I've probably said this before but, if given the choice between living somewhere permanently hot and sunny and spending the rest of my days here in damp and murky Britain, I'd choose the latter. Don't get me wrong, I love a hot sunny day as much as the next person, but what I love best of all is an English summer's day. So rarely do we get a spell of perfect sunny weather over here, when we do, we really make the most of it. I think the unpredictability of the British summer makes it all the more appealing. Today, the sun is out and my spirits are immediately lifted. I feel energised and spontaneous and excitable. If it was like this all the time, I'm not sure I'd feel the same.
Outdoor events are something that the British do rather well, I've always thought. Come rain or shine we put our best foot forward and enter into the spirit even if we are soaked through the skin. There is a certain British pride in gathering together and making the best of an unkind summers day. We shall wave our flags, even if we have to do so wearing head-to-toe ponchos.
Fortunately, my latest evening of flag-waving was blessed with good weather. Last weekend, I headed back home to the Isle of Wight for a thoroughly British evening of picnics, Rule Britannia, classical music and fireworks. The 'last night of the Proms' type event took place at wonderful Osborne House, holiday home of Queen Victoria.
We were blessed with a perfect English summer evening although there was a bit of a nip in the air! I just love to eat outdoors - the food always seems to taste better somehow. Picnics are a real favourite of mine and like Julia over at A Slice of Cherry Pie, I like to do them properly. With linen napkins and proper knives and forks. Fortunately, so does my mother as it was her who made the preparations for this particular event. I am proud to say that I am fairly sure that we were the only ones to have a properly ironed linen tablecloth!
Sadly, we were slightly outdone by a neighbouring table who had bought a candelabra. We were the ones who were smug though as they couldn't get theirs to stay alight in the breeze - our pretty glass holder sheltered the nightlight from the wind.
Anyway, earlier in the day, we (..or rather my mother..) prepared a delicious chilled avocado soup for our starter. It is superb and a real summer favourite of mine. I know some people are hesitant at the idea of a chilled soup, but I think there is nothing more refreshing on a hot day. Gazpacho is another favourite of mine. The recipe is one I've grown up with - just one mouthful makes me feel all summery. I think the recipe came originally from our old milkman, believe it or not. But I could be wrong.
It needs to be made a few hours in advance so that it has adequate time to chill, though you can speed it along with a few ice cubes. It is the simplest of soups to make - you chop everything up and whizz it together in a liquidiser. I like to serve this for summer suppers or lunches in the garden. I have some pretty glass bowls that set it off perfectly. For our picnic, we transported in in a thermos with a few ice cubes and then poured it into mugs. Not to be outdone by our fellow diners, my mother even snipped a few chives and wrapped them in clingfilm ready to sprinkle on top. Now that is what I call a civilised picnic!
I'm entering this cooling soup into an event called 'Beat the Heat' hosted by A Southern Grace. Grace is compiling recipes from the blogosphere that do not require us to fire up the oven during these hot summer days. Do take a look at her lovely and entertaining blog and, even better, why not submit one of your own heat-beating recipes.Chilled avocado soup
Serves 4-6 (4 as a lunch dish, 6 as a starter)
150ml single cream
2 large ripe avocados
2 tbsp lemon juice
575ml cold chicken stock (well-flavoured) You could also use vegetable stock, of course.
2 spring onions
Worcestershire sauce - a few drops to taste
chives - to garnish
Salt and pepper
1. Chop the avocados into chunks and slice the spring onions. Do not throw away the avocado stones.
2. Place everything into a liquidiser and whizz until smooth. Taste the soup and season well. You may want to add more Worcestershire sauce.
3. Cover and chill, placing avocado stones in the soup until ready to serve to prevent discolouration.
Incidentally, having enjoyed our soup, we moved onto an array of Marks and Spencer's goodies - looking around at the other picnics, I'd say that good old M&S did pretty well out of us concert-goers. The strawberry tarts were particularly good!
In August I am lucky enough to be going, for the first time, to Glyndebourne. I have been charged with bringing dessert so am searching for good ideas. It needs to be easily transportable yet impressive. And, as it might be a hot evening and we won't get round to eating it until late, something that won't melt/fall apart. A tall order and I have a few ideas, but I would welcome any ideas or suggestions that you may have...