Stowaway found in the cupboard

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This wouldn’t happen in our son’s kitchen because he’s a a professional chef and I’m only a cook. He does cheffy stuff like fridge labelling whereas I usually apply the ‘hairy or smelly’ test to unexpected finds – it all comes from decades of being skint, and making do, and, maybe – subliminal memories of wartime rationing. I was born after the war but I can remember playing shops with my sister and using the redundant ration books as money.

This Christmas pud was not hairy and neither did it smell, but I know for a fact it must be at least five years old because I haven’t made Christmas puds since we came to Bath. The reason it’s survived at the back of the cupboard all this time is that it’s a two pounder and far too big even when the whole family is together. So this year I’m only making one pounders, and Madame and me will eat one whenever it takes our fancy, but probably not at Christmas when we’re all far too full. So out it went this morning and then we set off on a 40  mile round trip to put the new battery in the campervan.  It was all planned out like a military campaign and so the job was done in next to no time with no electrical  sparks and without losing the radio and security codes.  The biggest problem was getting some jump leads close enough to the van to maintain the power while I swapped the batteries.

What a deadly boring paragraph, I’m thinking, except the feeling of satisfaction when the old beast roared into life is beyond pleasure.  Now we can go away for a couple of nights and visit friends, paddle the kayak or just sit and read.

Back home later I weighed out flour, muscovado sugar, eggs and cake stuff; beat it senseless with my hand mixer which is miraculously good at not splitting the mixture when I put the eggs in, measured, folded and drew greaseproof and brown paper (well, wallpaper actually) and finished it all off by hand – which is all I can do now since the second hand Kenwood burst into flames last Christmas after 25 years of efficient cake making. Now it’s (the cake not the Kenwood) – in the oven and any minute the fragrance will fill the flat.  As soon as I’ve done the washing up I’ll weigh out the ingredients for the puddings and cook them tomorrow when they’ve stood all night soaking up the Guinness, rum and barley wine. This is all monstrously stupid behaviour given that I’ve only just managed to get my blood glucose readings back to normal by completely changing my diet and foregoing any alcohol at all, and so only I’ll be eating tiny portions.  But there’s a big plus side to all this, which is feeling fit enough to cope with Spaffer Johnson’s brexit nonsense without wanting to throw myself off a raised bed.

Earnest negotiations have begun concerning next year’s seed order.  Ask any allotmenteer if their allotment is big enough when the spring comes, and we’ll all say we need more space.  This is because we’d love to be able to grow the whole catalogue.  Reality, however, means that we can only grow a certain amount, and next year we’ll be obliged to grow less potatoes because we’ve lost the borrowed 50 square metres loaned by our neighbour.  That’s OK though, because we’ll never be able to eat all we’ve grown this year. The issue arose when we were talking about where to relocate the chamomile plants. We cracked it by deciding to treat them more as a crop, and give them the situation and sunshine they need to keep us in flowers all summer. The same goes for the calendula which we can use in a home made skin cream. In fact I’ve been checking out which medicinal herbs are growing wild around the site and it’s surprising how many there are.  Luckily many of the companion plants are ‘dual purpose’, having medicinal applications as well as insect attractant/repellant properties, not to mention tasting good too.

Tomorrow we begin moving fruit bushes, strawberries and shrubs into new locations.  We’ve already decided to grow many of the companion plants in moveable tubs so they can be deployed where they’re most needed.  All this, remember is happening on 250 square metres of allotment, not RHS Wisley, so it’s entirely do-able. When the children left home I found myself still cooking for five (plus unexpected friends) for months. We can grow a great deal of what we need at the Potwell Inn, but we’re still learning how to moderate our sowing – I’ve just finished drying enough chilllies to keep us going for years.

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Yesterday we tried our third Jamie Oliver veggie recipe in a week.  I loved it but Madame wasn’t so keen and thought the halloumi was tasteless. I slept well enough last night after manually adjusting the kitchen clock but bizarrely I kept waking up to check whether my phone had reset itself, and then I woke at my normal ‘body clock’ time and had to force myself to stay in bed another hour.

 

Celebrating the last afternoon of Winter!

