Bolognese alla casa

I have some many memories of perfect summer holidays in Italy. Regardless of the region we traveled to, there is always time to take time,  time to eat well, time to celebrate the moments with family and friends. Even though this year is somewhat different, or actually different on so many levels with restrictions, precautions, social responsibilities and limited interactions, while we are having a staycation we will be still trying to recreate the Italian way – sharing food, dining al fresco and having a laugh with friends.

I love to go back to my dream holidays in Italy six summers ago. Staying in a Sicilian rustic cottage surrounded by lemon trees and bushes of grapes. Sitting by the pool, having a siesta, reading a crime story of Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri. Relaxing in hammocks and watching the lizards climb up the walls. Picking dark yellow, sunripe, juicy lemons and making a big jug of refreshing lemonade. Dining at the veranda and enjoying the sun set.

Whenever you cook on your holidays, pasta is a sure dish to serve. It is such a great crowd-pleaser and the Italians perfected it over centuries. You can read an amazing twisted history of pasta here.  Pasta is simple, it needs only few ingredients, common utensils and some basic cooking skills. It seldom goes wrong but then a trick or two can take it to the next level. It is, in fact, the know-how and the little things that make it a signature dish.

spaghetti

I discovered the best home made bolognese recipe by trying to use up some barbecued meat leftovers. Hamburgers, sausages, kebabs, steaks, pork ribs, pork neck, chicken drumsticks – you name it, minced and slowly cooked with tomatoes. The sauce is summery, rich, juicy and meaty. The kids love it and there is never enough. It is so amazingly good that sometimes we purposefully get more on the grill to have all the selection of leftovers for the distinctive pasta sauce. Obviously, each time you end up with a slightly different mixture but you always get the incredible flavour and rich taste.

ragu

There is not too much preparation time. The most time consuming part is mincing. And it is really important to mince the meats. If you chop the meats, you get chunks. If you blend the meats, you get paste. While if you mince, all the flavours mingle together and form an ideal texture. We use our vintage cast iron mincer that we once found in the deepest corner of the cellar. We restored the rusty utensil that belonged to our grandparents and I could not be happier to use it for cooking family recipes.

passata

I prefer to use passata as a tomato sauce base rather than tinned chopped tomatoes as it gives a better and more thick texture. The meat will take a lot of tomato liquid so you might combine a big jar of passata with a tin of tomatoes and even a splash of tomato puree for an more intense red shade. Cooking time is essential here. Leave it simmer for at least 2 hours as the longer you cook the ragu the better. And if you ever wonder how you pronounce some of the most common Italian words check here.

pasta

Spaghetti bolognese alla casa

100 g of spaghetti (or any other pasta of your choice) per person

750 g jar of passata or 500 g carton of passata plus a can of chopped tomatoes

3 tbl of tomato paste

1 tbl balsamic vinegar or a splash of red wine

500 g – 750 g selection of barbecued meat (minced)

3 tbs olive oil

2 onions (chopped)

1 small carrot (chopped)

2 springs of dry oregano

salt and pepper to taste

basil leaves, chili flakes and Parmesan to serve

Splash some olive oil in a large pot, add the chopped onion and gently fry for about 10 minutes until it gets shiny. Stir every now and then. Add carrot, cook for  3 minutes, then add all the mince meat and stir for another few minutes. Add the passata and/or chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Rinse the containers with a splash of water, swirl around to get any remaining tomato juices and add to the pot. Add balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir the sauce and gently bring to boil. Cover the pot with lid and simmer on the lowest heat for at least 2 hours. Keep checking on it and add some water if needed.

Once the sauce is ready, turn of the heat and cook the pasta. Measure 100 g of pasta of your choice per person. Spaghetti or less common bucatini works best for us. Boil a large pot of water. Once the water is boiling, add salt and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain on a sieve and mix in with the sauce.

bolognese

Serve with homemade lemonade, Parmesan and pot of fresh basil on side and some bread to clean up the plate. Enjoy around the table with friends and possibly al fresco.

