddar

Fine Fare had cheeses I’d never heard of. It’s funny to remember how few choices we had. But that was then…

One lunch break I picked up a wee, foil wrapped cube of Danish Blue. I hadn’t come across blue cheese before. Worth a try

Danish Blue Cheese

I went outside to sit on the wall, removed the foil, bit into the cube, almost died. Danish Blue was the worst thing I’d ever tasted

My office was close enough for me to reach quickly. Otherwise I would have collapsed, frothing from my mouth

I next tried blue cheese about 10 years later. Strangely, I liked it

Today a customer asked me if I had a nice blue cheese. (I don’t – yet) Got me reminiscing about Fine Fare, and the horror in that wee, foil wrapped cube
.
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Fine Fare

Fine Fare sold LPs

Second Instalment

Other supermarkets and grocers in the 1970s sold food, washing powder, aluminium foil… Fine Fare was in a different league

The shop looked gigantic. My mum used the two Self Serve grocers in town. They weren’t much bigger than a corner shop. One of my “Aunt Marys” (my dad’s cousin) worked in the grocery. I’ll tell you about both my “Aunt Marys” in another post if you like?

Fine Fare opened the year I started secondary school. My mum made the first visit, came home full of enthusiasm, so we had to get down there

Now this was the early 1970s. Shops were not open after tea time. Fine Fare broke the mould – they were open late

Late, but not in a way we’d recognise in 2022. Late meant 6 o’clock most days, with wildly decadent, Friday late night shopping till 7 o’clock

So a family outing to Fine Fare was arranged. It must’ve been early winter, almost my birthday, since I remember choosing gifts

My birthday presents that year were:

1. A rubber plant (true fact!)

2. A patchwork suede shoulder bag (I wanted the suede patchwork skirt – it must’ve been too expensive)

A year later I was a music obsessed teenager with a particular liking for T.Rex

Fine Fare sold 99p compilation records at the check out. I bought the one pictured above

Later in my teens, Fine Fare was the place I shopped for groceries, including products I had only read about. But you’ll have to keep reading for those stories

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy my reminiscences

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Slow Bread

Slow risen bread

Less rush, better flavour

Life can be all Rush! Hurry! Quick! How lovely it is to be slow. Making slow bread forces me to calm down, step out of the moment, take my time.

It also tastes particularly good.

Bread in a flowerpot

I baked my first loaf when I was seventeen. It probably wasn’t very good.

I had a big, thick, general cookbook – I wish I still had it! Purnell’s Complete Cookery.

I loved my first big cookbook

I really wanted to learn to cook. I genuinely didn’t have a clue. Someday I’ll tell you that story. Why I became interested in the bread chapter, I do not know. It jumped out at me so I gave it a go.

Now these were ancient times, also known as the late 1970s. Possibly dried yeast was available in specialist shops on fancy city streets. Not in the industrial West of Scotland. So I did as my book instructed. I went to the bakery.

That’s the actual bakery. Not the shop where I bought German Biscuits and Sugared Rolls. No, round the back where the bread and rolls were baked.

A block of yeast in a twist of greaseproof paper cost pennies. I became a regular customer at the bakery close to my work.

I have no idea where I bought bread flour. Strange to think how unusual such a product was. There was a Fine Fare near my office. (That was a supermarket) Since Fine Fare was the first place I ever saw aubergines, courgettes, peppers, maybe they had bread flour.

Anyway, home I went to bake my bread.

I liked the sound of a brown loaf that included treacle.

From the start I thought it couldn’t be right. Quite a few tablespoons of treacle. The dough was dark, dark brown and very sticky. Having no experience of bread making, I followed the recipe nonetheless. It baked into a nice little loaf, but so very sweet and dense. More like a cake.

I made the same loaf many times with only a little treacle!

Very soon I had bought more cookbooks and tried many recipes. Then a new book was published.

My Elizabeth David bread book

English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David

My education in bread making began the day I bought it.

It’s beside my bed now, as I wanted to re read it before baking bread to sell.

Bread needn’t be quick

And this is what I learned from Elizabeth David: slow bread can be the best bread. Less yeast is required, and you get such good results.

It’s a lesson I have to re learn periodically. Many times I have rushed home from work, mixed the ingredients and left my dough to rise. As I grow more and more tired, I get angry at the dough for not rising quickly. I’ll be up all night! I must add more yeast! The bowl is going on the radiator!

When I get annoyed with a bowl of bread dough, I remind myself that the best place for it to rise is the fridge; and the best time for it to be baked is the following day. Perhaps the following evening!

Third rise

There’s a time and place for speedy cooking and baking. But it’s not compulsory.

Slow bread is flavoursome bread.

Two loaves of my “slow” bread

Thank you for reading my blog. Please comment, especially if you have a bread making story.

