All posts by northlondonhousewife


So there’s a fete coming up and I’m wondering what cakes and jams I need to commit to making.

There are some obvious ones that will always sell:

  • banana bread
  • gingerbread – but really only for ladies of a certain age
  • lemon drizzle (or similar cake such as marmalade cake)
  • Victoria Sandwich
  • chocolate cake, loaves are easier to knock up
  • coffee cake
  • chocolate drizzled flapjacks
  • party cakes

& then there’s some that are nice to make but may not sell so you wouldn’t want to make more than one

  • yoghurt cake with fruit, maybe apple or blueberries

Quick Aubergine Curry

Meera Sodha’s aubergine, black eyed bean and dill curry.

This is a simpler version of an aubergine curry. It’s the one to cook when you want something quick. It has no onions or ginger to peel and fry (saving much time), and uses only chilli and turmeric for spice, rather than the usual ground cumin and coriander. For extra depth and flavour, you could add all those ingredients; but sometimes, most times,  simplest is best.

Serves four.

4 tbsp rapeseed oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 big vine tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 400g tinned tomatoes)
1 ¼ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or regular mild chilli powder)
¾ tsp turmeric
1⅓ tsp salt (or to taste)
900g aubergines (about 3), baked until tender in a combination microwave (or griddle)
400g tin beans, drained
40g fresh dill, finely chopped, or coriander

Heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium flame and, when hot, add the garlic and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes, until it turns pale gold. Add the tomatoes (take care, because they might spit) and cook for 5 minutes, until creamy, then add the chilli, turmeric and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes more, then gently fold in the aubergine slices and pop a lid on the pan.

Cook for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes, until the aubergines are soft and collapsing, then stir in the beans and cook for two to three minutes more, until the beans are hot. Finally, stir in the dill.

Serve with steamed basmati rice, chapatis and a non-dairy yoghurt of your choice.

Peru: Macchu Pichu

Machu Picchu is an iconic site, one of those places that you have seen the pictures and yet still find yourself shocked by it’s beauty.


It also highlights the frustrations of a visit to Peru for almost every tourist since of course it’s the one site everyone wishes to see. Around 6,000 -9,000 people visit the site each and every day, shuttled up the mountains from the town of Agua Calientas for a time slot entry.


In theory numbers are limited but no one on site has seen any fall in the numbers and everyone cites corruption as the reason. Once within the walls, with a registered guide, there is a one way policy effectively clockwise around the site, though you are allowed to re-enter within a set time on that day.

Yet the site is large enough of most of the people to disappear but of course the damage done is accumulative, the grinding down of the site by all of those footsteps.


So the line for the bus to head up the mountain starts early, for those people wishing to see sunrise over the mountains with waiting queues lasting almost two hours for the early morning at around 4am when the buses start.

When we arrived in town from the train the queue for the buses to the site were non-existent so we had a painless transfer from train to hotel to bus at around 11am. We were also blessed with incredibly good weather, sunshine and blue skies.

We had not booked tickets for the second morning, having decided to leave it until the weather forecast became clear. Mostly, people book two visits just in case of fog or rain but I was quite prepared to stand in the queue for a second set of tickets of that happened, and despite what you are told about restrictions on numbers, everyone who wants a ticket seems to find one to use.

Talking it over with our local guide, they also pointed out the problems with early morning visits to the site at this time of the year – fog. Mostly the mornings are grey and drizzly, with the mid-day sun burning away any grey for the afternoon. It would be a bit of a bugger to queue for two hours at some ungodly hour just to arrive to the damp grey of fog.

The site also highlights the limitations of what is known, or rather unknown about the Incas. They do not know why the site was abandoned, possibly just because of smallpox brought in to the town by evacuees escaping the Spanish. They don’t know why it was sited in such an inhospitable though beautiful spot at the very end of the valley.

So you wander around a town, built by a culture which had no money, only a barter system where every citizen owed it’s ruler 3 months of the year as work. There are no shops, just houses and fields on endless terraces, some peering down from the tallest mountain just in front of the town.

