Bill Bryson. Definitely on my list of ‘People to invite to Dinner’. He would obviously be unable to resist and come round for a chippy tea. Bringing his chuckle and those kind eyes that Father Christmas impersonators the world over try to master to get the job.
This man has more facets than the latest all singing all dancing latest multi faceted hair colour brand. Whatever that is.
Bill has been resident in my home for years now, copies exchanged, borrowed, lent, charity shopped and gifted. I started with his travel books, and went onto his historical, scientific, educational ones.
You will find the same humour, humanity, and superb observation in them all. His travel books are informative, but for me the real pull is the way he ‘puts you there’ . Witty, curious and charming, with a hint of plain savagery at times. It is his observance of people and their quirks, that enchants me the most.
It seems that Bill cannot stay still, either physically or mentally, and nor would i want him to. He instils, within me, a curiosity for the World, Language and People, and if i ever did get to meet him, I would absolutely just nod my head, mute, and dumbstruck. Or bear hug him. Either way he would up his security.
Which ones have you read?
I am on Neither Here Nor There at the moment. Hoping this European travel adventure, covers Denmark- which is my next planned stop, allowing me to ‘bed in’ somewhat with familiarity.
Covid may stop our trip in August, but we can still travel, through well written books and amazing photography.
“I’ve got you a present Sis”
As she handed me the parcel I knew it was a book, and given that we had been trying to sort out our travel itinerary the week before, it was no real surprise that it was a Bradt Travel Guide-The Gambia.
The lack of surprise however, did not dull the shine or joy of the gift. I gleefully hugged her, and we did the happy jumping up and down thing, whilst hugging, which meant she was suffocating in my boobs. The short arse.
I read the Bradt guide, like I do with all travel guides, fervently, excitedly, and taking my pen to it, marking places with stars and underlining things. Drinking in the maps, circling things and joining them with arrows and question marks. It is an absolute chaotic mess to be honest. But I never did intend to pass it on.
Geekdom Level 100 was hit when I overheard a fellow passenger mentioning an attraction there and I knew which page in the guide it was on. No wonder I am single.
In the foreword of this guide, was as usual, a nod to the authors, updaters and contributors that had penned the guide, and something that stood out to me.
That Simon Fenton, a seasoned travel writer and photographer, had fallen in love in Senegal (the neighbouring country to The Gambia). Packed up his life in the UK, and taken to living with his Partner, amongst the Jola tribespeople.
From there they built an eco-guesthouse, The Little Baobab Guesthouse and Simon documented his adventures in the book Squirting Milk At Chameleons- An Accidental African. The passage in the travel guide turned out to be a eulogy of sorts. He was killed in a car crash in 2017 in Senegal.
I ordered the book before the holiday ended. Returned home and devoured it, then ordered the sequel- Chasing Hornbills- Up To My Neck In Africa.
I just found the whole thing, charming, funny, romantic and often ridiculous. The tightrope of the middle class Englishman and his Tribeman alter ego, often bumbling his way through, not even pretending to have a clue what he was doing- had me chuckling, and admiring him at the same time. Even if I had, no first-hand knowledge of Africa, I still would have enjoyed it. No doubt at all.
Sometimes, when you read something, a chain reaction starts, a series of events is set in motion. The lovely gift of a travel guide, led me to 2 books I fully submersed in, a fascination for the Jola tribe, and the determination that I would go and stay at the Eco-guesthouse, in Abene, Casamance.
I will write more about my Gambian adventure on the Places Blog. I really do recommend you read Simon’s first book Order Here, see how it makes you feel, and take it from there.
I adore sundried tomatoes. I can, and sometimes do, eat them with mozzarella and olives, smothered in their flavoursome olive oil, perhaps with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. They are an absolute treat.
It is no secret amongst my friends that I am always penny pinching whilst trying not to compromise on flavour, and one way I do this is to make my own sundried tomato paste. Sundried tomato paste is utterly beautiful, but alas, it doesn’t last long in my house and it isn’t the cheapest thing to buy.
So here we have my compromise agreement. Using your ‘bog standard’ cheapest supermarket tomato puree and pepping it up.
You will need a processor or blender and
200g Tube tomato puree
Jar of sundried tomatoes in oil ( separate the tomatoes from the oil- reserve the oil)
1 tsp garlic puree
1/2 tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
20 rinsed capers
1 tsp sugar
Put everything bar the oil into a food processor and blitz. Add a tbsp of the sundried tomato oil and blitz again. From this point depending on your concerns regarding oil you can carry on putting some in ( i used 3 tbsp) or you can add water, adding a little at a time and blitzing in between until you are happy with the consistency. It should be a little looser than your bog standard tomato puree.