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When the nettles teach you dance

NETTLE

When the school finishes I always think of a story from the book that I got as my end-of-school award years ago.  A book bursting with colours and cheerful illustrations that unveils adventures of two bold rascals: ZooZoo and Funio, their kind if eccentric auntie, Teetlee, and a smart supercool girl, Ala, who all live on a peculiar holiday destination island of Umplee-Tumplee. Funny and curious things happen there that involve flying octopus, dog-size snail, ballerina roses and snapping pea pods. You can read one of them here on the blog. This particular story is of nettles and a very unusual training they provide.

The Stone Heads and the Shorter Way to School

(Translated from Polish original Latająca Ośmiornica by Mirosław Stecewicz and Leon Korn)
There are two ways leading from the round house of Auntie Teetlee to school. The longer one that goes through the local park and the shorter one that goes through the lane of the Stone Heads. The Stone Heads stand magnificently like trees on each side of the path and you need to bow to every single one of them to pass through. If you do not bow, the Stone Heads begin to rock and move back and forth until they hit you with their stone forehead. So, if you forget to be polite and kind you will leave with bruises all over your body.
All the kids know perfectly well of that and choose a safer longer way through the park. So did Zoozoo and Funio. But then one day Zoozoo decided to take the shorter route.
‘Listen, ‘ he said to Funio, ‘There’s something more beyond the Stone Heads. A sort of green tunnel. I saw it yesterday when Ala was walking that way. First, she bowed to all the Stone Heads. She invented various bows as if she did not want to repeat the same bow for any of the Stone Heads. And then, when she entered the Green Tunnel, she started to twirl and spin around. You could see her legs and hands swinging  in the air as if she was doing handstands. So today,  we will follow her and discover what is was.’
‘No, no, no, no, no,’ said Funio, ‘You will have to go on your own. My neck is too stiff today and there’s no way I could bow to the Stone Heads.’
And so they split and each went their own way. Funio, who chose the longer way, got to school first. And he waited a good while until Zoozoo finally arrived. And what a sight he was! His hands and legs were itchy red and Zoozoo was scratching himself with anger.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ shouted Funio, ‘Were you attacked by a scourge of mosquitoes?’
‘Much worst than that,’ sighted Zoozoo ‘You were right all the way, Funio, to take the longer way. Well, the Stone Heads lane was not that bad, at all. I bowed gently to each head and nothing happened. But once you pass the Stone Heads, you enter the Nettle Tunnel. And there are nettles the size of sunflowers on each side of the path. Absolutely unbelievable.’
Book Illustration by Sławomir Jezierski
“Listen, Zoozoo,” the nettles said to me, “The Stone Heads teach you to be polite and we teach you to dance. Now, are you willing to dance or do you need a little help from us?”
‘They looked so terrifying that I really had no choice. I waved my hands and legs the best I could but apparently that was not good enough and so the nettles began to help me. I mean, they stung me. When I left the tunnel I could hear them muttering, “Not so bad for the first time. Just needs a bit of work, that’s it.'”
‘And what you say to that, Funio?’, Zoozoo asked.
‘I think,’ Funio slowly replied, ‘that you should avoid the shorter way to school.’
‘As if I could,’ Zoozoo said,’ ‘But that’s not even the end of the story.’
‘Not the end,’ Funio shouted, ‘So there was something else!?’
Zoozoo nodded sadly. ‘As  soon as I leaped out of the Nettle Tunnel I bumped into Ala. Guess what, she was waiting there for me. She shook her head, threw her long plait in the air, fluttered her eyelashes and said “Not bad for the first time. A bit more practice and I might even have a partner for the annual ball.”
‘So you see, Funio, that’s why I will have to take the shorter way to school now.’ Zoozoo said. ‘I will have to bow to the Stone Heads and dance with the Nettles. I could not possibly disappoint the girl.’
Dancing with Nettles
Book Illustration by Sławomir Jezierski

Hope you will think of the story the next time you’re out and about and trying to pass between the nettles. You might even try a little dance.

