Sunday, 28 April 2013

Birthdays and Cooking.

Last week, when planning to write something for this little blog, I thought I would like to write about the sophisticated interiors of Queen Hetepheres (of Ancient Egypt fame) but I have been somewhat distracted by the fact that I was hosting a book fair (never a simple thing to do) plus I was having a birthday.

. . .  which was going to be a big one.

At least in my mind it was a big one - and I am sure that Emma, Lady Hamilton would have agreed.

Emma painted by George Romney.  Taken from the Wikipedia website.

Lady Emma and I have something in common.  
True, I have never had a desire to run away from AGA, and take up residence with a one-eyed, one-armed, decorated Admiral of the British navy.  
Neither has a Lancashire portrait painter considered me his muse... 
But what we do have in common is that we were both born on the 26th April (albeit in different years.  Jet Li on the other hand was born on the 26th of April, in exactly the same year as I.  
Lady Hamilton, died in 1815, aged forty-nine.  I have now passed her and am aged a staggering fifty years.

I wondered what my fiftieth birthday would be like.  I wondered how I would feel.  
It turned out that my birthday was very nice indeed.  I received a very nice present from AGA which I will share with you here:
They are a pair of 19th Century, French, Church candlesticks, for my collection.  AGA purchased them in Paris.  I have given them a good clean and now they look fabulous.  I can't wait to buy some elegant tapers to put in them.  I photographed one in situ and the other with a cloth behind it so that you can see it in more detail.  The flowers are milk glass although the centrepiece flower is porcelain.  The rest is made of brass with two alabaster 'joints'.  I love them!

Phone calls, flowers, cards (and as it is the 21st century) messages on email and facebook.  A pleasant day at work which included a hand made birthday card from a child, showing the Titanic hitting the iceberg. Dinner with AGA at The Unicorn, and then to bed.
The following day (Saturday) was AGA's birthday and so it was his turn to be receiving gifts, breakfast in bed etc.  
While he was out doing a spot of shopping I decided to celebrate the event by having a nice breakfast:
 Now I am fifty, I am eating whatever I like! Fried egg on half a toasted muffin, cups of tea, and another toasted half muffin with mandarine marmalade on it.

Feeling comfortably well fed, I then set to, to make his favourite pumpkin soup.  I don't aspire to be like my blogging friend Ivan over at A Normandy Kitchen but I thought I would share this recipe with you for French pumpkin soup as taught to me.

This is a Hokkaido pumpkin.  I do like the taste of then. I hope that I shall be able to get them when we return to Melbourne:
I split it in half with my trusty knife - the one that looks as though it could have been used to finish off Julius Ceasar at the Senate on that fateful day in March - then scooped out the seeds, cut it up into pieces and placed it on a baking tray:

Then I cut two potatoes, two onions and a small piece of carrot and put them in the pot to soften with a little oil, salt and pepper, three gloves of garlic that have been mashed, and a teaspoon of tomato paste.  I am not a fan of stock cubes and prefer to put these things in to the pot with water to make my own stock as part of the soup-making process.

While all was cooking I decided to take a few photos to show you our kitchen.  
It is not large.  
In fact 'snug', or even 'a tight fit', would be a good word for it.  

(Mind you, size doesn't really matter.  My great-aunt Dashwood liked having a small kitchen.  She had a gas stove on which there were always two or three blue enamel saucepans bubbling away.  When the lids were lifted, such appetising smells wafted forth.  Wonderful, wonderful food came out of that kitchen, fit to tempt the most jade palate...)

The Infant of Prague looks after our stove and makes sure nothing gets burnt.

 I do like my 'ten items or less' magnet:

This bumblebee popped in through the open window for a visit; and swiftly departed via a jar, to roam free once more:

 There have been a few unfortunate incidents in the kitchen:

Tout faire par amour.  Do all for love.  A lovely maxim of St Thérese of Lisieux.
My darling niece Alexandra drew that picture of the two of us strolling along, next to a giant dandelion. She has given me a lot of hair and for some reason a bow tie, despite my not ever wearing them.

We do love our new Staub Dutch oven:

Anyway, all is ready for the next stage of the soup:
Once the pumpkin is cooked, I remove the skin (it is too bitter in taste) and tip the flesh into the pot, add a little more hot water and stir it all up.  The I add a big fat slab of butter, stirring until it has dissolved.
Next I reach for my faithful kitchen helper:

 This turns my pumpkin vegetable 'mess' into a smooth, silky, pumpkin purée:
Now to create 'taste' add various spices (mustard powder, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper) plus a big dollop of honey.  This makes a really nice soup.  Stir in some single cream and when it has cooled down, put it  in to a container, and then in to the fridge for a couple of days so that the flavours meld together before either eating it or freezing it for later.
My music of choice for soup making are the rollocking concerti of Giuseppe Tartini.

