Sunday, 29 January 2012

I Can't Quit.

No matter how I try, it’s an addiction; I can’t stop taking pictures of food, and writing about it. I know I said that I wouldn’t but like all addictions it’s very hard to stop. And of course, food is just so addictive.

But it’s not just about my food, Oh no! Yvonne made a rather good Beef Chilli yesterday, to greet me on my return from work. (Went well since you ask)

As with all her cooking; it was excellent, served with a Jacket Potato lightly coated in Olive Oil and Sea Salt before baking. There was enough chilli left for a repeat performance today, maybe with rice and a piece of home made Garlic bread.

See what I mean, food is just so easy to wax lyrical about, even when it's not your own work, as long as it's lovingly prepared.

There will now be a short break in the food writing, as it's that time of year to start the vegetable garden off, we are talking early Carrots, First Early Potatoes, Lettuce and Horseradish. Plus a bit of horticultural housekeeping. Then it's back to food, with Crumble, Sourdough and anything else I can work into the piece.

Also a discussion about my parallel existence? All will be revealed.

The gardening has been done, no pictures (because it's not a very exciting subject, pictures of bare earth), but I have put the potatoes into sacks of compost, planted carrots and lettuce, and put my Horseradish root into a big pot (Tip: don’t plant horseradish in the garden, as it will take over and you’ll never get rid of it) I also cut down my autumn raspberries, they are taking over as well, I need to train them properly this year.

I discovered that my shed roof is leaking, and the wood is soaked and starting to disintegrate, so the whole roof will need replacing, that’s a job for a couple of guaranteed good weather days, fortunately the basic structure of the shed is sound, so it should last a few years once I get a new roof on it. I’ve got a few days off, so I will order the bits and hope for dry weather.

Yvonne has also done another card. Once again it's superb.

I started the Sourdough process again, using Wholemeal Spelt flour; apparently you need to have a name for your starter, as it's a living thing, so I've decided to call mine “Hortense”. After 5 days I should be able to use it in bread, and then it's just a case of keeping it alive. What can possibly go wrong?
Hortense's House

Hortense is Born

I feel like I'm living in two worlds, one of which is the friendly relaxed Devon world, and the other is the frantic, impersonal world around London. The changeover point seems to be at Stonehenge, about mid way on my journey, to the West, life is easy going, drivers are courteous and smiling, to the East there is never enough time, drivers are more selfish and pushy and nobody seems to smile. I know which world I prefer, and I'm constantly reminded of the reasons I downsized.

Norma and Phillip are coming round for a meal on Weds next week, there needs to be a bit of planning there, I think Yvonne’s doing a choc cake, the main course will be Chicken and Chorizo with roasted veg and patatas bravas. We will have various tapas to start. Along with home made wine and liquid sunshine should be good.

Oh yes, Crumble, we still have Blackberries and Apples left from last year, so a crumble seemed to be in order, also I have now perfected making Custard in the Microwave (Skimmed milk gives me a warm smug dietary feeling) I did have a bit of bother with the crumble recipe, there was a misprint, it said use Margarine, but once I’d got that sorted and used Butter it was fine.

Also I started a 24 hour ferment Ciabatta, I haven’t done one for a while and it does taste superb, it's based on Richard Bertinets method in his book "Dough", thats what got me started. Not only that, but it's only 3 weeks till my bread course and I’m starting to get excited.

The Overnight Ferment

This entry seems a little bit disjointed, I'm feeling a bit hyper-active today, George will be coming home very soon, but due to bad weather in Oz she can’t get to the Gold Coast for her flight. In running around I've caught my T shirt on the door handle going into the garden and ripped a big hole in it, twas an Xmas pressie too. (Sob)

Anyway, the ciabatta dough rose nicely overnight, and I added more flour etc to it, and left it in the mixer on fast until it started climbing up the dough hook. Two hours later it's doubled in size and I have to form it. One mixture of dough will make several rolls and loaves, and because I add Olive Oil and Semolina to the dough it keeps for a considerable amount of time. This has always puzzled me, my bread, which contains only a few natural ingredients, keeps fresh for longer than supermarket bread, which contains preservatives.