It is a mad place, madly beautiful but astonishing to believe anyone could rationally site their palace on top of a mountain so far from everywhere that it effectively just disappeared.

It is the detailing of the place that stays with me. The fact that the town is built on a geological faulting that is causing the site to slip apart ever so slowly yet the Incas managed to identify this slippage and build terraces that could cope with it.

It is the constant echo of angles, of the slope of the mountains being echoed in the slop of the roofs of the houses.

The trapezoidal doors, windows and niches in rooms built to slightly lean in on each other, to effectively increase their stability by existing in a state of constantly falling in on each other.

And everywhere around you, the constant shock of such beautiful scenery.

And llamas, always llamas.

Who is mad enough to put their terraces for growing crops at the top of a peak so high and so steep, looking down on Machu Picchu.

And in the houses, the clear stone supports for mezzanine sleeping areas that we saw still in use in a house in Ollantaytambo.

Maybe it isn’t the town ruins so much as the mountains that shock the visitor, but then maybe that’s why the town was built. Maybe it was just so damn beautiful that some local warlord had to live there.


My youngest daughter is sitting her A levels next Summer, which means that she has to apply to university around about now. And the first step in making any kind of decision is obviously to look at the subjects being studied at A level and choose a degree subject.

All my friends seem to have children (boys) of the same age and they’re all studying the same subjects: Maths, Physics and Chemistry so we’re all in the same camp. A few, like my girl, are studying further maths as a fourth subject but in the UK university offers are made on the basis of three subjects so it shouldn’t make any difference, in theory.

Of course in practice, studying further maths is extremely useful if you are planning to study Maths at university. Since Further Maths allows you to study more modules, including mechanics, it’s also very useful for any Engineering degree which was the main alternative to Maths that my baby considered.

One friend’s boy chose Chemistry as a degree subject quite early on, where as another two boys settled on Maths. There is a huge variation in the grade requirements for these subjects. Chemistry grade requirements at Imperial College, a world class university range from A*AA whilst a second tier university ie. part of the recruitment drive of the major professional companies such as Bath might make offers from AAB. requirements for Maths at the same universities would be A*A*A (Imperial) and A*AA(Bath).

Because nowadays Mathematics is a very popular subject whereas straight sciences are less so.

After sitting her AS exams we headed into the Summer holidays within clear view as to what subject she would want to study at university and that’s important because during those holidays you are expected to draft a personal statement of around 4,000 words saying why you want to study your university course.

Mathematics is quite different to Engineering and at some level you’d imagine it was an easy choice as a result but the problem of course is that Maths is a known quantity where as Engineering is not. It isn’t even one single subject. So why would she be interested anyway?

Her school has encouraged placements in different workplaces and my girl has now had two in Civil Engineering companies one of which has been incredibly kind to her, incredibly welcoming and helpful. So maybe an interest in Civil Engineering is understandable.

Mathematics versus Engineering?

There isn’t much difference in the grade requirements from various universities. Once on the course, there is quite a difference between the hours of study with Maths degrees typically requiring 10 hours contact time compared to Engineering degrees with 30-40 hours mainly because of the extra time spent on practicals. And with one child studying English (12hours a week contact) I am not fooled into thinking these courses are “easier”. If anything, it is very much down to the type of student, as to whether they can cope with so much time unsupervised. It can be isolating having so little time with other students on the course.

There are many other types of engineering and the basic course would probably be regarded as Mechanical Engineering. As she veered towards choosing Engineering we had to look through the courses listed very carefully to try and identify more general degree courses. And then there is the 3year BEng. versus a 4yearMEng. degree course. to consider.

So she’s made her choice, and decided that she might as well apply to Oxford though the odds are very long because the Engineering course sounds wonderful. And the personal statement is written on that basis.

We are where we are, moving forwards with the decisions. The only thing learned from doing this for a second time, is to allow the child to lead the way. This choice must be their choice and should, in so far as possible, be for a subject that they can love. My daughter and her friends who have chosen a subject they love are having a brilliant time, even if the university isn’t great. Where the course is not great, even the best social life at university struggles to redeem the situation.