Having got into the swing of things I move on to the my next project: Assembling our joint birthday cake:
No Tartini while making this cake.  It has to be Tchaikovsky.  My favourite is the Symphony No 2 (the 'Little Russian').
I made these two simple sponges and let then cool down.  I then whipped up some cream, smoothed it over the top of one sponge and then added half strawberries (for AGA) and half raspberries (for me)
Then more cream followed by the other sponge, followed by a generous amount of icing made with icing sugar and a little hot water.  I coloured it with some raspberry juice as I don't like using artificial colourings.  More strawberries and raspberries on top and voila!  It is finished:

I think that these sorts of cakes need to look 'messy', untidy.  They encourage you to have a large slice and not worry about licking your fingers...

This photograph is a little blurred - I was experiencing 'cake excitement' when taking it.

Having said that though, I did use a fork.

All in all we had a lovely birthday weekend.  A work colleague of mien told me that in her family they have Birthday Eve, Birthday and then Boxing Birthday, in imitation of Christmas.  I like that idea and am adopting it too!
I hope you enjoyed this little post!


  1. Dear Kirk (you mere lad!),

    Congratulations on the big day! Alas, 50 is a distant memory for me (though I don't mind because people usually miscalculate my age in my favor anyway).

    This is possibly my favorite of your postings to date — AGA's handsome gift, a kitchen tour, another tempting soup, and the perfect cake for two! The way you have it divided reminds me of a bachelor party I hosted years ago. I had a 3-tier wedding cake split in two and had the groom's half iced and decorated just as a full cake would be. It was a great success.

    Again, Happy Birthday!

    1. Dear Mark,
      You know how to flatter a chap (and I like it!) When I was in my twenties I was often called 'lad' or 'son' by the older men I worked with and I secretly hated it. I was often asked for I.D. to prove my age too. Now I am somewhat older and my twenties are a mere sunny dream. I secretly enjoy it when I am told that I look younger! ; - )
      Thank you for your kind comments. I enjoyed writing this post.
      I like the cake idea. I might just do something like that in future.

  2. Happy Birthday Kirk! I admired your present, something beautiful and interesting on its own, and it shows how AGA took the time to find the perfect gift with your taste in mind. The glass flowers give them a slightly surreal look which I admire intensely.

    I'm going to have to copy your method of making pumpkin soup, and I gained some weight just by looking at that cake. Overall, a perfect celebration with favorite people and food, and you didn't do so bad in the present department.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Dear Jim,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I spent time carefully cleaning the glass flowers which were somewhat grimy after their antique shop sojourn, and yes, you are right, they possess a certain surreal quality which surprised and delighted me.
      The soup recipe really is nice and adding the honey is what makes it.
      Bye for now

  3. Dear Kirk - where to begin with this post - first of all happy belated birthday to you and AGA and congratulations on reaching your half century - you avoided spilling the beans on AGA's age.
    I didn't have a clue who Jet Li was but now I do, having Googled him, and you are right both of you were born under the same stars.
    Having noticed how much mandarine marmalade you put on your muffin, and the amount of cream on that oh!!! so scrumy looking cake, I suspect you may have put on a few pounds since we last saw you in Blogland, but as you say ‟now I am fifty, I am eating whatever I like″.

    1. Dear Rosemary,
      Thank you for your birthday wishes. My first half century: A respectable cricketing score...
      I make that cake for us every year. It has become our birthday tradition. What really surprised me was that when I weighed myself on the scales yesterday I had lost a little bit. AGA put it down to birthday excitement haha.
      I admit I didn't know who Jet Li was until I was told that we shared the same birthday. Now I feel we are kindred spirits of sorts!

  4. Dear Kirk,

    A most delightful and entertaining post and may I add my birthday greetings to you, albeit late, none the less sincere. And those wonderful candlesticks you received in celebration of your day are most beautiful and dare I say, provoke just a touch of envy. – gary

    1. Dear Gary,
      Thank you for your kind comments and birthday greetings. I have yearned to have candlesticks such as those for some time and it was a wonderful surprise to receive them as my birthday gift. AGA is one in a million.

  5. dear kirk, I join in the chorus above, singing Happy Birthday to You and AGA. i think I have seen Hokkaido pumpkin here, or something like it, called Jap pumpkin. So you can come back to melbourne knowing you can cook that fab looking soup which i will also make. Unusual and lovely candlesticks. The cake looks delicious. Enjoy your next half century.

    1. Thankyou catmint for your kind comments and birthday greetings.
      I'm glad that there is a possible Hokkaido pumpkin in Australia. I looked up Jap Pumpkin but eventually found it listed as red kuri squash. I shall be making sure we grown some of those!

  6. Kirk, happy belated birthday!
    I think 50 is a wonderful date when a person can achieve a lot and create a lot of interesting collections. I like these chandeliers.
    I would have eaten your cake itself, it looks delicious!

    1. Dear Nadezda,
      Thank you for your kind comments.
      You are always welcome to stop by for a slice of cake!

  7. Nothing seems to be stopping you Kirk! WHAT a wonderful birthday weekend, and what a wonderful account, full of tidbits and lashings. That pumpkin soup recipe I'm going to have to try!

    1. Thank you Faisal,
      It was a wonderful weekend. I hope you do try that soup - it is delicious, especially with crusty bread. If we were closer I would invite you round to try some!