Hortense has come to life, and when I fed her today I noticed that she was starting to bubble, last time I tried to make a sourdough starter it was slimy and smelling by now, so there’s hope. By Wednesday I should be able to start using it.


 The Ciabatta is oout of the oven and cooling, two rolls for lunch and loaves to last until Wednesday (Maybe)

I seem to still be addicted, despite my best efforts I have ended up writing about food again.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


I’ve been making my own bread for nearly 3 years now, and dare I say it, I’m not too bad at it. But one thing has eluded me, Sourdough, the name strikes fear into my psyche, I’ve tried several times to get a starter going, but never had any success.

I’ve got a good long spell of time off (Using up my holiday before the end of the leave year) and I’m armed with what looks like a much simpler method, so here we go. I'll keep you informed.

But first, George is coming home! Good news, but she’s not telling us when (If your reading this George, mum is going mental with the excitement) it’s only been 5 months since she went away last time, but three years in total. I can’t wait to see her.

I took the dogs out yesterday and found some daffodils just about out, the world down here has a green tinge, as if spring is poised to burst forth.

Meanwhile back on the food front, although I’m a disciple of Richard Bertinet, I have been baking bread from the recipes of the Herbert Brothers, (Channel 4) and found their book half price in a well known bookshop last week.

They have a different ratio of ingredients to Richard, and I am impressed with the results. Here's a white loaf using 2g of yeast (instead of the 7-10g I normally use) and risen overnight in the fridge. I didn’t rise quite as much as I was expecting, but the taste is quite superb.

After overnight Proving

I can recommend the book to any aspiring baker.

I have First Early Potatoes to plant soon, they are sprouting nicely, also some early carrots to go in, I’m going to leave it until after Imbolc and then get started.

I obtained a piece of local Beef before Xmas, it’s been sitting in my freezer waiting its turn and I decided to roast it today. To save washing up, I put the potatoes, parsnips and some sliced onion around the joint after it had had an hour in the oven; they soaked up all the meat juices whilst it finished cooking. As you can see, neither of us are big fans of rare beef, but I managed to keep it moist and juicy.
Part Roasted

Bed Of Veg

While it was resting,

I poured off the liquid into my veg stock for gravy, and returned the veg to the oven to brown. It was a rather good lunch.

Also I bottled the Vin D’Orange that I started about a month ago, it tasted so good that I went out and brought the makings for another batch. Yvonne said that it tasted like liquid sunshine; I can’t beat that for a description.
Ready to Drink
Second Batch

Talking of Yvonne, she has done some Oestara cards, and some little flower note cards. I thought you might like a look, as ever I think that the quality is superb.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Spring is on the Way

You can tell that the wheel has turned, here in our little corner of Paradise (South Devon Branch) we have crocus in flower, strawberries forming, lots of other bulbs showing, and my first early seed potatoes are busily shooting on the Kitchen windowsill, ready for planting in a fortnight or so. The Nasturtiums from last year have carried on growing through the winter, as have the James Grieve apple tree and the Geraniums. We have only had two frosts so far this winter, neither of which were severe.   Today its about 12 degrees and I’ve just walked the dogs through the lanes, it’s warm enough to go out without a coat, one of those crisp, clear warm winters days. Daffodils are about 10 inches tall along Yardes Lane, and from the top of Southdown hill you could see right across the bay, a bit misty over the water but still beautiful. Yesterday we walked down to Sharkham, and the only noise was the sound of waves on St Mary’s beach and birdsong. Bliss.
Yardes Lane
View over the Bay

When we moved down here and downsized, I was a bit apprehensive, given that I had taken a wage drop in the middle of the biggest recession of recent years, but I don’t regret it, not on days like today, it makes you realise that there is more to life than the pursuit of riches, and surely it’s better to have lived the simpler life with all its benefits. I must admit that it’s nice not to have to hand over half my wages for the “Privilege” of being part of the consumer rat race, and actually when you look at it, I have about the same real income now I have lost the mortgage and high cost of living in the South-East. And I wake to the sound of Seagulls.

