Baking a chicken and mushroom pie.

Since it’s a glorious bank holiday weekend, I felt very much in the mood for some home baking. The result: A sumptuous, rich and creamy, aromatic lunch (or dinner if you’re cutting into big quarter slices!) I’m quite literally a disaster magnet in the kitchen, so if I can successfully bake this pie – anyone can.

Here’s how I made this chicken pie, following a basic recipe with some added improvisation and personal tweaks. By keeping the flame down whilst cooking the recipe, this will allow you more time to prepare and combine your ingredients, therefore preventing you from overcooking things and messing it up!

You will need:

  • 4 medium-sized chicken thighs, sliced into bitesize pieces.
  • A heaped handful of mini closed cup mushroimage39.jpegoms, thinly sliced (normal size mushrooms are fine – adjust the amount accordingly)
  • 1 small tub of low-fat Creme Fraiche (Greek yoghurt is an excellent alternative)
  • Half a large onion, finely diced (or 1 whole onion if medium-sized)
  • 4 small spring onions with the outer green stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 300ml of vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine by the way)
  • A few of sprigs of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.
  • A sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.
  • Colman’s English Mustard
  • Plain flour from the cupboard, and a pinch of Nutmeg (entirely optional)

To make the pie filling…

In a large pan, gently sweat the diced onion and spring onions on a low-medium flame until softened, don’t brown them! After a minute or so, add the sliced chicken thighs and fry on a medium heat for five minutes until they lose their initial raw appearance. I then added the sliced mushrooms and continued to fry the ingredients for a further 5 minutes. Leaving the ingredients on a low flame, I ripped off a few leaves of rosemary,  thyme and sage – just enough to be a generous pinch – you don’t want this flavour to overwhelm the dish. Toss this into the pan, along with a light seasoning of nutmeg, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetable stock. I purchased my vegetable stock in the new jelly-like form, as opposed to the dry/ powdered cubes you can typically get. Place this in a Pyrex measuring jug and dilute in 300ml of boiling water. Since the Korr vegetable jellies are supposed to make 500ml of liquid stock, I cut a small tip of the jelly to adjust the ratio for the purpose of the recipe. In order to make the gravy, pour the vegetable stock into the pan with the chicken and mushrooms and on a high flame heat the mixture until it’s reaches boiling point. Reduce the pan to a simmer, add a generous tablespoon of Creme Fraiche (or Greek yoghurt – which I’ve found is pretty much the same thing), a small teaspoon of strong mustard, and a slightly heaped dessertspoon of plain flour to thicken the sauce. Mix in and simmer for a few minutes to reduce the liquid down to a slightly thick sauce.

Once finished, allow the mixture to cool slightly and then transfer into an 8″ enamel pie dish, spreading it out evenly. If you don’t have this, a Pyrex or china ovenproof dish will work just as well. Unroll your sheet of puff pastry and lay it gently over the top of the pie dish to form a lid. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and if you’re feeling confident, crimp the circumference of the pastry with your two thumbs placed in opposite directions, and applying a little pressure to the dough. Next, poke two small steam holes into the centre of the pastry with the tip of the knife. For some decoration, I made two small roses by slicing off two, thin strips of dough, rolling them up into a swiss roll, and then pushing the centre upwards to form the centre of the bud. Then using the tip of my knife, I made small flicks in the layers to give the appearance of petals. Finally, I cut two small leaves and gently scored some veins into the pastry to finish them off. I arranged all this in the centre of the pie lid to give the appearance of a small bouquet.

Before placing in the oven, I made gentle indents in the lid of the pastry and brushed the lid with a double layer of whisked egg & milk wash. The general rule of thumb is to cook the pie until the pastry has puffed up and baked golden-brown. This took about 15 minutes at gas mark 6 in the centre of the oven. Keep checking at regular intervals, as it can burn very quickly! Once done, serve immediately with buttery mash and boiled mixed vegetables. Bon appetit 🙂

Let me know if you try this recipe, and please like and follow my blog if you’d like to see more posts like this ❤

Sarah.

Things to see and do in May.

