Monday, 30 July 2012


Big news at the moment is that I have created a new blog for my creative writing output, so I will be putting short stories and various pieces of work up there for honest review and comment (of any sort).

Please note that all work will be original, and to the best of my knowledge, all my own. Naturally I will hold the copyright, and there will be no intended link between any of it and any person or place. If anyone has any issues with any of the work, please comment and we can discuss it. I hope that it will be a bit more exciting than cookery, at least to me, although I will still be keeping you up to date with my kitchen adventures, and life in the South West.

I should be putting the first piece up shortly, more news to follow.

I had a great birthday, we went to Dartmouth, had a good look around the shops, and had lunch in the excellent Rockfish,
View Across the river to Kingswear
Yvonne, Looking Good

local fish fresh caught and a nice pint of Jail Ale to wash it down.

My Whiting and Chips

Yvonne had Mackerel

My girls brought me some wonderful presents, books, baking equipment, chocolates, some really nice stoneground flour (Thanks Amy and Harry) and much more. Once again thanks for your generousity. Neighbours also sent wine and other gifts.

My daughters and significant others (except Georgina's fella who is in Oz) went to a festival in Nottingham, I loved this pic of them all in party mode
Harry, Amy, Eamon, Georgina and Naomi
I picked my first Raspberries just before coming to work on Sunday, only 2 but it's a start, I feel Raspberry Balsamic Glaze and/or Raspberry Vodka coming on. We nearly have enough Rose Petals for wine, which is good because we are on the last bottle of last years. So much to do.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Day Out?

It’s my birthday tomorrow, at my age not a cause for celebration, and as I wasn’t working, we decided to go to Dartmouth for the day, there’s a very nice restaurant for lunch, and enough to do for a nice day out. Anyhow, to save messing around with the car ferry and park and ride, we thought we could take the bus and foot ferry, it also meant that I could have a couple of beers without having to drive home.
Looking into the prices for this, I was somewhat shocked and must question the incentive to leave the car and submit to the vagaries of public transport. Bear in mind that Dartmouth is 4 miles from my house (including the ferry), and I live 50 yards from the bus route.

Option 1 Car (Up to 5 people)

Diesel for 8 miles                                          £ 1.00
Ferry (Return)                                                 £ 7.00
Park and Ride                                                £ 5.00

Total                                                              £ 13.00

Option 2 Bus

Two return tickets (Inc Foot Ferry)                £ 13.00

So where’s the incentive in that? I know it’s more environmentally friendly to take the bus, but the cynical side of me can’t help wondering if the price of the bus ticket has more to do with the price of the alternative than the cost of provision. If there were 4 of us in the car, the bus option would be DOUBLE the car option.  And the council wonder why the buses are empty, and have to subsidise them.

Enough of the rant, it’s been the usual mad rush of a week, Naomi had her 12th (I think but am losing track) operation as a result of the car accident TWO years ago. She is home and OK, we are going up to see her on Sunday, whilst I am at work Monday Yvonne and her can have a girly day, before we come home on Tuesday.
I worked on Wednesday, and did a couple of jobs, this one into Tilbury Lock (0.5m clearance each side)

and this one outwards.

It was nice on the river, with a gentle breeze keeping it cooler.

As a result, I hadn’t been cooking much; we had enough bread to last and because of the warm weather we have only been eating salads, sadly not from the garden, the leaves were all washed away and the replacements are not yet grown. Also the tomatoes are not quite ripe, although I do seem to have a few that are nearly there.  

And a very small crop of runner beans.

Jason gave us some fresh caught Mackerel which tasted superb baked in a little oil and some herbs. I’m having a rest from bread baking until we get back on Tuesday, when I will start again. I did manage to make 12lb of Blackcurrant Jam, which should keep us going for a while.

 I had to get a new food processor, as the old one (5 years) smelt of burning every time you turned it on, and was taking longer to chop things. I now have a Kenwood, which was half price on Amazon.

I have finally taken the plunge and started writing my novel, I have written a couple of short stories and magazine articles, but for years I have had ideas in my head for a longer story, at first they were vague and unconnected, but now I can see where they all fit together, and I’m even having dreams about bits of it. So I’ve got about 4000 words down, very rough and unfinished but it's a start. And it's funny, I have heard writers say that when you invent characters, they come to life and become more than just words on a page. I thought that was a silly idea, but it’s true, although I’ve only got half a dozen so far that have actually said anything, they seem more real, and almost do things without me having to think about it. With a bit of luck they can write it for me, I’ll just type it out.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

I finally managed to get the hang of Georgina’s camera (although by now I should say my camera) in close up mode, and so took pictures of Yvonne’s Bead Jewellery creations. She has a couple of commissions on the basis of these already, and I’m pleased to be able to photograph them properly.