Have a happy and healthy summer.

 

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Lambs in the sky

Lambs in the sky

If you think of one of the most idyllic childhood scene it will be lying on the grass and gazing at the sky, watching the clouds go by and trying to define their shapes.

“This one looks like an elephant. Just see its trunk raising and the ears flapping.”

“Hey, look at that one! Can you see a rabbit? What a fluffy tail it has.”

“Wait, there … have you seen the one that is just like a giant teapot?” “Yeah, and a bit of steam coming out of the spout!”

Those are the moments of pure bliss, not a care in the world when the time seems to stop.

My and my mum would be watching the white, puffy, cotton ball clouds drifting above and even though I do not remember what shapes they took for us, I do remember a simple, slow-paced verse that my mum will say for me every single time. It went like this

White sheep, white sheep
on a blue hill,
When the wind stops
you all stand still
When the wind blows
You walk away slow
White sheep, white sheep
where do you go?

Lambs in the sky

I loved to listen to my mum soft soothing voice and follow the sheep unrushingly moving up and down and left and right. For a long time I thought this was one of my mum’s little poems that she composed looking at the sky and lightheartedly wondering about the meaning of life, but then she said it was a poem from her English coursebook that she learnt by heart.

little lamb poem 2

The beauty of poems is that they have the amazing power and ability to stay with us for life. Now, it might be a perfect iambic pentameter, a witty limerick or a modern free verse – once they touch that string in you they will stay in your memory forever.

little girls and little lamb
Ela and the little sheep in the 1950s

The funny thing is that growing up in a town my mum and I would see more lambs in the sky than actual in the fields. Here’s the official photo of my mum meeting a sheep. A curious little girl on her way to a picnic looking at the sheep and wondering where’s the rest of the herd, how the grass tastes and where will she be going next.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum!

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Blissfully Chocolatey Brownies

Some of my best baking recipes are the ones I collect from friends at work. Imagine when you expect just another day in the office, someone brings their freshly baked goods. For no particular reason but for sharing and indulging. As I mentioned before on definitely more than one occasion I do not have a particularly sweet tooth but I cannot resist a homemade carrot cake or banana bread, chocolate cookies or shortbread biscuits. You only get a small bite to taste, as this is the joy of sharing in the office, so I always ask for the recipe to try to recreate that at home. This brownie was referred to as “to die for” and for a very good reason. It is divine. When Alice brought it into the office and sent the usual “please share” email she mentioned she had some leftover chocolate that she used to make the brownie. Well, having a leftover chocolate is pretty unusual not to say unheard of, but this year we had a real abundance of chocolate eggs and none guests due to the social distancing and I was determined to keep some just for this very recipe.

Easter dark chocolate

Brownies

185 g unsalted butter

185 g best quality dark chocolate

85 g plain flour

40 g cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

50 g white chocolate

50 g milk chocolate

50 g nuts (optional)

3 large eggs

275 g golden caster sugar

baking and measuring tools

Cut the butter into small cubes and the dark chocolate into small pieces and tip into the medium size metal bowl.

Gently melt the butter and chocolate over a water bath. Stir occasionally, but make sure that no water gets into your mixture. Once combined remove the bowl from the pan and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160°C fan/ gas mark 4.

Grease a square 20 cm x 20 cm or a rectangular 25 cm x 15 cm baking tin and line with baking paper.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a medium bowl to get rid of any lumps.

Chop the white and milk chocolate into small chunks. Finely chop the nuts if you are using them.

In a large bowl mix the eggs and the golden sugar. Beat them with electric mixer on the maximum speed until thick, creamy and pale. It might take a good few minutes but keep whisking until the mixture has doubled its volume and has the consistency of a milk shake.