Peru: the train to Macchu Pichu

Macchu Pichu is at the lower end of the Sacred Valley, and the only way in and out is walking or catching the local tourist train.

With limited time and tired legs, the train suited us fine and the views of the valley were amazing.

Ollantaytambo Rail Station


Urubamba River valley
Urubamba river valley

For the most part, the train follows the river Urubamba and the valley gets narrower and narrower.

Glacier on the mountain

And in the background the high mountains with the glaciers that store the water for people and crops.

Graffiti Urubamba River
Urubamba River
As the Urubamba River valley narrows

And valley sides terraced by the Incas and still used to provide the food for the inhabitants.


Disused Inca terraces along the river
Steps for the Inca terraces
Alongside the river, the train track
Peru rail, moving at pace

Crossing the Urubamba river

Aubergine Pasta Pie

10 best aubergines: a pie yesterday

Aubergine pasta pie

A stunning dish, full of different flavours – the pasta is encased in the fried aubergines.

Serves 6
For the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
900ml passata

For the pie
2 aubergines (700g in total)
About 150ml olive oil
400g penne or rigatoni
900ml passata
50g parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 large eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
150g Italian salami, thickly sliced and cut into strips
200g mozzarella cheese, sliced
50g caciocavallo (or provolone) cheese, sliced
2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

First make the tomato sauce: fry the garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds, add the passata, season and simmer for 40 minutes.

Preheat a grillpan. Cut the aubergines lengthways into thin slices about 5mm thick. Brush each slice with olive oil and grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and immediately stir through the passata. Add the parmesan and oregano, mix well and then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Use the aubergine to line the bottom and sides of a 20cm diameter springform cake tin. Cover the bottom with a layer of pasta and then with sliced eggs, salami strips, aubergine slices, mozzarella and caciocavallo slices. Repeat these layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with a layer of pasta. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and drizzle with the oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the dish is heated right through.

Run a spatula round between the pie and the inside of the tin. Place a round serving dish upside down over the tin and invert. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then unclip and remove the tin and serve immediately.

Quinoa Kugel

What else is a North London housewife just back from Peru going to cook?


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped with garlic if liked
  • ½ cup quinoa
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 pound cauliflower (1/2 medium head), broken into florets
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 scant teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
  • Freshly ground pepper


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, 3 to 5 minutes, and add the quinoa. Cook, stirring, for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the quinoa begins to smell toasty and the onion is tender. Add the water and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and the grains display a threadlike spiral. If any water remains in the pot, drain the quinoa through a strainer, then return to the pot. Place a dish towel over the pot, then return the lid and let sit undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower over 1 inch of boiling water for 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin
  4. Finely chop the steamed cauliflower, either with a chef’s knife or using a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Place in a large mixing bowl. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, purée the cottage cheese until smooth. Add the eggs and process until the mixture is smooth. Add salt (I suggest about 1/2 teaspoon), pepper and the cumin seeds and mix together. Scrape into the bowl with the cauliflower. Add the quinoa and stir everything together. Scrape into the oiled baking dish. Drizzle the remaining oil over the top and place in the oven
  5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares or wedges

Peru: Cusco

Cusco  is the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year and most of them seemed to be there when we were visiting.

Between the tourists and the people trying to make money from the tourists, it’s a busy kind of place and high at around 3,400m with a population of about 434,000 people.


The first cathedral built in Cusco is the Iglesia del Triunfo, built in 1539 on the foundations of the Palace of Viracocha Inca. Today, this church is an auxiliary chapel of the Cathedral.

The main basilica cathedral of the city was built between 1560 and 1664. The main material used was stone, which was extracted from nearby quarries, although some blocks of red granite were taken from the fortress of Saksaywaman.

This great cathedral presents late-Gothic, Baroque and plateresque interiors and has one of the most outstanding examples of colonial goldwork. Its carved wooden altars are also important.