Spoon it all into a jar, cover the top with oil and pop in the fridge. It keeps for ages. Alternatively you can freeze some ( I use an ice cube tray for this, as I do with my pesto).
I use this paste as a pizza sauce, add dollops to cooked pasta, drop it into chillies,bolognese and lasagne. Spread it onto garlic bread, or use it in your toasties. It is very versatile. You could add olives or anchovies too if you like. Make it your own.
The sundried tomato paste I used to buy is 93p per 100 grams. ( GIA brand- which is lovely) My paste works out at 37p per 100 grams. ( using Asdas own puree, Asdas own sundried tomatoes in oil and my store cupboard ingredients which I included in the costing)
As a bonus you will still have some sun dried tomato oil left in the jar to use for another dish. Always save your oil, including anchovy oil, there is so much flavour packed into them. It is also pointless throwing it away then going out buying olive oil at a later date. Use it to drizzle on salads or garlic breads. Use it for cooking but please make sure the oil flavour is compatible with the dish you are making. You could also put cloves of peeled garlic or herbs into the oil, letting them infuse together beautifully.
Do not be afraid to try a ‘mock up’ version of something you find expensive. The ingredients are always listed in order of quantity, which gives you a guide as to how much or how little to add of each thing. Experiment, and remember, you are making this to your own liking, and we all have different taste buds.
It is always a pleasure to see people succeed in doing something they love. It is infinitely better when that person is making things other people love too. The ripple effect is in full flow over at The Leyland Traybake Company .Everything made there brings joy. Producing brownies, blondies, traybakes and things that make you go ‘ooooooh’ is Fiona’s talent.
Not too long-ago Fiona was juggling working part time around her 2 girls and her Husband’s job. Fiona knew where her heart lay, baking was something she had always enjoyed. The fear of going for it held her back, like it does with so many of us.
Getting to grips with this fear took dedication, and Fiona decided to invest in herself before investing in a business. If you take anything from this article- let that be it- that YOU deserve investment.
Fiona got herself a life coach, with a focus on self- improvement and learning to master anxiety attacks. Each step away from the fear was a step closer to her dream. She remains vocal about how much her outlook changed when anxiety no longer had the upper hand.
I caught up with Fiona to ask her about life, loves, and the best brownies I have ever had.
“I wanted to do something I felt I was actually good at, rather than just a job to pay the bills. I wanted hours that would fit round my family, not the other way around. I needed something that gave me that funny feeling in my tummy. Still now, one of my favourite things to do is put on some good music as loud as I can and smash out a cake”
It is clear that the investment Fiona made in herself is continuing, I wondered if she had been reading anything in lockdown.
“I don’t tend to read actual books but listen to a LOT of audio books. Anything to do with spirituality, manifesting or self-improvement is my bag. I’ve learned priceless lessons from those things which have now become a way of life. I was recently sent a podcast by my amazing sister in law– ‘The moments that made me’ by Mo Gawdat It was all about finding the true definition of happiness. It was amazing, we could all learn from it. I am also a huge fan of Gabby Bernstein, a spiritual life coach, and Noor HIbbert too. I am all-over anything that can improve the quality of my thoughts, leading to an improved quality of life. This stuff works! “
Given that there are some clear favourite authors there, I asked if there was anyone she aspired to be like, or any businesses that influenced hers. I LOVED her answer.
“There is NOBODY I want to be like. I want to be like me. The happiest version of me I can be, doing what I love. There are plenty of people I admire though. I look at the likes of the girls from Finch Bakery, and another more recent business is Doe. Both are great examples of just using your creativity and going with it. I’ve learned something doesn’t have to look a certain way just because someone else’s version of that has a particular style, or is traditionally created to have a certain look. I just want to do my job, my way and for people to love it “
We have turned into a nation of cooks and bakers under lockdown, are there any products that you recommend?
“Honestly, I’m a simple baker, nothing too complicated. I do use butter rather than margarine, purely because I hate pretty much everything about it and it’s had some pretty bad press too. Therefore, I never put it in my brownies and blondies, or use it at home. My mixer is years old but I love it, there is nothing flash about any of the equipment I use, just good ingredients and tried and tested recipes”
What is your ‘go to ‘family dinner?