I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain in Epping Forest …

Hello everyone and happy Monday! I hope everyone has been enjoying the fine weather, not to mention the Royal Wedding (which admittedly I slept through, being on a weekend.) Aside from reading books, I’ve been up to a few things this month…

 

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Days Out—— Since I’ve been stuck at home all week due to illness, I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain, in Epping Forest – which is located on the outskirts of East London. The park is not far from the quaint high street which has a church, an antiquarian bookshop, a small Budgens and a Costa, a charity shop, an art studio, a primary school and a couple of cafes. It is also a mere 2-minute walk along Bury Road from Chingford station, on the Overground line. Up a steep hill, passed the grazing cows adjacent to Chingford plain and golf course, is the local Tudor-built hunting lodge; perhaps unsurprisingly named after Queen Elisabeth II. The lodge also has two wooden deer displayed at the front. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to climb the hill this time round, but here is what the hunting lodge looks like. I’ve learnt since that it is open to the public for inside tours – free of charge!

Gardening—- It seems that the month of May is a time when the garden starts to fully reawaken! I’ve been making use of our old plastic egg crates for sowing a selection of poppy seeds, before I decide to plant them out next month. If you read my recent post on plant purchasing, you may remember that I brought home a selection of Poppy seeds to experiment with. I recognise that the weather has been pretty changeable too, with some wild winds and showers, and so the mini greenhouse effect of the egg crate will keep the seeds warm and moderately watered.

Television & Film—- And finally, across two consecutive evenings I watched the 2014 film ‘Testament of Youth’ on BBC iPlayer which is based on the published memoirs of Vera Brittain, a young woman who lived through the First World War. In the film, Vera is a young country woman who dreams of attending Oxford University to study English – which she delightedly achieves. However, when WW1 breaks out and her lover Roland tofy.jpgLeighton and brother Edward Brittain enlist, her world is flipped on it’s head. The film stars a plethora of well-known actors, including: Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Jonathan Bailey and Alicia Vikander. As a lover of history, I found the story incredibly moving and regard it very much to be a coming of age film. I’d definitely recommend a watch, whilst it’s currently on the iPlayer.

In factual television, I’ve been watching ‘Britain’s Most Historic Town’, presented by Professor Alice Roberts on Channel 4. In this series, Professor Roberts visits six historic toImage result for britain's most historic townwns across Britain and Northern Ireland, with each episode focussing on a particular period of British history. Britain is rich with historic secrets and in this series, Professor Roberts meets with local historians in order to find out how historic sites and monuments were shaped and developed by the social forces of their time. My favourite episode so far has been a visit to Tudor Norwich. Other episodes include: Roman Chester, Viking York, Norman Winchester, Regency Cheltenham, and Victorian Belfast. And the entire series is currently available online… And just as I finish typing this, here comes the rain.

If you enjoyed this read, please leave a like and comment. If you’ve just chanced upon my blog – why not follow to receive regular posts, as well as book reviews! You can do so by clicking ‘follow’ next to my profile or by visiting the About Me page on my website. Best Wishes, Sarah.

‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry.

I truly felt lost within the mists of time.

Last month, I wrote a less than positive book review on Sarah’s Perry debut novel ‘After Me Comes The Flood’. Though, it was the upcoming author’s second novel ‘The Essex Serpent’, which I was actually introduced to first. Based on some stellar reviews, being shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and winning the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, I was very much looking forward to getting stuck into the 417-page novel. Besides all that, Essex is where I’m from!

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Inside the front cover, with a William Morris design.

Tell Me About It ———–‘The Essex Serpent’ is set against the backdrop of 1890s Britain during a time of technical development and scientific endeavour. Cora Seaborne, recently widowed, has been liberated from an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant civil servant. Relieved of her duties and “stripped of code and convention” she seeks refuge in her late childhood memories and escapes the rigidity of the claustrophobic city for the wild and open landscape of the Essex county, in the Spring. In traditional feminist style, Cora doesn’t identify with the conventional expectations of a Victorian lady. Instead, the young ‘Mary Anning’ dresses for practicality and enjoys getting close to the mud and the raw beauty of the natural landscape. When Cora hears the folktale of the Essex Serpent which has apparently come to life and is abducting the locals of the Blackwater Estuary, she cannot resist investigating.

“There is strange news out of Essex…”

Writing Style———–I feel that there is a high level of intelligence to Sarah Perry’s writing as she has a wonderful gift for composing poetic and flowing descriptive passages of the Essex of her childhood (Sarah Perry did study Creative Writing at Royal Holloway); such as those of the marshes across the Essex coast and the sensoria of the wet woodlands. I truly felt lost within the mists of time and winds off the coast. There is also the beautiful prologue that explores the way in which time manifests itself in different ideas and abstract forms. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to achieve, though regrettably with only moderate success!

