The write stuff…

January can often be a month of ‘staying in’, following on from Christmas excesses (both financial and dietary!); and with the cold weather here for a while longer, what better than to curl up with a good read. The Mill Road area has been blessed with a few local authors, at least three of whom have recently published books…

Mission: Explore - FoodLocal resident Tom Morgan-Jones is an award winning illustrator. I first met Tom a few years ago when he was visiting my friend and neighbour with whom he had co-created the board game ‘War On Terror’ (great fun to play, though I think my parents were a little taken aback when I bought it for them as a Christmas present!) and since then he has worked on numerous projects. His work can be seen in all manner of places and one of his most recent publications is ‘Mission: Explore Food’, which he both co-authored – along with other members of the Geography Collective – and illustrated. The book aims to change the way children think about food and teaches them everything from growing food and cooking it to eating and food waste. It’s a family book and includes over 150 ‘missions’ for children to complete. Tom has lived just off Mill Road for over fifteen years now and whilst doing his research for the book he spoke to local butchers Andrew Northrop’s. He tells me that they were extremely helpful and really helped the book to become what it is – so where better to get your copy than on Mill Road itself! Mission: Explore Food’ written by The Geography Collective & illustrated by   Tom Morgan-Jones. Hardback, available from Andrew Northrop’s (114 Mill Road, CB1 2BQ) priced £20. Also available to order online via the Guardian Bookshop.

Two under twoCelia Anderson is a writer and web designer who runs her own copywriting business in Devon, but her roots are firmly steeped in Cambridge and she has lived on Mill Road itself – in fact she describes herself as somewhat of a Mill Road fanatic (and I know she still misses the Black Cat Café!). I have known Celia for many years though have not seen her for a while – during which time she has had two children (where does the time go!). Combining her love of writing with her new-found experience of motherhood inspired her to start her blog – 2under2 – back in 2012. This has been hugely popular and so she has now published a digital book all about her experiences – ‘Two under two: coping with a baby and a toddler’. It’s a personal and empathetic guide to coping with a toddler and a newborn and has plenty of useful tips as well as interviews with other parents of two under two.
Two under two: coping with a baby and a toddler’ by Celia Anderson. Available for download on Amazon, priced £5.73.

Animals BetrayedJoan Court is a local writer and campaigner with a passion for animal welfare. She lives in the Mill Road area and is a confirmed vegan and cat lover who is very much part of her local community. I first met Joan some time ago and she is one of the most active people I know (which considering her 93 years, puts many of us to shame!). Although much of her time is currently taken up with running campaigns for Animal Rights Cambridge (which she co-founded in the late 1970’s), she has had a varied career that has seen her work as a district midwife in wartime London, witness Indian independence, attend fasts with Mahatma Gandhi, pioneer birth control in Pakistan, retrain as a social worker and at the age of 86 become a crew member on the Farley Mowat (as part of Sea Shepherd) – as well as gaining a degree in social anthropology from New Hall (now Murray Edwards College) here in Cambridge and a masters degree in social work. Joan has recently published her third book – ‘Animals Betrayed’ – which has interviews with a number of animal rights activists and campaigners, and gives an insight into many of the issues that have affected animal welfare over the years.
Animals Betrayed’ by Joan Court. Paperback, published by Selene Press and priced £12.50 (+£2 p&p). Please phone (01223) 311828 to order your copy.

Luckily you can get your hands on copies of all the above books without ever having to leave Mill Road – happy reading!

Chocolate truffles!

I’ve had a very busy few days, but in an attempt to squeeze in some much needed ‘me time’ I decided I’d try my hand at making chocolate truffles. I had never made truffles before – of any kind – so this really was an ‘experiment’. Much as I love eating chocolatey truffle delights, I figured I probably ought to share the finished product with friends (well thirty odd truffles would be a bit much for one person) and given that one of my friends is a vegan I thought it only fair to make some for him to try too (by the way, November is World Vegan Month, but more on that another time).

Those of you following me on Twitter will know that I’d been trying to track down some vegan cream over the last few days, and thanks to @JudeClarke (who knows a thing or two about baking – and music), @CraftyGlitten (do check out her craft blog) and @MillRoadCo (the Mill Road Co-ordinator) I found just the thing in Arjuna. I wanted a vegan thick double cream equivalent, as the recipes I looked at all seemed to suggest double cream was key to getting the consistency right. As it turned out, Arjuna didn’t have a double cream equivalent as such, but they did have (vegan) spray whipped cream so I decided to give that a go.