The city developed a distinctive style of painting known as the “Cuzco School” and the cathedral houses a major collection of local artists of the time. The cathedral is known for a Cusco School painting of the Last Supper depicting Jesus and the twelve apostles feasting on guinea pig, a traditional Andean delicacy.

As always, one of the best places to wander around is the local market, in this case a covered market called San Pedro

From the locals grabbing a snack to the more intrepid tourists drinking the fruit juices.


For vegetarians there is always a kind of horrified fascination with the meat aisles.

The endless fruit and vegetables are always cheery.


Including just a few of the three thousand varieties of potatoes we kept being told about.

And some of the combinations were a bit tricky to fathom. Is this a cupboard for medicines or condiments? Arnica and vinegar?



Many many varieties of quinoa, and even more types of tea.

Mostly the stable holders were just going about their business. In general I ask if someone minds f I take their photo and occasionally people object – no one was worried about pictures of the stall though.

The flower aisle was beautiful of course. the wooden spoon stall slightly less so.

All in all it was a really good way to get a grip on the place as people live in it now, as compared to the museum of Museo de Arte Precolombino (Peru)   which gave lie to the Inca suggestion that before them the country had only had hordes of savages.

The Incas were superlative masons and excellent working with silver and gold as the displays showed.

Their decorations included necklaces and similar made from shells from the coast.

But any walk through the displays quickly shows the superlative work of cultures alive and well long before the Incas came to power.

And what strikes a modern viewer is how fresh, how modern and often how comical some of the work turns out to be.

It would be difficult not to enjoy the stylised animal forms of some of the pottery and sculptures.

And outside on the streets of Cuzco, the everyday mix of traditional and modern continues.

Plaza de Armas of Cusco

White Pizza

This is an Ottolenghi recipe, though there are plenty out there. It makes two pizzas, to serve two as a main course with a salad, or four as a snack, though after the recent trip to Peru I tired it with purple potatoes, less “white” but aside from that perfectly lovely. He used anchovies in place of the artichokes, but I’d consider swapping in some dried tomatoes also – the white really just means no tomato sauce.

For the dough
200g strong white bread flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
Salt and black pepper
120ml lukewarm water

For the topping
180g new potatoes, finely sliced (unpeeled) on a mandolin
3 tbsp olive oil
200g mascarpone
40g pecorino, finely shaved
4 artichoke heads, finely chopped
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (you need 2 tsp worth)
50g spring onions, trimmed and sliced thinly at an angle

Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl with a tablespoon of oil and half a teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine, then pour in the water and use a spatula to bring the mixture together until combined.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled worktop and, with lightly oiled hands, knead for five minutes, until soft and elastic. (You may need to add a little more oil if the dough starts to stick to the surface.) Divide the dough in half and transfer both pieces to a large oven tray lined with greaseproof paper, spaced well apart. Cover with a clean and slightly damp tea towel, then leave to rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. The dough should almost double in size.

Heat the oven to its highest setting, 250C or thereabouts: you want it red hot.

While the dough is rising, get on with the topping. In a small bowl, toss the potato slices with a tablespoon of oil, an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Transfer the potatoes to a large oven tray lined with greaseproof paper – the tray needs to be big enough for the slices to lie flat and spaced apart – then roast for seven minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the mascarpone, pecorino, artichokes, sage and lemon zest with a good grind of pepper.

Grease two large oven trays with olive oil, and lightly flour a work surface. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into two 30cm x 20cm rectangles, then carefully transfer to each of the trays.

Spread the mascarpone mix evenly over both pizza bases, leaving a 2cm border around the edges. Sprinkle the spring onions on top, then add a layer of potatoes. Drizzle a tablespoon of oil over each pizza and bake for nine minutes (switch the pizzas around halfway through, so they both get a turn at the top of the oven), until the edges are crisp and golden. Scatter with a generous grind of pepper and serve warm with a green salad.

What problem?

There is an excellent article published by the LSE which looks at the UK economy.