Slowly fold the cooled chocolate and butter mixture into the eggy mousse. Use a spatula to combine by going under and over as if you were trying to draw number eight. Be very gentle as you want to keep the mixture airy but keep moving until it is fully combined and dark brown in colour.

Using the sieve dust the chocolatey mixture with the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and cacao. Make sure to cover the top evenly, then gently fold those in using the same figure of eight action as before. Stop just when your mixture gets fudgy and gooey. Make sure not to overmix.

Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks and chopped nuts if you are adding any.

Slowly pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Make sure you fill the corners of the tin and gently level the mixture with the spatula.

Put in the oven for 25 mins. After that time check the brownie. The top should be shiny and have a papery crust and the middle should not wobble. If it does, put it back in the over for 5 more minutes. Once ready, take it out of the oven and leave to cool down completely. Then carefully remove from the tin and cut into squares. The brownie is even more delicious the next day so if you can resist the temptation leave some for later and you will not regret it.

brownie

 

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Covid-19, Comfort of Home and Lemonade

lemons

Most of my stories on the blog are the stories of the more or less distant past. Stories that happened. Stories that I want to remember. Stories that need to be retold. This story is happening right now. This is how I want to remember it. And hopefully, this is what I will be able to retell in a few years time.

Covid-19 Quote

Each of us has their own way to cope in what they call strange, extra-ordinary and unprecedented times. On one hand there is panic and constant worries and concerns. On the other there is appreciation of good health and safety of those nearest and dearest. I surely became more grateful these days. The fact that I live my life day by day with most plans postponed for the foreseeable future means I focus on here and now and enjoy every meal, every walk and every message that those far away send to say they are safe. Over the last two months we got used to hearing of social-distancing and self-isolating and now we are all practising that at our own homes. Though in my house not all are overly upset because of that – our dog has always been very keen to keep his social distance snapping at anyone who breaks the 2 meters distance and our cat is a real master of self-isolating spending days in the furthest corners of our attic.

We might be in what seems an uncertain place now yet I try to see the brighter side and focus on the positives. After all, I am quite comfortable in my own house, with my family around, facilities at disposal and supplies at the nearby shop. And so as they say in the daily COVID-19 newsletter that I receive from journal.ie wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, and read on…

My Covid-19 Positive List Poster

Essentials

We had to redefine our essentials – essential travel, essential shopping, essential jobs and suddenly the important things seem to have lost their value. For us eggs were very high on the priority list and we got a nice hearty supply of 3 trays from the farm. Lemons topped the list as well as we do use a lot of them to make the lemonade each day. Thankfully, there is no spend or 10 items only limit at the shops as it would be really difficult to choose between carrots, apples or canned tomatoes.

Acts of kindness

One day my 68 year old mother found a packet of biscuits with a note that her neighbour left for her.

Community spirit

#WeInThisTogether brings us all closer on the very local level, as bigger communities of work and school and as a nation. Last week all Europe clapped at 8 pm to say thank you to the healthcare workers. Schools provide distance learning and neighbours invent social-distancing activities to keep the spirits up.

Bucket list

Now it is a good time to think of all the things that we put off: of spring clean, of art and craft projects and of home DIY. I made my list of little tasks on the kitchen board and tick them off one at a time. Hopefully, in a few weeks my house will be sparkling clean and super organized. We have also ordered loads of books online including Love in the times of cholera and I am really looking forward to some quiet reading daily time.

Keeping in touch

While I mostly exchange messages on Whatup or Messenger I still pick up the phone and call my mum on the landline and I absolutely love the AnPost idea sending love Ag seoladh grá postcards that are free to send anywhere around Ireland.

Wellbeing

I am so grateful that we can still go for the daily walks to get the essential amount of exercise. This is one of my favourite time of the day and it really cheers me up and makes me feel good.