An original woodcut of the Essex Serpent. Credit: The Guardian.

Themes & Characters —————There are various themes which ‘snake’ their way throughout the narrative of the story. The most prominent character, the local parish priest, who is a person of faith but reluctant to surrender to superstition. Whereas Cora, a woman of science, is irresistibly drawn to folklore and fear-inducing rumour. Their burgeoning friendship as well as juxtaposing characteristics make for a delicate and intriguing relationship. The nature of faith and faith in nature intertwine throughout Perry’s novel, which has a strong respect for friendship and a humanity. I also appreciated Perry’s contemporary approach to a traditional social setting with her recognition of Cora’s son, Francis’s Autism, which would have undoubtedly gone undiagnosed in Victorian times

Thoughts?————– The Essex Serpent is compelling, though equally complex and again I felt the plot began to lose its way, which is a great shame. The story repeatedly jumped between characters and philosophical concepts, as opposed to focusing on the narrative and the mystery itself. About halfway through, long and winding passages filled with red herrings and abstract ideas overwhelmed the story, and I just couldn’t finish it! And so to me, the Essex Serpent remains a mystery. You could argue that this only fulfils the wistful beauty of the parish myth. However, ‘The Essex Serpent’ is an initially promising book with simply lost potential. Perhaps I’ll come back to ‘The Essex Serpent’ one day and even write a revised review!

Despite my personal difficulties with getting through the novel, I would still very much recommend it for its beautiful passages alone, with a 3.5-star rating. This paperback publication also includes a selection of thought-provoking questions for budding reading groups to prompt discussion, and there’s an interesting interview with Sarah Perry in the back. Have you read ‘The Essex Serpent’? Tell me your thoughts!

First published in 2017 by Serpent’s Tail.

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Crow Books.

ISBN: 978-1781255452

 

 

‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ by Peter Abrahams – A cosy Young Adult novel.

Dear followers, I hope you enjoy this cosy book review. Have a hot chocolate with it!

On what was a suitably wet and windy afternoon in 2012, I gave up the ongoing struggle to make friends and sought refuge in a quiet corner of the school library, which was always warm and inviting in September. After a couple of minutes scanning through the limited selection of ‘New Releases’, wrapped and sealed in their protective jackets, I came across a distinct purple paperback – it seemed better quality than most YA fiction.

It had a cover illustration (now out of print) of a towering solitary house secluded by a pair of tall, crooked trees, and the title itself – ‘DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE’. I couldn’t resist a novel that honoured the classic children’s story. And at the time, I was stuck in a deep pit of confusion and rejection, longing for a sense of connection and familiarity – when this empathetic little gem fell into my hands. No one had read it yet, it’s pages smelt new, undiscovered! I borrowed it there and then.

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Front Cover of the newest edition.

‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ is a 352-page Young Adult crime/ mystery novel written by Peter Abrahams. Whilst this may not be the newest book to write a review on (it was first published in 2006!) I still think that it’s an enthralling, lesser-known fiction which all inquisitive, cosy book lovers should have the opportunity to discover!

Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill lives at 99 Marple Lane in Echo Falls, with her mum and dad, her brother Ty and the family dog, Nigel. Ingrid plays football, has landed the lead role of Alice ‘in Wonderland’ in the school play, gets decent grades at school, and idolises Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes. One day, when Ingrid gets lost between her orthodontist appointment and football practice, she crosses paths with Katherine Kovac, or “Crazy Katie”. A retired actress turned social misfit, she lives alone in the poorer part of town and invites Ingrid into her home to call for a cab.

Harking back to childhood, I could remember the shameful experience of getting lost in town and the feeling of panicked disorientation and desperation to get back home again. And so, I could strongly connect with Ingrid’s sense of unease in these early scenes.

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Ingrid meets “Crazy Katie”.

The next morning, however, Ingrid reads that Katie has been found dead in her home, and Ingrid is a key witness in the moments before her death. Perhaps more disturbingly, Ingrid has left her football boots behind – at the scene of the crime! In a mission to retrieve her Pumas and a compelling desire to solve the mystery, Ingrid slips into a dark subculture of murder and mystery and metaphorically falls ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’.