 

It just wouldn’t be right to keep Christmas cake beyond the end of winter, that’s to say, beyond today because:

Oh frabjous day, calloo callay

This is the last day of winter and I woke up predictably gloomy because I said I would yesterday – and I always keep my word. Madame, however, seemed very motivated and after a morning tidying up the garage, (OK man cave if you must), in the pouring rain – we loaded up an unfeasibly large number of wine bottles, which in truth we were never going to fill with home made wine, along with a car load of other junk and took it all to the tip where she unloaded the wine bottles as silently as possible in order to avoid us being breathylized as we left.  I should add that after years of austerity, living on a stipend in the parishes, we have developed an ethos of hoarding anything that might even conceivably become useful at some point in the future. Therefore no hawk-eyed scavengers ever follow us to the bins to filch our pre-loved belongings. When I say junk I mean proper ram-stamped rubbish!

Shortly afterwards we finished some repurposed leftovers from roast belly of pork – turned into fabulous soup – we do live well – Madame took me off into town where we spent a pile of money on new walking boots ready for our next trip to Snowdonia. I loved my old ones as if they were my children, but they were worn down to next to nothing after hundreds of miles of tough walking and in truth they’d always been a bit lethal on wet rock. Socks followed swiftly – why is it so hard to buy socks and pants for yourself when you are a man? I can’t remember the last time I ever bought any without being escorted to a shop.  It always seems criminal to put them in the bin when you might get a couple of days more out of them (see paragraph above!).

During this whole time there was not so much as a raised eyebrow from her angelic goodness.  No labels were examined, no cheaper alternatives even hinted at – I should have smelt a rat but I was completely oblivious.  Then we walked around to the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. She is probably the most important artist of all – for me. There is something about her work that puts me straight back on the couch in analysis, and breaks down my barriers as if I’d just arrived in Robin’s room. I constantly have to surreptitiously wipe away tears when I’m around her work. Next, to Waitrose and ten scallops with a bottle of nice wine.  By now I knew something was up, but it felt good so I wasn’t arguing.  “This is nice” I said as we went through the checkout.  “I thought you needed cheering up” she replied.

Which is how we came to celebrate the last day of winter with a cup of tea and the very last slice of Christmas cake. Tomorrow is a whole new season.

 

This rediscovered kitchen tool could change your life!

It was raining and blowing a hoolie all day yesterday – in fact it’s been like that since the weekend. The wind insinuates itself through every tiny gap in the windows, soughing away gently IMG_4757as if we were out at sea. What with the accompanying rain, this series of south westerly gales is bringing the sea to us I suppose, so there was no chance of getting up on the allotment to finish making the raised beds that would make it possible to get up on the alloment in the rain.  There’s a horrible circularity about that statement!

Anyway I’d been putting off making the Christmas cake for ages, preferring to be outside in the fresh air.  That was one reason, but there was another – the ancient Kenwood Major blew up last year while I was making Christmas puds, and the thought of all that arm ache was rather holding me back.

It didn’t exactly blow up in the conventional sense.  I noticed a peculiar smell, the sort of smell you might expect from burning ancient flour, fat and fluff deposits along with a couple of overwintering weevils – the normal kitchen kind of smells. Then there was smoke, but because I’m a man I pushed through the pain until flames appeared from one of the air inlets. Then I pulled the plug out before Madame called the fire brigade and I decoupled the cake mix from the deceased machine and carried on by hand.

It was something of a revelation, I recall, to discover that you could make a rich fruit cake without spending twenty minutes hunting through the cupboards looking for missing parts, or half an hour hand-washing all the dirty bits before losing them again for another year. My son rescued a dead Kitchen Aid from work and repaired it and I confess to a pang of cooks’ envy when I saw it; but yesterday I made the Christmas cake almost by hand. I did use the little electric whisk to beat the eggs and the sugar butter mix, but even that handy little gadget threw cake mix around like a terrier digging a hole on the beach, and in the end I went back to a balloon whisk and the wooden spoon. Obviously my wooden spoon is the mark 5 version with the invisible digital motor – I wouldn’t be seen dead with any other, but it seems that I’m walking backwards towards a new dawn of artisanal, hand crafted resistance cooking, and I expect the world will change any day soon.

Wouldn’t you just love it if I shared my ancient family recipe with you? Well, generally speaking I prefer Delia Smith whose recipes always seem to work. I realized years ago that most of my inherited recipes were forged in the bleak war years of food rationing and tasted filthy. It took a while – my electric scales are also broken and will only measure in pounds and ounces, briefly, before shutting down without warning and sulking for ten minutes. But eventually we got there and for four and a half hours the flat filled with Christmas smells, the shining hour redeemed. I won’t be icing it because these days everyone picks off the icing and leaves it on the side of the plate.  The only bit I really miss is the marzipan, and to be honest the cake never gets eaten at Christmas in any case.  But on a cold day on the allotment in January, a lump of cake and tea from the flask is ……. words fail me!