“Ooohh that’s hard. I love Joe Wickes chicken pie, that’s always really good and a great one to make when we have guests (not that it happens that often!) I’m really a fan of simple foods. I really wouldn’t thank you for anything overly fancy. Our family enjoy pasta, we also use a lot of potatoes as you can do so much with them”
Do you have handed down family recipe?
“Yes. Corned beef hash and also a tuna quiche that my mum makes. It is just the best thing ever”
We talk about food and how it entwines with memories. Fiona’s Nanna made doorstop chunks of toast with smatterings of butter, on the ‘top grill’. She smiles when she talks about it. I tell her my Nanna still makes her Nanna’s flatcake recipe, and I smile too.
Are you keeping the Girls busy in the Kitchen?
“My girls love baking. They’ll make anything, sweet or savoury. They’re always happy when there’s a bowl to lick and eggs to crack. Anything that uses plenty of sprinkles is always a winner too. The simple recipes are the best though, anything too complicated tends to get stressful for us all, not to mention extremely messy! Pizza is a good one, they like making the dough and they’re pretty fun and quick to finish with all the toppings too”
Now clearly Fiona is very astute, because when I asked what her ultimate comfort food is, the answer was pizza. Perhaps we should all be training our children to make our favourites! My current favourite pizza recipe is Here
Our conversation was going well until it was declared- “or something with cheese or gravy. Ideally together. I literally love stodge I’m a true northerner”
Obviously, we had to have the cheese and gravy debate. I am a fan of both but not together. According to Fiona, it’s amazing, I cannot bring myself to try it. I suspect the Southern half of me won’t allow it .
The Leyland Traybake Company is partially up and running again now, and will continue to deliver traybakes ( or you collect) , but the operational hours are still restricted a little due to homeschooling 2 beautiful little girls during lockdown.
Until you get your mitts on them you can simply stare at the photos of Fiona’s amazing creations on Facebook, or Instagram @theleylandtraybakecompany.
Just try not to lick the screen……..
To the absolute dismay of Manchild 2, I was in the kitchen earlier eating little bits of mandarin orange and anchovies. Trying to decide if I was going to chuck them together on a pizza. He declared me ‘gross’, and I partially agree.
For I am one of the worlds biggest anti- pineapple on pizza people. I will happily chuck mango in a chicken salad or into curry, but pineapple pizza remains something that I ‘uuugh’ at. However, after today, I may change my mind. Perhaps I just need to make it myself rather than ordering it elsewhere.
I have been trying to experiment more with flavour profiles, which led me to a plate of black olives, anchovies and mandarin oranges. I tasted bits of them with each other, and in different orders. The result was always the same. I wanted it, and I wanted it hot. Lockdown does funny things to a woman.
The end result was an absolute delight. A thin, crispy round the edges base, smeared with sundried tomato paste and garlic. Sweet mandarins and salty anchovies, broken up and scattered, so every slice would have both. The slight bitterness of the black olives, lightly sprinkled with some herbs and chilli flakes.
The aroma had me hanging around the oven like a smoker behind the school bike sheds. Lingering, impatient.
Sweet, almost sticky, little explosions of warm orange filled my mouth, and its salty companions came along for the ride. I really, really did enjoy this tonight.
Manchild 2 advises me it is Friday, as he ploughs through his college work, online, with worries in his head about getting behind during lockdown. What will happen to his education? and how and when will he ever get back into a classroom? Real worries, not silly ones like ‘why is my Mum so gross’.
For a while at least, his homemade wedges with margarita pizza and my ‘gross’ pizza, brought us around the table, for our daily dose of normal, in a world that is anything but.
Base ( makes 4 thin base individual)
We followed the instructions on the flour packet, this dough is for a large pizza but we love ours thin so we get 4 individual ones out of this)
200g sieved pizza flour, my favourite pizza flour is Cotwold Pizza Flour
5g dried Yeast- I use Fermipan red
125ml warm water/Corporation Pop
The best bread flour and yeast combo available to buy now is Bread Flour and Yeast
Pizza base sauce
2 tsp per pizza base of sun dried tomato and garlic paste.
Toppings (for one base)
1/4 can of drained mandarin pieces
5 black olives, halved
3 anchovies, broken into small pieces
Light sprinkled of grated cheese, I used cheddar.
Pinch of dried mixed herbs and chilli flakes.