Armed with chocolate, cream and cocoa powder, it was time to get started! Firstly I broke two bars of Montezuma Dark Chocolate (which is vegan friendly) into pieces and put in a glass mixing bowl, which I then placed over a saucepan of simmering water. The chocolate melted fairly quickly and I stirred it continuously to make sure there were no bits left (and that it didn’t boil). I put the bowl to one side to cool for about three or four minutes and then mixed in a small splash of Marsala wine (the same wine that’s used in the base of tiramisu desserts) which I’d bought at Limoncello. I then put about a third of the melted chocolate mix in a separate bowl – for making the vegan truffles.

For the vegan ones I added some of my vegan cream – as it comes in a spray can it
was hard to measure just how much I was using, but I’d say about a 30cm ‘length’ of cream. I just stirred it in slowly with a spoon until it was all mixed in together. For the non-vegan one I used about two heaped dessert spoons of extra thick double cream (from the Co-op) – which I then slowly stirred in to the melted chocolate until it was one smooth paste. Each mixture then went into its own square dish, and I smoothed each one down so it was about 2cm high – the paste mixtures were thick enough that even though they didn’t take up all of the base of the dishes, they held their shape. I then put each one in the fridge.

This gave me about ten minutes to sit in the garden with a well deserved cuppa. At this point on a Sunday, if I’m cooking, my neighbours cat would usually pop over and say hello, in the hope that I’m making some kind of chicken dish that he needs to test for me – but unfortunately he passed away on Wednesday afternoon (RIP Marley) and so I sat on my own, pondering the possibilities of feline re-incarnation and wondering just where the idea that cats might have nine lives came from.

After a ten minute break I got my truffle mixes out of the fridge. I cut each one into long slabbed strips of chocolate, with a knife. Just to make sure the truffle slabs didn’t start to melt I popped them back in the fridge for another five minutes. I then removed each slab and cut into pieces so that I then had about twenty five cubes of creamy chocolate truffle mix and ten cubes of the vegan one. I dusted each lightly with cocoa powder… and volia!

I had half expected things not to turn out right, especially as I couldn’t find the vegan cream I was after. But I was really impressed with the resulting truffles. Word had got round west Romsey (well, my neighbours!) that it was truffle day and I didn’t have to go far to find friends eagerly anticipating a chocolate fix – namely as far as my living room and next doors. Though I did pop across the garden and offer some to other neighbours too. Everyone loved the truffles, though I noted that the vegan ones were a tiny bit crumbly in texture – I think I will rectify this in future by not adding quite so much cream to my melted chocolate; and next time I’ll probably be a bit less liberal with the cocoa powder too.

If your past dessert attempts haven’t been too successful, or you are put off by the ‘baking’ aspect of cakes, then I suggest trying your hand at chocolate truffles. They are so easy and there’s no cooking required – except for melting the chocolate, but that’s half the fun (and you get to save on washing up by eating all the melted chocolateness that doesn’t quite make it into the mixture!).

Chocolate truffles – deluscious!

Mill Road moggies

One day last week I was on my way to visit a friend, who also lives just off Mill Road. The journey would normally take me about five minutes, but when I arrived at her house I realised that it had actually taken me nearly quarter of an hour. Unusually, I hadn’t actually bumped into anyone I knew on the way, nor had I stopped at any of the shops I passed. So why had it taken me so long? …the answer is cats!

It’s not that the cats I encountered en route wouldn’t let me pass, rather that I just can’t seem to pass a cat without stopping  (cat lovers will know what I mean, those less disposed to the feline form will probably think I am slightly deranged!). There are occasional exceptions – like if they look particularly scary (rare) or if I have already stopped to, erm, ‘chat’ to that particular cat already that day. Anyway, I worked out that in the space of fifteen minutes I had actually seen fourteen cats! I probably should mention that four of them were at the house of the friend I was going to visit, but that still left another ten I’d passed on the way. I like cats, a lot, but even to me this seemed rather a lot of kitties.

All of the cats I passed appeared in good health and well looked after. However, I know that both the RSPCA and the Cats Protection League have large numbers of moggies that they are struggling to re-home at the moment – so if you can offer a good home to a cat then please get in touch with them. I would offer to re-home one myself, but (almost) all my close neighbours have cats and there’s already a few too many catfrontations in the garden as my neighbouring moggies vie for ‘territory’.

Some cats prefer to be an only moggie, whilst others like the company of other cats and happily exist in dwellings with two or three others – the RSPCA and Cats Protection League can both advise on the temperament of the cats they are trying to re-home and help you find one that suits you. All the cats pictured are looking for a loving home and a new owner someone to own.