Weekend of feeding birds and parents - beetroot gravadlax and other menu ideas


My parents came to stay for a few days last week. They usually come once a year, although this year I hope they also come for Christmas. It’s great that they still find the energy to come and visit even if they are no spring chicken anymore. Although Dad did say he might enter a contortionist competition as he was slowly trying to flex his 6 feet 6 inches of nimbleness from the backseat of my small two door car. We tried mum first as she is shorter (thank God, otherwise would be freaky), but she has had both her hips replaced, so getting in and out from the backseat was a bit of a non-starter even if she used to be the only naturally flexible person in our family.

Jamie Oliver's beetroot and vodka gravad lax with dill

My brother once went to see a doctor for some back problems and during the examination the doctor made him stretch and bend. The doctor commented that he had never in his life seen anyone so stiff to which my brother replied “You haven’t seen my father”.

Luckily husband was around most of the time with his more accommodating car, although getting up still seemed to involve a lot of rocking back and forth. That's why older people love rocking chairs I just realised, they can easily accelerate to an appropriate rocking speed and then just catapult themselves right up. 

We were very lucky with the weather. One day we drove to Windsor, had a nice walk around the little town, had some coffees and cakes in a pavement cafe, watched some really quite strange Cotswolds dancers in ill-fitting white jeans which I never knew where traditionally Cotswoldish, and had a drink by the river.

I have taken them to Kew Gardens and Richmond before, but they wanted to go again, so we did. Kew Gardens were beautiful in their early summer glory. We took a big bag of bread with us as mum wanted to feed birds. I was recently told off by a colleague for this activity because of the low nutritional value of white bread and the growing malnutrition and obesity problem among young waterfowl. Yes really. I bet it's not just the bread, but the fact they don't swim and play outside like before, but just sit in the nest playing Angry Birds drinking Lucozade. 

But what are you supposed to feed them? Pan-fried salmon? Actually apparently seeded or wholegrain bread is reasonably suitable as an occasional treat and you could spread peanut butter on top and press extra bird seeds in it to make proper bird sandwiches, but I wasn't feeling quite so industrious so we thought that the bread would be OK as a one-off treat.

We did venture into town as well. We walked around Covent Garden a little and had lunch on one of the river boats at the Embankment. The food took forever and mum and dad in a typical retired, no-rush-to-be-anywhere person manner completely lost their patience and I had to translate their incoherent ramblings to the staff. When the food finally came it was really quite nice, so they were somewhat placated, but still quietly muttering when someone came to clear the plates.

I loved cooking for them and I think they really enjoyed my food. They wouldn’t say if they didn’t. Or mum actually might, she'd say something like "oh this is interesting, what is it". But they did eat a lot and with great enthusiasm, so I took that as proof.

My creamy smoked reindeer soup went down well. My parents used to regularly go to Lapland either skiing in winter or hiking in autumn, so I thought maybe the soup would remind them of those holidays. But hopefully not the particular one skiing trip with the whole family, when we all got sickness and diarrhoea from the dead badger that was later discovered in the water well. 

I also did my favourite BBQ of orange and saffron marinated chicken skewers and yoghurt marinated lamb cutlets with saffron rice, shirazi salad, pitta bread and a warm potato and feta salad. 

Dad recently turned 75 and we will celebrate later in the summer with the whole family, but I made some tartlets with amaretto soaked berries and cream in lieu of a birthday cake.

Tartlets with amaretto soaked berries and cream

One evening I did a light supper of a warm pan-fried lime salmon salad with marinated artichokes and a home-made dijon-vinaigrette and a side of prosciutto wrapped asparagus served with boiled quail eggs. 
Pan-fried lime salmon and artichoke salad with home-made dijon-vinaigrette

The eggs were supposed to be soft-boiled, but I have actually never done them before and true to myself didn’t trust the instructions but thought I knew better and boiled them too long. As I was apologizing for this Dad said he wouldn't be coming back if the quail egg situation would not improve, which I took to mean that I should not worry too much.

Asparagus with proscuitto and quail eggs

The asparagus with the prosciutto was fantastic and such an easy side dish to do. I rarely use pork in anything because I think pigs are too intelligent and cute to eat, but I made an exception for mum and dad and it was appreciated. I might try it with breasaola, because husband doesn't eat pork either.

I also made an absolutely fantastic – ok maybe I’m starting to get a bit excited here - I made a very nice chorizo, chicken and seafood paella. I had squid which I cut to rings, big shrimp and scallops. I actually had a nightmare during the weekend that my sister, who is a better cook than me, suddenly arrived and took over the cooking. In the dream I was really upset and disappointed as I have planned this weekend and particularly the food for a long time. 

Mixed paella with chorizo, chicken and seafood

I think the dream was partly to do with a phone call with her before the weekend when we were talking about recipes and what I was going to cook. My sister suggested I make Bouillabaisse and then she could do it for our parents afterwards and kick my bouillabaisses ass with hers. We have a very healthy and loving relationship really.

My oven door fatefully broke last weekend and I wasn't able to get it fixed in time, but luckily I had made some biscuits at least beforehand. Dad loves biscuits and particularly liked my peanut butter ones. One morning as I was getting up I heard him in the kitchen at the biscuit tin. 

Smoked salmon and asparagus filo tartlets

I also had done these little smoked salmon and asparagus filo tartlets which made a nice evening snack after the Royal Albert Hall concert we attended. 

I also tried to do sumptuous breakfasts like my mum does and made a vendace roe sour cream and dill spread and Jamie Oliver’s beetroot and horseradish gravadlax for the breakfast table. I didn’t want to compete with my dad’s amazing traditional gravadlax and this is also really pretty with vivid purple on the outside and natural salmon colour on the inside. I even created naff rose shapes of the salmon strips.

Vendace roe, onion and sour cream

Vendace roe, onion, sour cream and dill

You can find Jamie's beetroot gravadlax recipe here. It's quicker and easier than it first sounds, but you need a couple of nights curing time, so you need to plan ahead. I recommend you don't remove the skin but slice the fish slightly in an angle against the skin for thinnest possible slices. I didn't serve it with the sauce, but it sounds delicious, so I might try it next time.

Jamie Oliver’s beetroot and horseradish gravadlax

Jamie Oliver’s beetroot and horseradish gravadlax

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