links for 2008-04-29

Remote central London

Reading this news story, I wondered this: given that we are supposed to be living in a surveillance society, with CCTV everywhere, security guards, 24/7 policing, anti-terror alerts and all the rest, how can one of the biggest, busiest stations in one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world have "a remote area" where a body might lay undiscovered for several days. Based on the information currently reported, it appears that this man went to that spot to end his life – what if he had gone there to plant or prepare a bomb?

Just Raising Money

A little while ago, I linked on here to our JustGiving webpage. You see, Hels and I are going to walk 20km to raise money for the Parkinson’s Disease Society. That means we will be getting up very early, striding purposefully up Down and down Down, getting blisters, getting drenched, getting sunburn, getting achey and getting sore. But we are determined to do it because we think it is a very worthwhile cause.

We have exactly one month to go and we want to raise a lot more money yet. We’re only about one-third of the way to our modest target and really, truthfully, I’d like to reach double the target we have set. So, here’s how you can help:

  1. Give money. How do you do that? Easy! Go to our JustGiving page. Now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not after you’ve had a cuppa. I should say "please", but actually I feel a little like Bob Geldof, thumping my desk and shouting "give us the [expletive] money now!" – and, if you use the webpage and are a UK tax payer, the PDS gets the Gift Aid which adds quite a lot extra to your donation.
  2. Link us up. You have a website? Good! Then link to – and tell your readers that we are awfully nice people and that this is a very good cause.
  3. Tell people. Know anyone who knows us? Tell them what we are doing and suggest that they give money. Or maybe they don’t know us – well, tell them anyway!
  4. Send encouragement. We know what we are doing might be small but is certainly worthwhile and we’d like others to encourage us. And you know what the best form of encouragement is? More money for the PDS!

If you do help with any of these things, then please email me because I’m a nice chap and want to thank you. But, please do help us – without your help, our walk won’t be worth much at all.

Now, back to sending pestering emails to people!

How being a parent changes you (number 3348 in a series)

On arriving in a hotel near Geneva, one opens one’s washbag to discover that the bottle of conditioner has partly leaked. This has happened in the past when travelling and then it was a disaster of hair-pulling proportions.

However, having spent two years dealing with Tom’s “poonami” nappies, I now merely shrug and rinse it out over the bathroom sink. At least this smells quite nice.

Runner bean pickle

This recipe is lifted almost unchanged from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection. She credits it to Kathleen Field’s recipe in the Food Aid Cookbook. I’ve added a couple of footnotes of my own and produce it here after promising to do so elsewhere.

INGREDIENTS (makes around 6lb of pickle):

900g/2lb runner beans (weighed after trimming and slicing)
700g/1½lb onion, chopped (or a mixure of onion and shallots)
850ml/1½pints malt vinegar (but see below)
40g/1½oz cornflour
1 heaped tbsp mustard powder
1 rounded tbsp turmeric
225g/8oz soft brown sugar
450g/1lb demerara sugar

You will also need suitable jars. You could use fancy jars if you wish, but we tend to re-use old coffee jars, olive jars, jam jars and, naturally, pickle jars – anything that is glass with a good airtight screw-on lid and a wide opening at the top. Your jars should be washed and sterilised by first scrubbing them in hot soapy water, then rinsing them and placing them in a cool oven to dry and be warmed through.

  • Using a large saucepan, add the onions and 275ml/10 fl oz malt vinegar.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or until the onion is soft.
  • Meanwhile, cook the beans in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the onions.
  • Mix the cornflour, mustard and turmeric with a little of the vinegar to make a smooth paste.
  • Add this paste to the onion/bean mixture. BE WARNED – this stuff stains!
  • Add the rest of the vinegar (but see below) and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in both lots of sugar (best done in stages) and ensure it all dissolves.
  • Simmer for a further 15 minutes (but see below).
  • Fill your warmed jars and seal.
  • Store for a month before eating. We usually manage to keep it stored for about a week before we succumb to temptation.

My experience is that you may not need the quanity of vinegar suggested, as it isn’t the only source of fluid in this recipe. Some fluid will comes from the beans – how much will depend on how much rain you’ve had and how watery your beans are. If the beans are fat and juicy, you’ll need less vinegar. I’ve not needed this quantity of vinegar when I’ve made it, perhaps 75% is enough.

I’ve also found that the last stage of simmering can be extended with very favourable results. It depends how you like your pickle, but I like it to be a little soft with the beans still nicely defined (not an amorphous gloop), but not under-done. So I tend to extend the last stage of the simmering to half an hour or more.

This pickle is good with cheese but absolutely wonderful with cold roast chicken or roast ham. Actually, it goes with more-or-less anything. It’s very moreish.

Edna’s boiled pineapple cake

My Mum was given this recipe years ago by Edna Thomas. Edna was a customer of the nursery that my parents own and was known for always coming in for a bit of a chat. She was Welsh and very proud of her heritage and always had a good story to tell. I’m not quite sure how she came to pass this recipe – probably as a result of a discussion with my Mum about the enormous quantities of fruit cake that were consumed on a daily basis in our household. We used to have a big Tupperware box that had a large made-to-measure fruit cake in it. This cake generally had to be replaced every two to three days.

Hels has been passed this recipe by Mum – I think Mum wanted to be sure that her son’s wife would amply provide for his needs and clearly chief amongst those needs is the need for cake. My Mum knows me well.

Edna’s boiled pineapple cake (as slightly amended by Hels)

This recipe is sufficient for two 2lb loaf tins, with liners.


330g/12oz dark soft brown sugar
660g/24oz mixed dried fruit or raisins (we prefer Waitrose Vine Fruits from their Wholesome range)
110g/4oz glacé cherries or soft dried apricots (we use apricots)
Large (435g) can of pineapple pieces in juice
440g/1lb self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs, beaten
220g/8oz margarine
110g/4 oz chopped walnuts
walnut halves to decorate the top of the cakes
1½ tbsp sherry (optional)

  • Using a large saucepan over a low heat, add the sugar, dried fruit, pineapple (complete with juice), butter and cherries/apricots.
  • Bring to the boil (do not leave unattended or it will burn!), stirring thoroughly.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Sieve the flour together with the baking powder.
  • Add eggs, chopped walnuts and flour/baking powder to the saucepan. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the sherry and stir in.
  • Divide the mixture equally between the two lined loaf tins.
  • Bake at 140 – 150°C for 60 to 90 minutes (we have a fan oven – adjust accordingly for conventional ovens). Check with a skewer after 50 minutes (if the skewer comes out clean, then they are done or nearly done). If the cakes are going too brown on top, cover with tin foil before cooking for the remaining time.

Why two cakes at once? Well, experience has shown that these cakes are great for freezing and some (i.e. my Mum) would say that they actually improve if frozen. So we generally have one for immediate consumption and another “stashed”.

Pineapple pieces work best. Rings can be chopped up or that pineapple “crush” can be used, but both give less satisfactory results, probably because the fruit-to-juice ratio is different.