We have made such good friends here, its hard to go anywhere without seeing someone to talk to, we went into the Black Cat for Coffee and Cake this morning, Polly had excelled herself with the Chocolate Fudge Cake.

No pictures today, but I have made a Chorizo and roasted vegetables casserole for dinner, together with a mixed fruit crumble with fruit scavenged from the freezer whilst I was defrosting it this morning. So it’s a mixture of Stewed Apple, Raspberries and Whisky soaked Blackberries. Topped with home made butter crumble with Chocolate Chips added.

Yvonne has made some more cross stitch cards; I will post pictures when they have been mounted properly.

The most exciting news is that Georgina will be coming home soon, unfortunately she has been unwell in Australia, but nothing serous, she is in need of Clotted-Cream therapy. However in usual Georgina style she is not letting on about her arrival times, so that she can “Surprise” us. We were walking down to town this morning, and I said to Yvonne “look, there’s George” and she nearly wet herself, this one could run!

It’s amazing what you find in the dark recesses of your freezer (or perhaps it’s just me). We have a leg of Lamb, a 2kg topside of  Beef, 6lb of Blackberries, 6 mackerel, 4 huge gutted Pollack, and loads of soup base, (pureed veg + stock) stewed fruit, cordials etc etc. It all needs consuming so we can start again.

The creative writing is coming on a bit, I have two short stories written, and the start of a longer, mystery adventure tale, keep watching and I may put an extract up to whet your appetites.

I have been keeping my eyes on coverage of the “Costa Concordia” mishap, as usual with the Meeja, you realise just how bad the reporting is when the story concerns your particular area of expertise. I have not read such miss-informed crap since the last time a ship had a problem. Whatever the reason for striking the rock may have been, it seems to have escaped everyone’s notice that nearly 4000 people did NOT loose their lives, also the ship has NOT capsized, it’s actually lying beached on its side. Terrible as any loss of life is, the correct response, once sinking is inevitable, is to get as close to land as possible, it makes getting off so much easier. Passenger ships are designed to stay upright for 30 minutes in case of flooding, to enable all boats to be launched, so if you think you can get the ship up the beach and keep peoples feet dry in 20 minutes, that’s a much better option. Someone said on the BBC that the crew were getting into the boats before the passengers – well who is going to drive the lifeboat, and lower it? I’m getting quite worked up about the whole thing, especially the “Experts” who have the benefit of a leisurely examination of the facts, in a safe office, days after the event. In real time, you have split seconds to get it right. I left the Merchant Navy partly because I felt that I was becoming the convenient place for blame to land, and I can see that little has changed for the better.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Something to get you Thinking

Here's a thought for you, a bit radical but see what you think.

Just about every culture has a myth of powerful creatures who, in times past came from somewhere to show them how to live in a better way. All these “Helpers” suddenly left, promising to return. Some sailed away, some ascended into the sky but they all had the same message, “I/We will return”.  Now consider the Mayan calendar, promising the end of a cycle of over 5000 years this December. Now a lot of people think this means the end of the world, well what if it actually means the time for the end of the way things are done now, and what if these people are on the way back.

Just suppose, its December 21st and the sky is filled by an alien craft, creatures emerge and say, “We told you we were coming back, what have you done with the gifts we gave you, the knowledge we passed on, are you all living in harmony with your world”?. Will there be a stunned silence?

It’s a bit like the exam question for prospective masters of the universe,

“If we fill a planet with the most diverse range of plants and animals, and with all the natural resources for living so that no-one needs to want or live in fear, which species would be best to look after it, Humans or Dolphins - Discuss with reasoning”


Friday, 6 January 2012

New Year.