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How To Cook Beans and Lentils

Make an amazing meal with pulses

Dried Blackeye Beans make a tasty meal

Look in your cupboards. You probably have a forgotten packet of dried beans, lentils or broth mix. That’s an excellent meal right there.

Do your beans say Best Before 2011? Ignore! They’ll be fine. You may have to cook them a bit longer, but they don’t go bad. (UNLESS they’re damp. In which case they probably have gone bad, and you’ll need to throw them away)

So you have a packet of beans, lentils, peas, broth mix, and you’re thinking, “Boring!”

Wrong! You’re about to make a tasty main meal or side dish that you’ll love. Let’s begin with lentils as they’re dead easy.

Lentils

Whole brown lentils
Split red lentils

You can buy two types of lentils. Whole and split. A split lentil is what’s inside a whole lentil. It’s that simple. Take the husk off a brown lentil, you’ll find two split red lentils.

Split lentils cook fairly quickly, about half an hour. Whole lentils take a bit longer. You can tell when split lentils are cooked by simply looking. Some completely disintegrate; some look mushy. Whole lentils swell up, but if you’re unsure you only have to bite one – but not while it’s boiling hot!

Lentils beginning to cook

Beans

Borlotti beans

If you have a pressure cooker, dried beans are a doddle. If not, no problem. They take a while but only need keeping an eye on occasionally. I’ll talk about the stovetop way. If you’re using a pressure cooker reduce the time as per instructions. But please, don’t release the pressure quickly. I have done this and cleaned bits of cooked beans off the ceiling. Let the pressure drop gradually.

Most straightforward of all is in a normal, big pan on the stovetop. Boil beans until soft. This can take between one and two hours, but you can do other things while they cook. Use fewer beans – and a much bigger pan – than your logical brain tells you. They need plenty of water. You can soak them overnight to (slightly) reduce the cooking time. I seldom do. I’m not that well organised. Check on them frequently and add water back to its original level.

Now you can use your cooked beans in stews and curries, in cheese sauce and minestrone. In anything you choose.

Cooked beans freeze well. So if you have a really big pan, boil more than you need today and freeze the rest in portions. My guide to a “portion” of cooked beans is the amount you get in… guess?… a tin of beans! In fact, if you like to reuse and recycle, wash out some tins and freeze your beans in them. Easy storing and measuring right there.

Butter beans. They don’t taste like butter!
Mung beans are very small

So let’s add a step, making the beans a meal with very little extra work.

You can use bigger beans that take longer to cook, but I suggest trying aduki or mung beans first time.

Your favourite spice blend

Heat some oil or butter in a big pan – not too hot – and add your choice of spices, herbs or curry paste. Fry for a few minutes then add some beans. Again, don’t overdo it. They really need space. A layer a couple of centimetres high, over the entire base of the pan, is a good guide. Stir the beans around for a few minutes till they’re fairly hot, then add water.

Spices, oil, aduki beans

If you have hot water in a kettle, use that. But cold is fine. It’ll soon heat up. The water should come to about four or five times the height of the beans to start off. Bring to the boil then turn the heat right down. There’s a good chance the water will boil over. My solution is to leave a wooden spoon in the pan, meaning it’s impossible to put the lid right on. Alternatively, don’t bother with a lid at all, but you’ll have to watch the liquid level doesn’t fall too much.

Unlike the plain boiling method, most of the liquid needs to be absorbed into the beans. You don’t want to be draining them. So after 45 minutes remove one bean with a teaspoon, dip it into cold water and bite it. If it’s almost soft, now is the time to adjust seasoning and reduce the liquid to almost none. At this point, don’t walk away! They could burn and you’ll only be having a jam sandwich for dinner.

If the beans are soft, all you need to do is add salt if liked, and turn the heat up slightly until there’s not much liquid left. Now you can add whatever you like to your meal – tinned tomatoes, leftover meat or vegetables, a tin of tuna or anchovies… Or nothing at all. They’ll taste delicious as they are.

If they’re still a bit hard add a little water and test again after fifteen minutes or thereabouts. Once they’re soft, you’re at the seasoning stage above.

Broth Mix – no need to make broth!

Broth mix contains beans, lentils and grains

Do you have a bag of this at the back of a cupboard, but no inclination to make Scotch Broth? I know the feeling. But look at it. What do you see? A random muddle of useless coloured things? If you’re like me you will see three side dishes.

Barley, lentils, split peas, and possibly whole peas. If you have a little patience to separate them, you’re on the way to making a tasty meal.

Broth mix, separated

Okay, confession time. See those dinky little peas? I put hem in a small pan with “plenty” of water. I brought them to the boil, got distracted, and burned them. Don’t do that!

Boil the barley until soft, then use as you would any other grain.