Work and personal life blend

If you imagined that working from home is easy and involves less work, think again. If anything, we are more busy and work harder and school@home is intense too not to mention juggling all the household chores that are also more intense with a full house. I try to keep to my routines and my times. I take breaks and then at the end of the working day I switch off my mailbox till the next morning.

New technology

I have never heard of Zoom before and here I am using it to take part in the classes and meet the staff. I am finally exploring Teams and I discovered Borrow Box linked to our local library and even read my first e-book.

Homebaking

First we baked the bread rolls from the recipe here. Then my cousin Eva sent me a great simple recipe for homemade bread and at last I found a good use for the leftover spelt flour and bran that were sitting in the cupboard for a while. And in the meantime my daughter baked her very own nut cake with chocolate chips. I will probably not be baking daily especially as the proper sourdough would still be a challenge but it is very rewarding and encouraging to have your own bread served for breakfast.

Natural remedies

I have always preferred natural remedies such as dandelion cough syrup, and good old garlic and lemons. When we go on our winter skiing holidays we always have a little shot of freshly squeezed lemon juice to boost the immune system. These days we have a tumbler of turmeric, ginger, grapefruit and honey smoothie in the morning and some homemade lemonade at dinner.

home made lemonade

Homemade lemonade

3 lemons

5 tbs of sugar

3/4 l of sparkling mineral water or tap water

lemons

Roll the lemons first to make them more juicy.

Halve the lemons and squeeze into the jug.

Add a few tablespoons of sugar and mix well.

Top up with sparkling or tap water and serve with a few ice-cubes.

homemade lemonade

Keep well and stay safe

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Unicorn Cake

Today it is the 29th of February – a very unique date. I started my blog experience exactly four years ago and what a better way to celebrate this anniversary than with a Unicorn Cake post.

This cake must be entirely credited to my brilliant and talented neighbour, Lindsey, who not only gave me the foolproof recipe but masterly assembled and decorated the cake. All this time she insisted the cake is easy and a great fun to make and when you look at the final effect you really believe that magic and unicorn do exist.

unicorn cake

Lemon Cake (makes 6 layers)

2 cups (500 g) butter – softened
2 cup (400 g) white sugar
8 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups (560 g) all purpose flower
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
60 ml lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
food colouring paste in 6 colours of the rainbow (violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluff and pale in colour.
Add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and lemon zest.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and then add to batter with the lemon juice. Mix until incorporated.

Divide your mixture into six bowls and mix in a different food colouring paste into each. You aim to have a smooth and brightly coloured mixtures. You might want to use vinyl gloves for that.

Line the baking form, or forms if you have more of the same size, with baking cases – that will make it easier to remove one layer and place another making the baking quicker. Pour one of your coloured mixtures into baking tin and bake for approx. 10 – 15 minutes. Check if baked with a toothpick, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes (if you are using the baking cases) or until cool.

Horn and ears

a 250 g pack of purple or pink fondant (I got mine here)
one skewer
edible glitter flakes

Roll the fondant about 5 mm thick. With a sharp knife cut out two pointed ears, about 7 cm high and 5 – 6 cm wide. Leave them on the rolling pin for at least 30 minutes to shape them into a curve.

Cut out two thin 5 cm long moon-shaped eyes and some tiny lashes. Make sure to have a left and right set.

Knead the remaining fondant until soft and then roll into an approx. 50 cm long sausage shape that is thicker at one end and getting thinner at the other one. Brush the skewer with a bit a water to help the fondant stick and then wrap the fondant tightly around starting with the thinner end on the top and continuing to wrap as it gets thicker and thicker. See the video here. You want the horn to be around 15 cm high and there should be some skewer left that will attach the horn to the cake. Leave the horn to harden for at least an hour and ideally overnight.

Once properly set, brush the horn and ears with water and then paint with glitter flakes or lustre powder.

Icing and decorating

1.7 kg – 2 kg icing sugar
450 g (2 blocks)  butter – at room temperature
food colouring paste in 6 colours of the rainbow (violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red)
edible glitter flakes, lustre powder or sparkling sugar

In a large bowl cream the softened butter with the icing sugar. Gradually add the icing sugar and keep beating until pale and fluffy.