As the UK negotiates to leave the EU, the UK government has made much of the strength of our economy and our competitive advantage & it’s true that our growth and employment rates do not appear to have been damaged by the vote to leave the EU. Many businesses have been quick to identify potential opportunities associated with an independent approach to global trade.

But despite strong growth rates in 2016, the UK is not expected to experience GDP growth as strong as that anticipated in Europe and the US over the next several years. Our predicted growth rates of 1.6% in 2017 and 1% in 2018 are dwarfed by an anticipated 2.1-2.4% for the US and 2% in Germany. Part of this can be put down to the uncertainties of Brexit.

But slowing growth rates are also partly driven by long-standing structural issues in the UK economy.

In fact, as the Interim Report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice highlights, on a whole host of issues – from wages to productivity investment to trade – the UK’s economy lags behind its major competitors.

The government likes to boast that the UK has recently achieved record levels of employment. But this has been accompanied by the growing insecurity of the labour market.

Surveys suggest that as much as 8% of the workforce is now under-employed – that is, wanting to work more hours than they do. The number of people on zero hours contracts has increased more than five-fold since 2007, to more than 900,000. Self-employment has increased from 13% of the workforce in 2008 to 15% today, yet self-employed people earn less on average than they did 20 years ago.

This insecurity is linked to the ‘flexibility’ of our labour market, which is ranked 8th of 140 in the World Economic Forum’s rankings, achieving the same score as the United States.

Normally, economists would expect high levels of employment to lead to increases in average real wages. But the reverse has happened. Indeed, the decline in UK real wages since the financial crisis has been the largest of all developed countries apart from Greece, Mexico, and Portugal.

Between 2007 and 2016, annual real wages grew 10.8% in Germany, 9.5% in France and 6.4% on average across the countries of the OECD. In the UK, however, they fell by 2.6%. If inflation continues to erode nominal wages for the next four years, as projected by Office for Budget Responsibility, the period since 2007 will rank as the longest period of earnings stagnation since the 1860s.

The low-pay, insecure labour market that exists in the UK is partly responsible for our poor performance on productivity. Measured by output per hour, productivity in the UK is 13% below the G7 average, and productivity growth has more or less completely stalled in the last decade. The disparity between the UK’s productivity and those of our major competitors is sometimes expressed in the form ‘it takes the average British worker five days to produce what a worker in Germany, France, or the US produces in four’.

But of course this is nothing to do with how hard people work: it arises from the much lower levels of investment in physical and human capital in the UK. Public and private investment is around 17% of GDP in the UK, more than 5% below the OECD average.

Corporate investment in the UK is much lower than in most of our major competitors. Corporate investment in fixed assets (not including construction) fell from 11% of GDP in 1997 to just 8% in 2014, compared with (for example) 12% in the USA. This is much lower than the rate of depreciation, meaning that the stock of capital in the UK is actually declining. This disparity is partly accounted for by the lower share of manufacturing in the UK economy, but is still lower even when this is taken into account. And it is especially reflected in the lower share of research and development investment, which is of particular concern given the importance of innovation in driving future growth.

The sectoral make-up of the UK’s economy has also led to the emergence of a large current account deficit: our trade deficit has exceeded 2% of GDP for 15 of the last 16 years. This is at least partly due to the decline of our manufacturing base, which, though familiar to most of the developed world, has been far more acute in the UK than in competitors such as Germany and France.

The depreciation of the pound which followed the EU referendum has helped to raise exports somewhat – but not by as much as might have been expected, because the UK is particularly reliant on a small number of exporting sectors (of which financial services is much the largest) and many exports are made up of imported components. The UK’s trade performance is a consistent indicator of the weakness of UK productivity and competitiveness.

As such, it is hard to accept the government’s view that the UK economy is in a strong position to cope with the challenges of Brexit. Underneath the headline figures it is actually much weaker than most of our major European competitors. And Brexit will make many of these weaknesses more difficult to address. That is why the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice is calling for a fundamental rethink of economic policy in the UK.

The first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem.