Rainy days, gardens, tea, and old books

Rainy days hold pleasant surprises when you travel, yet you probably won’t see them on the Travel Channel. Another of my travel maxims is, “Don’t let the weather decide how much fun you have.”

Rainy days make a cup of tea taste the best. The Bath Bun tea shop in Bath, England is a wonderful place anytime, but on a cold rainy day tea upstairs in this building that is a couple hundred years old is amazing. A “Bath Bun” is a round roll, sweetened with sugar on top and bottom with currants or other dried fruits inside. We had tea, a pot of chamomile and a pot of English Breakfast. With rain outside, tea to warm the inside, and some good conversation it just does not get any better. Without the rain we might not have stopped to rest as we should, thank you rain.

The owner of a small used book shop gave us tickets to a book fair that was to be held at the Bath Assembly Rooms, part of the local government. The first benefit was free admission to the building, but the real treat was a book fair on a rainy cold day. Booksellers from around England we’re there with an amazing offering of old books. Bibliophiles such as us could spend hours and many Pounds with ease.

It was there that I was introduced to the Victorian Journal, two were offered and worth every penny of the £300 he was asking, unfortunately that amount did not sit well with my budget at the time so I resignedly passed them by. During the Victorian era one would have a blank journal, and when spending time with a friend they would exchange their journal and each would make an entry. Some entries were watercolor paintings, a poem, maybe a drawing, or a political comment. These two journals were a wonder, filled with memories of another time; a reminder that things did not always move so fast and that people took time to connect. Without the rainy day diversion we may have missed this wonder.

On the rainy morning of our last day in Bath we took a walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens. If you want to avoid crowds visit a garden on a rainy day, you will have it mostly to yourself, yet you will find a beauty in nature that the fair-weathered folks miss. Rain drops falling of trees, grasses with glistening drops, even a flower sparkling from the rain.

We met a friend, from behind a shrub a small white cat almost ran up to say hello, as if waiting for some company. He rubbed up against our legs and followed for a bit, then led the way through part of our walk.

A cup of tea, some old books and journals, a cat to guide us through a beautiful park – all on rainy days. Three of the most memorable moments of our time in Bath were in the rain. Some would complain bout the weather, I think the weather added to the day. On a rainy day a bit of imagination and a jacket are all you need to find memories to cherish.

Tuscan beans, a quick lunch!



Working from home does not mean boring lunches. I whipped these Tuscan Beans in about 15 minutes. It is good to treat yourself well even when you are eating alone.

Started by dicing a bit of onion and clove a garlic, sauté them for a bit


Then add drained canned beans, (cannellini, pinto, or any other light bean). Mix in canned diced tomatoes. Good ratio is half as much tomato as beans. Season generously with oregano, basil, thyme; salt and pepper to taste. Then let simmer until most of the liquid evaporates.


How easy is that, and if you are your own boss go ahead and have a glass of red wine, the Italians would and they get a lot of work done.

My philosophy in the kitchen!

Great meal at homeA loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Do you find cooking a chore?  “A task, especially a difficult, unpleasant, or routine one.” (Wiktionary)

My goal is to simplify cooking, make it a pleasant experience, and uncover your hidden creativity. Why? So you can enjoy food and the process of preparing it, then you may discover that cooking is experienced best when it is shared; companionship in the kitchen is the perfect way to make a friend, unwind at the end of the day, and build relationships.

With just a bit of tweaking I think Omar got it right.

A French baguette, a glass of wine, and you
Beside me in the kitchen –
And my world is Paradise right now.

First step: Quit following recipes.

We have all looked at recipes in a magazine; first we read the name to see if it “sounds good.” If there is a word we don’t understand or an ingredient that is unfamiliar or that we do not really love we reject the whole recipe and move on. If the name does not turn us off then we scan the list of ingredients, concluding that the more there are the more difficult it is to cook. If we have not yet turned the page we count the number of steps, too many and this dish has lost any chance.

Food magazines and cookbooks are wonderful things, they provide ideas and can in fact teach us a new technique, but they are best not treated as an instruction manual. This book will have no intimidating ingredient lists, no “creative named concoctions,” and steps so simple that once you try them you will never forget them.

Second step: Learn basic techniques

Great cooks and chefs do not memorize recipes; they learn basic techniques that allow them great creativity.

If you can do these, you can create wonderful meals, easily.

  • Boil water
  • Chop or dice some ingredients
  • Put a frypan on the stove & turn the stove on
  • Poach an egg – this will be the toughest thing you need to learn
  • Approximately measure some liquids and powders
  • Check your watch or set a timer
  • Put a pan under the broiler
  • Stir with a wooden spoon

If you can boil water you can

  • Make soups and stews
  • Make pasta
  • Make a hard boiled egg, and with a little effort poach an egg (a mainstay of French cooking)

If you can put a sauté pan (think fry pan with rounded sides) on the stove, set the temperature, and stir or flip occasionally, you can

  • Sauté mushrooms for a quick sauce
  • Make Panini in a flash
  • Sauté a chicken breast to go with the sauce
  • Cook salmon, and have people rave over it
  • Turn boring vegetables into something amazing
  • Prepare a couple of deserts worthy of a white table cloth brasserie

If you can turn the oven on and figure out the difference between the baking and broiling setting you can

  • Make a flatbread – and never need to mix and knead dough
  • Frittatas and even a simplified omelet
  • Roast vegetables, people will ask how you did it

These are all pretty simple, and when you combine a couple of them it just gets better as you have such a wide range of variations that you will never be bored by what to eat.

Third step: This is art not engineering


Good cooks quickly learn that there are very few measurements that must be precise. Here are a few of the terms you will learn to use

  • Some
  • A few
  • A little
  • A lot
  • A dab
  • A pinch

If you are cooking and you put “some” in but it does not taste like you put enough in then put in “a little more.” If the idea of using “a lot” seems risky, then start with “some”, adding a “few more” until it is “a lot” and tastes the way you like it.

Now this is important – if you try the dishes in this book and they work for you just as written well that is great, but I doubt that will happen. I rarely cook the same thing the same way twice and I hope you don’t either. The seasonings and such in this book are the way I make them sometimes, I do hope by the time you have tried them a few times you will find that they need “a dab” more of this or “a pinch” less of that. I do know that the way they are written will turn out a dish you can enjoy and be proud of, but it is my desire that you will make each one of your own.


You cannot cook with a stopwatch! Times are approximations, stoves and ovens are all different, even things like altitude, and moisture in the ingredients will affect cooking. The more you cook the better you will get, but rest assured that all of us have taken an expensive steak off the heat too soon and watched in dismay as guests cut into a raw piece of meat, or cooked a piece of fish until it is inedible. You will too, and you will survive.

There are chefs out there with a lot more training and credentials than I will ever have, they own fancy restaurants and love to pontificate on the evils of cutting into a piece of meat to see if it is done, as if you risk banishment from all kitchens should you commit such a sin. Well I agree it is better to not cut, but given a choice of serving under or over cooked meat, I say go for it.

I can only think of a few things that require some precision regarding time, here are two:

  • Soft and hardboiled eggs
  • Rice

So the real secret is to simplify, turn disasters into adventures, and escape from perfection. So what if you are not Bobby Flay or Emeril! The goal is to have fun and end up with something good to eat. Remember the old quote, “To make an omelet you have to break some eggs!”