Arrange the sponge cakes in the order of the colours of the rainbow. Place the first layer on the cake board and spread a dose of buttercream over the top of the sponge. Carefully cover it with the second sponge and press down gently to attach and level. Repeat until you place the final sponge on top.

Coat the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream to trap any stray crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes to allow the crumb coat to set. With a spatula evenly spread a thick layer of icing all around the sides and on top of the cake trying to make it as smooth and leveled as you can. Leave to chill and set in the fridge.

Divide the remaining buttercream into four (or more if you want more colours) bowls and mix in some food colouring paste. That will be the rainbow colours for the unicorn mane.

When you are ready to bring your unicorn cake to life, stick the horn on the top and place the ears slightly behind on each side.

Pipe large swirls of buttercream in front of the horn and ears to start the mane, alternating the colours. Pipe more swirls round the cake in little circles starting from the middle. Work your way down one side of the cake to create a lovely and colourful mane effect.

To finish off decorate with sprinkles, flakes or edible glitter and place in the fridge to chill.

Let the unicorn cake shine and sparkle at your party!

unicorn cake recipe

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Socks for Birthday

sockball for a dog

Lucky is a dog who loves balls, balloons and socks. He has a certain knack for finding tennis balls underneath prickly shrubs, in dense thicket, in overgrown ponds and in muddy ditches. He sniffs and he disappears for a while only to come back – proud as could be – with a smelly ball in his mouth. Sometimes he has to put quite a struggle to get the ball: dig it, pull it, fish it or pick it but he never gives up and whatever it takes he gets the ball.
Why does he love socks? Is it the ball-shape of the rolled socks or is it the specific smell? Socks surely are one of his favourite things and his favourite toys which is why we make sockballs for him. Whenever we have the socks that are too small or too old or those single ones that somehow cannot be matched anymore, we roll one on another until it forms a soft chunky ball. It basically is like a fabric onion. The dog can peel the layers one by one as he gnaws on it.


To make one sockball you will need about ten pairs of socks and you can assemble the toy in minutes. It is sustainable, free of plastic and home-made. It is soft and safe to throw around the house and it can re-assembled if needed. It gives the dog the familiar smell and it is fun to play. So this year for his birthday, Lucky got a bone, a squeaky toy and a few colourful sockballs. He kept the bone for later, he teared the squeaky toy into pieces and he plays with his sockballs every day. After all, those are his favourite things.

Dogs Love Socks

You can read more stories about our dog – Lucky on the blog here, here, here and here.

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Chocolate Cookies for every occasion

I am sure that everyone has their own definition of the perfect chocolate cookies. Mine need to be not too big and not too flat. They should be crispy and cracking when you bite them and then a bit gooey and chewy inside to melt in your mouth. This recipe ticks all the boxes and this is why I stick to it and the only variations are the types of decorations and final touches.

Last time we wanted to make a mix of pink and blue chocolate chip cookies to bring with us to the gender reveal party. And as pink and blue chocolate chips were rather difficult to come by we made our own just by melting white chocolate and adding the food colouring paste. The effect was pretty awesome  and they were as cute as a button, yet as usual the proof was in the eating.chocolate cookies

Coloured Chocolate Chips

1 bar of white chocolate (we picked one with no palm oil) per one colour

1 -2 tsp of food coloring

Melt the chocolate in a water bath. Chop the chocolate into little pieces and place in a bowl that will fit in a pot of boiling water. Leave to melt stirring occasionally but be very careful that no water gets into the chocolate as that will make the chocolate lumpy.

Once melted gradually add the food colouring of your choice and mix till fully incorporated and smooth.

Pour the mixture into an icing tube, or a plastic bag and carefully squeeze little dots onto a baking sheet. Let them to set for approximately an hour.

Continue with another colour.chocolate cookie dough

Chocolate Cookies

150 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)

125 g soft light brown sugar

100 g caster sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

300 g flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

100 g dark chocolate

5 tbs dark cocoa powder

chocolate cookie dough

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Beat the butter with the brown and caster sugar. Add in vanilla extract, one egg and the egg yolk and keep beating until fluffy and creamy.

Melt the dark chocolate in a water bath, let to cool a bit and slowly pour into the mixture.

Mix together the dry  ingredients: flour, bicarbonate soda and dark cocoa powder and stir into the batter.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips keeping one third aside to add them at the end on the top of the cookies.

Form the dough into little balls, roll them in the palm of your hands and place on a lined baking tray. Add one or two extra chocolate chips on the top.

Bake in the oven for 12 minutes so that the chocolate chips keep their intense colour and the cookies do not get too dry. Let to cool.

chocolate cookies

Put in a cookie jar or in a party bowl for sharing and enjoy.

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Who wants to live forever

Rock'n'roll

This is a rather unusual post of mine, yet I wanted to pay tribute to a great star and also tell a secondary school story that all ties in with the AIDS awareness. Back in the early 1990s little did we know of the disease and when we spoke of AIDS it was with fear and distance. It filtered with overseas news of a fatal disease from Africa, a handful of facts and a whole load of misconceptions. On one hand it was seen as a shameful illness relating to certain society groups and on the other it was feared so contagious that many attempts to arrange AIDS Care Centres faced public protests and riots.

It was only a start of raising the awareness and educating the society on the risk, prevention and acceptance. To me AIDS got real and materialized when the news of Freddie Mercury’s death hit the world. A star, an idol and an icon, who lived a celebrity life that most of the teenagers aspired to, dies of AIDS. I think most of us asked the question: why and wanted to learn more about the virus, its transmission and safe practices. This death sparkled conversation and we were no longer referring to AIDS as a despicable outcast disease but we talked of AIDS as terminal yet preventable illness.  Rather than distancing ourselves from the risk we realized we would better play it safe if we do not want to waste our lives and die young.Freddie Mercury 1946 1991

I distinctly remember a simulation game that our Biology teacher asked us to play at secondary school. The rules were simple. All the people in the class were to circulate and meet one to one, shake hands and then move onto the next person. Except that three people, known only to the teacher, were pretending to be infected with HIV. They were behaving exactly like anyone else, circulating, meeting people, shaking hands but also spreading the disease. You infected others – for the purpose of the game of course – by rubbing the palm of their hand with your thumb. No one would notice but the person infected would know. And so it continued  and the newly infected person could now spread the disease by rubbing the palm of another when shaking their hands. I was not one of the first few to catch the virus but when I did, I stepped aside and withdrew from the game only watching others playing. In less than 10 minutes the whole class was infected, and only three, myself included, out of 30 made the decision to quit the game rather than transmit the virus.

Worlds AIDS Day
Quite an experiment that was. And a real eye opener that gave me insights not only into human nature but into the scope and span of spreading a disease. I realized anyone could be vulnerable, even if you think you are fairly risk-free. The red ribbon was the first one I wore to pledge support to those affected. Throughout the last 30 years the awareness campaigns largely changed public perception and educated the society, yet according to the latest data on HIV and AIDS released by the ECDC there is still need for early diagnosis and higher testing coverage that can save lives. Surely we all feel, as Freddie did, risk-free and not afraid of anything, but if you have a slightest doubt or worry, you know what to do.

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Wicked Halloween Treats

Halloween Deviled Eggs

I get very excited about Halloween. Wicked, creepy, and deadly inspires me. I can get creative with decorations, food, drinks, party games and of course dressing up and there’s no need for perfection as bit of ugliness, disproportion and roughness suits Halloween just as well. I start my Halloween planning quite early and every year I try some new inspirations but I have a hefty set of tempting and tasty treats that I make year after year as they are an absolute hit at the party. After all, Halloween part screams for wow effect and the X factor and those will surely please the guests. I will not deny it, they might be a bit time consuming, especially the decorating part but they all fairly easy to make and you perfect them over time and year after year.