Boiled barley with butter

I decided the red lentils and yellow split peas should be eaten together. Once cooked, they’re pretty similar. The peas take longer so I simmered them for about twenty minutes, then added the lentils.

Split peas after 20 minutes cooking
Now add lentils and cook until soft
Green split peas

If you don’t get many green peas in the mix, keep them in a jam jar and use them another day.

Well I could write so much more. But instead, please ask me any questions that come to mind as you read.

Thanks for your interest.

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Lockdown as a teenager (Q&A)

An Inter-Generational Conversation

Teenager in Lockdown – art therapy

Anne: Are there aspects of the lockdown that are better than you thought?

Isla: This whole situation we are in is so strange and as a teenager myself I am finding it hard.

Are there aspects that are worse than you thought?

It’s a shock from being able to go out with your friends and be free to have fun, to be in what feels like prison.

When lockdown first was put in place, I did panic and worried about what I would do with all this time, but now more so about my exams.

Do you organise your day, or just deal with what turns up?

After a few days I started to relax as it’s out of my control on what’s happening. But I was still finding it hard to keep busy as there was little to do.

About a week in I decided to try and get back into art, so I designed my own unique pair of jeans and then tried some painting designs that I had never done before.

Art is helping through the Lockdown

Do you feel more or less anxious than you did when the lockdown started?

At the current moment in time I am actually okay, obviously I’m bored but its manageable. There are some downsides though, for example siblings.

Being stuck with a 6 year old 24/7 really gets to you. Currently we can’t seem to last more than 20 minutes together without arguing.

Have some of your friends lost their jobs?

It’s also very annoying that for many adults there are aspects of work they can do from home, but for most teenagers they can’t do that and many have lost thier jobs as businesses can’t now afford young, less experienced people to be working for them.

All age groups are rediscovering their creativity

Thanks Isla. I’m always interested in your point of view. It helps to see things from a totally different angle.

Making Coffee

My Easy Enamelware Pot Method

Making coffee in an enamelware pot is easy

Self catering holidays when my children were young could have been seriously exhausting. To see me through a fortnight of family life up close, I always took my Enamelware Coffee Pot.

Since we have become so used to filter machines, drip pots, espresso makers and French presses, have we forgotten the simplest method? A jug. So simple you can make coffee anywhere. Even by a campfire.

I love enamelware. I’ve been making coffee in enamelware pots since I was a teenager. It’s so easy, and you need no specialist equipment. If you have ground coffee, boiling water, a pot, and a little bit of patience, you can make delicious coffee any place, any time.

You don’t even need an enamelware pot. An old teapot, a charity shop china coffee pot, even a saucepan with a lid will do. But I’ll always opt for an enamel pot.

Enamelware coffee pot from Prague

Here’s my infallible method:

Step 1

Put the kettle on to boil. To warm the pot, put a little hot water in it, or run it under the hot tap. At very least don’t use it stone cold. Enamelware will lose heat, so there’s no point in being part of the problem.

Step 2

Put ground coffee in the pot. Any grind will do. No need to worry – use what you have. Even if it’s very fine or course, we’ll make it work in your pot. If you grind your own coffee, or have the choice when buying it, take a medium grind. The amount of coffee is up to you. First time you make it use the recommended measure. Next time you can add more or less.

Three Hills Coffee, roasted in the Scottish Borders

Step 3

Pour almost boiling water over the coffee, but only to just below the spout. Don’t be tempted to add more at this stage. You’ll need space for Step 5. The water should be “off the boil”, that’s to say, not bubbling. So boil the kettle as you gather together what you need. It will be perfect when you use it.

Enamelware coffee pots from Turkey

Step 4

Put the lid on, cover the pot with a tea cosy or a folded tea towel (that’s what I use) and leave for about 5 minutes. Don’t cheat. Listen to a couple of songs, read a short article, chop some vegetables. If you think you’ll get distracted, set a timer. More than five minutes is fine, but if you completely forget about the coffee it will go cold.

Step 5

Now you have to do some work.
You’ll need more boiling water soon, so have that ready.
Stir the coffee for a full 2 minutes. It will seem like a long time but keep going. It’s worth the effort. You will see and feel the grains sinking, and the liquid will begin to look clearer.
When you’ve stirred all you can, fill the pot to the brim with boiling water, put the lid on, cover, and leave for a few minutes.

Step 6

Take the lid off and stir again, briefly. Cover and leave for a few more minutes. If you have stirred as instructed, you won’t even need to strain the coffee. Handy if you can’t find that strainer you thought was at the back of a drawer! However if you don’t want to risk the occasional piece of ground coffee sneaking into your cup, strain.

A perfect cup of black coffee

Do you take milk or sugar? I take my coffee black.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog, and drinking your coffee.

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Please let me know if you try my easy method for making coffee.