What I truly loved about this novel, was it’s rich sense of atmosphere. Echo Falls is a gentrified suburban town, with discreetly obscured secrets. Abrahams goes a long way to emphasise this through the use of light imagery contrasted with shadows and a detailed history of a family known as the Prescotts. As a child, Ingrid finds herself caught up in this dangerous adult world and despite coming off as a bit ‘Famous Five-ish’, it does give leeway for some gripping, scenes towards the main chunk of the novel.

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The beautiful Back Cover.

However, there were some topical issues in this novel which I didn’t agree with, simply for the way they were handled by the author. The apparent normalisation of younger brother Ty’s use of steroids in his physical training regime and then, we have a casually brushed off incident where Ty flies into a fit of rage and gives Ingrid a black eye. Another was with Ingrid’s continuous dishonesty towards those around her – particularly her relationship with Detective Inspector Strade. My final issue was that this was written by an America author; I couldn’t understand the American sporting aspect of the novel which featured quite heavily, and a lot of the regional social characteristics went straight over my head. There was also the use of cell phones and MSN-style chatrooms which seemed slightly dated, haha! Nevertheless, I enjoyed ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ and I would describe it as an atmospheric, gripping, rainy day, good quality sort of book.

Though the novel seems to be aimed at teenagers, I would recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Published in Great Britain in 2006 by Walker Books Ltd, Reprinted in 2012

Written by Peter Abrahams, front cover design by Richard Merritt

ISBN: 978-1-4063-3070-0

Wishing you all a lovely bank holiday weekend!

Blog talk : April 2018

Hello to my intimate group of followers!

It seems I have been running this blog for little over a month and things are settling in quite well. There are currently nine of you who are actively following my blog; I’m so pleased you could join me! And I didn’t expect to achieve quite so much positivity this early on – it’s all relative, haha!

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I thought it might be helpful to share a modest amount of personal info, so you – or anyone can get a better concept of me as I blog. I’m nineteen, rolling on twenty in June (tragic). People I meet tend to say that I’m way older than my years, which probably comes as a result of numerous family stresses. We all have baggage, don’t we?

I’ve been experiencing some serious medical issues lately, which means I’m not at Uni. And this leads me on to the blog – my new hobby – since I’m predominantly housebound. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely introverted; I read a lot of books and I enjoy writing about them, I like gardening, baking (mostly sweet things), a country lass at heart, I tend to get fired up when it comes to Politics and the NHS, I enjoy popular television shows, and I spend pretty much 100% of my time with my family.

Thank goodness for the internet and Twitter because since I don’t have any close friends, I would have otherwise become very lonely – which can still be the case sometimes, but hey-ho!

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Spring has sprung! Pear tree blossom in the garden ❤

‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry – I didn’t like it.

{Saturday 21st April}: If like me you live in Britain, you’ll be well aware of the recent heatwave we’re experiencing, with temperatures as high as 29.C degrees – the highest in April for 70 years! I woke up this afternoon (cheers, insomnia) from the depths of an amazingly vivid patchwork dream, which I’m still experiencing the hangover from. And in my state of confusion and distant consciousness, I remembered reading the equally evocative and heady writing in Sarah Perry’s debut novel ‘After Me Comes the Flood’. First of all, I didn’t like it much. Here’s why…

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March Winds and April Summers.

Since I’m sitting here in an empty house with a mug of hot tea, (we Brits drink tea in all weathers) I think, to establish the opening scenes of the novel is the perfect way to begin.

This 230-page debut by Sarah Perry centres itself around the mundane life of a solitary man, John Cole, who owns a bookshop in London. When the perpetual silence of his shop and the feverishly hot weather become too much, John decides close early and leave for Norfolk where his brother lives by the coast. On his way, John’s car breaks down and when he ventures off in search of help, he comes across an unusual house in a clearing in the countryside. The mood from this point on takes a colder turn and starts to decline.

 

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A gorgeous cover, but looks can be deceptive!

John is welcomed by a scruffy and slightly childlike family who know his name and claim to have been waiting for him for some time. There is a broken sundial on the lawn and John later finds mysterious, cryptic graffiti in his laid out room. The house emanates stagnation from its unsightly descriptions and sensory imagery to its inhabitants who seem to have become part of the woodwork, not attaching themselves to a particular time or place. Not only did I find this slightly disorientating, but the juxtaposition of setting with the family’s warmth and friendliness created a feeling of unease throughout.