The clue is in the name NEW year, so as a celebration of all things new; the blog will be heading in a new direction. My daughter referred to it as “Food Porn”, and as a criticism I suppose its semi-justified, after all its full of pictures of food, and it may encourage appetites that could become uncontrollable, etc etc, blah blah. Also, as I’ve said before the blog is moving away from the original purpose, which was to practice creative writing, with a view to resuming the course I started a long time ago. Of course there will still be food mentioned, as it is one of my many passions, just that there may be more other things instead.

So to go out with a flourish, the first post of 2012 will contain uncensored pictures of food, some dressed some not so!

Firstly the Xmas food posts have been well received, naturally there was plenty left over for Boxing Day, good job as Naomi and Eamon came down for a short stay, I made shortbread and Mince Pies as well as the cold platter which was eaten with salad, pickles and home made cheese and onion Stromboli (Folded and filled flatbread).

Despite all that, we found room to visit the excellent Rockfish in Dartmouth for lunch on the 27th and the equally excellent Studio Tea room in Ashburton (Hi Dave and Steve, and Bruno the Dog) on the 28th.

New Years celebration was with Norma and Phillip, listening to the local bells with a glass of bubbles, and small food, such a reminder of the friends we have made in our short time in South Devon. (More than we made in 16 years at our old house in Kent)

On new years day, I had to travel to work, but went to see Naomi and Eamon on the way, as Amy and Harry were there recovering from the night before. We exchanged presents; I hadn’t seen them since the wedding so it was nice to catch up. They were both on good form.

Work on the 2nd was very slow, and I was able to come home prompt on the 3rd for an 11 day break, during which time I have made Seville Orange Marmalade (10lb) and resumed another hobby of mine after a long break.

The Moon Goddess picture has been on the go for nearly 2 years now, it’s the companion of the Sun God that I did ages ago, and there is a large blank space on the wall waiting for it, so no pressure to finish.

I used the excuse that I had run out of Metallic thread, but now I have obtained more so cannot say that. I do hate working with metallic threads as they kink so easily, mind you I hate outlining as well, and French knots and beads, you might wonder why I bother as I seem to hate it all, that’s a very good point, maybe I should say that I hate the IDEA of doing those things, once I get started I don’t mind.

I did find time to braise a lamb shank, in gravy left over from Xmas, with onions and carrots, eaten with new potatoes roasted in Olive Oil. Unfortunately my Slow Cooker is broken (It’s now a fast cooker) as is my food processor is on its last legs. (smells of burning insulation when on) But I did find a handraulic* dicer in a charity shop for £2, which seems to function.

* Handraulic is like Hydraulic but hand powered.

Ready to Cook

We went over to St Marychurch yesterday, as there is a shop which sells grated horseradish root but it was closed when we got there. Managed to get the Seville oranges for marmalade, and also for a drink called Vin D’Orange, the recipe of which I found in a magazine. Basically it’s a bottle of Rose wine, with Vodka and Brandy mixed, some sugar, cinnamon and Vanilla added and sliced oranges all mixed to soak and infuse for a month or so. Should be nice later in the year.

Meanwhile, Yvonne has not been quiet, being the creative type that she is; she has made a lot of cards ready for next Xmas, and as she never gets enough credit for what she does, I told her that I would put a picture up here. The quality of her work is excellent, as good as any you would pay for, and I think it needs a wider audience.

Onto the creative writing, the problem I have is not the lack of ideas, but the lack of the mental approach into developing them; I tend to get bogged down in the details, and in explaining everything so it makes sense, instead of letting the reader do some of the work. Also I seem to have a blockage with writing dialogue, I prefer to write descriptive prose, and I’m not sure how saleable that is in fiction instead of textbooks.

Anyway I’ve come up with the idea of writing a fiction textbook; that would remove the need for dialogue, anyone interested in a sample let me know. (And I'll have to start it!)