Halloween Party Pleasers

Deviled Eggs

I found the look inspiration here but I use the frozen blueberries for egg colouring and leave the eggs to infuse overnight.

100 g frozen blueberries

12 eggs

1 tbs wasabi

1 avocado

1 tbs green food colouring paste

1 tbs English mustard

2 tbs mayonnaise

2 tbs lemon

salt and pepper

nigella seeds

Halloween Deviled Eggs

Place the eggs with frozen blueberries in a medium pot filled with water. Bring to boil, cook gently for 5 minutes and leave in the blueberry water for 10 minutes.

Remove the hard boiled eggs to dry but keep the blueberry water. Roll the eggs with a palm of your hand to crack. You want to get lots and lots of irregular cracks on the shell. Return the eggs to the pot and leave overnight so that they can get the blueish pattern.

The next day, carefully peel the eggs and pat them dry. Cut each in half and remove the yolk into a medium bowl. Halve the avocado and scoop the flesh into the bowl. Mash the egg yolks and avocado pieces with a fork and add wasabi paste, English mustard, lemon juice, mayonnaise and green food colouring paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Use an pastry bag with a spaghetti type nozzle or a play dough syringe to squeeze the filling into the egg whites. Arrange on a platter or a cake stand and sprinkle with some nigella seeds.

Halloween Deviled Eggs

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen

Cupcakes:

250 g flour

2 tbs dark cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

100 g soft unsalted butter (this needs to be at room temperature)

200 g caster sugar

1 tbs (or more) red food coloring paste

2 tbs vanilla extract

2 eggs

175 ml buttermilk

a drop of cider vinegar

50 frozen raspberries

50 Halloween themed mini muffin cases
Frosting:

400 g icing sugar

100 g cream cheese

100 g soft unsalted butter (this needs to be at room temperature)

1 tsp lemon juice

icing decorations knives from Wilton

red decorating gel

Bloody Red Velvet Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 170° C.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl beat the butter with the sugar until soft, creamy and pale. Add the vanilla extract and the red food coloring paste. Add a tablespoon or two of the dry ingredients then fold in one egg and mix until well combined. Add more dry ingredients, another egg and remaining flour mix and keep beating until smooth. Pour in buttermilk and a drop of vinegar and mix well.

Line the mini muffin tin with cases and fold the red mixture into the little cases. Put one frozen raspberry in the middle of each cupcake to get a blood spilling effect. Do not overfill the cases as they will raise in the oven. The recipe makes about 50 mini cupcakes so you might need to do it in batches.

Bake for 20 minutes and make sure they get a darker red colour but do not get brown. Leave to cool.

For the frosting beat together icing sugar, soft butter and cream cheese until smooth and thick. Use a spatula to decorate in a swirly move but do not cover the red top of the cupcake completely. Stick the icing knife into each and splatter with decorating gel for the bloody effect.

Bloody Red Velvet Cupcakes

Cheese Mummy

I found this recipe inspiration here but I use mozzarella cheese for decorating as it works great.

2 packs of soft cream cheese

1 pack cheddar cheese (grated)

4 spring onions

pack of dried ham (prosciutto or Serrano)

salt and pepper

2 mozzarella balls – for bandages

1 black olive – for mummy’s eyes

selection of tortilla crisps and crackers

Halloween Cheesy Mummy

Mix the cream cheese with grated cheddar and fold in finely chopped prosciutto ham and spring onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the mixture into a mummy shape on a platter. Peel mozzarella cheese with a potato peeler or your fingers. You aim to have long wide strips that will cover the mummy. Wrap the mummy overlapping the strips. Serve with tortilla crisps and crackers.

Enjoy those treats and have a happy Halloween.

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