John tries to inform them that he is not who they think he is, but every time he is briskly ignored or misses the opportunity to speak out. Accepting the family’s hospitality with some degree of guilt, he waits for the earliest opportunity to make his unannounced escape. Of course, this is prolonged further and further, which only added to my level of frustration. I got the impression that the novel was like a very weird dream and its style reminded me very much of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. You’ll have to read into it to find out, but let’s just say it’s left a lasting impression upon my studies in Literature!

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Credit: Unknown Source.

I thought the novel started off very promisingly with a high degree of intrigue, and Sarah Perry’s beautiful flair for lyrical and poetic passages is indisputable. However, when this and an excessive amount of boring dialogue overwhelms the novel, her writing (in my humble opinion) comes across as quite pretentious. The story lacked a chunky middle and an end, and it quickly became confusing and dull. Instead, I got the impression that the novel was a showcase of Sarah Perry’s capabilities as a creative writer rather than a fully fledged author. I’d say that it’s a typical book that will appeal to the feminine mind – only I’m not a typical female reader. Nor is it my cup of tea. 

 

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Some positive reviews. I’ll leave it to you!

Published in 2014 by Serpent’s Tail, Reprinted 2017

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Peter Dyer

ISBN: 978-1781259559

Spring 2018: Plant shopping!

Aside from my main interest which is reading, I also enjoy gardening, which is what today’s post is about. If you’d like to see more posts like this and my gardening activities throughout the year, please do Follow my blog for regular insights and updates 🙂

Spring is officially here, even if the weather may not be showing it. And for the first time in months, I’ve felt a renewed sense of optimism and a desire to stock up on garden plants. I live in a terraced corner house, so we have a side exit which leads onto a self-contained patio, which in turn leads onto our relatively spacious back garden. It’s still very early on in the season and right now we’re only focussing on plants to soften the perimeter of the patio. So on a cloudy Friday the 13th, up to the B&Q superstore, we went.

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Hanging baskets.

I’m wheelchair-bound but mum was willing to push me around, so long as I didn’t mind being piled high with stuff. Despite the time of year, the gardening department is pretty quiet, perhaps because the weather has been so drab lately.

Before we even started the outdoor section hunt, we picked up three £4 coconut fibre basket liners for our brackets, which overhang the patio from the side wall of the house. Not the cheapest, but biodegradable nonetheless. I also picked up two 150L green waste bags, costing £2.98 each and a packet of Suttons mixed Poppy seeds, with five varieties within. They typically flower from July to August, so long as I sow them this month.

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Spot the variety packet…

There’s currently a limited selection of small pot plants currently available: Pansies, Lobelia, Geraniums and a few Primroses – most range from £1.50 to £3.50.

We settled for two pink and white Sweet Peas, which we’ll train along our bamboo canes, in the shade of the house.

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One of the two Sweet Pea plants we brought home.

On the other hand, we found there were plenty of edible plants: Carrots, Cucumber, Salad Leaves, Tomato, Kale, Chillis, ‘Atlantic Giant’ Pumpkin, ‘Elsanta’ Strawberry, Seed Potato, Garlic – we bought. Gooseberries, Blackberries, Rhubarb and – Citrus plants!

 

B&Q currently has reduced Narcissus Daffodils as well as Foxgloves, Hardy Patio Roses, beautifully fragrant Lavender tubs, Clematis climbers, Pink Tiger Lilies, a selection of Box hedges, Gold / Black stem Bamboo, Grasses and Evergreens.

 

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Grasses and Evergreens in the Hardy Plants section.

After wandering around the outdoor aisles for some time we were getting pretty cold in the bleak misty air, so we had a quick look at the indoor plant’s section.  I noticed the cutesy, miniature cacti and succulents which you typically place on the window ledge or work desk, and I’ve always wanted one; these were cheaper than the ‘Instagramable’ ones you find in IKEA. Cacti-phobic Mum said no.

The cacti and succulents range between £1.89 and £3.20.

Before making it to the checkout, I finally picked up a tall ‘Peckish’ bird feeder with a two-year guarantee, and a 2kg bag of ‘Peckish Mixed Bird Seed’. I don’t have a specific place in the garden to hang this from, but we can always tie it to the washing line!

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All in all, we didn’t even tackle half of the annual plant-buying project, so I’m sure we’ll make future trips to other garden centres and nurseries. I’ll be sure to blog about these in coming weeks, as the weather improves!

Thank you for reading, and please follow my blog if you want to see more posts like this!