I had a nice job at work on the 18th, a private Yacht up to West India Dock for the Olympics, they were a very nice crew and I had a superb lunch. (Rack of Lamb, Sauté Potatoes and a mixed salad since you asked) The owner is the guy who owns Westfield shopping centres, but he wasn't on board.

Back to reality afterwards, with a vegetable oil tanker away from Erith,

we had to rush as the tide was falling and we were running out of water under the ship, but I managed to get into the deeper water in time. A couple of interesting moments, especially as the Captain could see the mud we were churning up, but I guess that earned me my wages. Just don’t ask how much clearance we had!

Back home, I’m still trying to get enough Blackcurrants to make jam, with just a few to ripen, I still need about half a pound, if only we hadn’t had so much rain, I threw a lot of rotten bunches away where they were so wet.

I made French bread, and used the remnants of the sourdough for croutons. I also made a focaccia with fried chorizo and gnocchi topping (a Spanish/Italian fusion)

Croutons, and Chorizo/Gnocchi topping

And I made some oat and Cranberry/Sultana flapjacks. In my haste, and because I don’t make them very often, I forgot that you were supposed to cream the butter and sugar, and threw all the dry ingredients in together. Leaving me the butter and eggs to mix, and add everything else in a heap. Fortunately, they came out edible. As Yvonne limits herself to one biscuit at coffee time I made her a special one.

Yvonnes "Single biscuit" at front

Focaccia ready to cook

French Bread Prooving

We went to an NGS garden near Kingsbridge as it was not raining, a lovely place overlooking the sea, with a very interesting driftwood chair, and some nice mosiac work.

View from Bedroom window!

Of course we had to sample the Tea and cakes, then we headed into Kingsbridge for a wander around.  

I found a Horseradish root in a veg shop in Kingsbridge, and as the slugs have ensured that I wont be growing any this year, I decided to buy it and put it in the freezer after grating. The lady in the shop was unsure how to prepare it for sauce; and we had a good chat about the perils of grating Horseradish in an enclosed space. When I got home I cheated and used my processor, however it was not really up to the job, and I could smell that distinctive burning smell that you get from about to retire electric motors.

Saturday has started clear and warm, maybe a bit of light gardening is in order.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


The sourdough that I talked about last time is rising very slowly,



and just for a change it’s raining again. It’s really starting to get us down now, in winter you expect a bit of rain, but usually it warms up and is Sunny in July. Its so cool and wet here on the English Riviera, it must have something to do with “Climate Change” as Global warming is now known.

Later that day……………………….

Lunch found me wondering what to do that was quick and simple. An omelette would be nice. I fried Chorizo cubes and some potato gnocchi, meanwhile whisking up eggs and grated cheese. I think you can guess the rest.

The bread came out nicely, maybe I could have let it rise for a little longer, but it has that sour taste that I love, and is moist and chewy. I have been making the mistake of thinking that my bread should come out like shop brought, and searching for a large rise every time, when I should have been concentrating on the flavour. I have asked the birthday gift fairy for a lame (or a grignette) to help me slash the loaves as my current knife is not up to the job.

Whilst I was preparing our Sunday roast ( 2.5 Kilo Beef Rump since you asked), I remembered a traumatic experience I had several years ago. It’s stayed with me as a reminder that good food doesn’t just happen. I’m referring to GRAVY. Probably the most important part of a meal for me, and if it’s worth doing, it needs doing properly.

Anyway, the story, well before we had our daughters, we stayed for the weekend with some friends (no names or they will be ex-friends) who coked roast chicken for our Sunday lunch. The lady of the house was preparing to serve the food when she realised that she hadn’t made gravy. Quickly she poured the meat juices away whilst putting the kettle on and reaching for the CHICKEN GRAVY GRANULES (Made by a well known supermarket chain) I thought I was going to have a seizure.

I come from a family of gravyaholics, and I have instilled it into my daughters, so that, when we get invited for a meal, it’s up to standard, gravy-wise.  So here is a list of what’s in my beef gravy today.

The water I used to boil the potatoes, parsnips and onions.
Some of the last beef gravy, defrosted. Gravy is like sourdough, you can keep a starter, just as long as you ensure that it’s boiled before use, you can keep adding to it, and/or freezing a particularly good one.
Good quality tomato puree, or some pasta sauce, but not too much,
Sea salt and black pepper,
Meat juices – minus the fat,
A little cornflour to thicken. How thick is a matter for you, as long as you can’t carve it!

Not much to say about the photo, it’s brown and opaque, I do hate see-through gravy.

Incidentally, you may wonder why I am cooking 2.5 kilo’s of meat when there are only two of us. Well….. the meat was on special, half price, ( £12.50) and if I slice it all, I will probably get about 14 servings. That’s seven meals at less than a pound a portion.  And the cooked meat is versatile, we will have braised beef in gravy, chop the slices and stir fry in black bean sauce, just warm for an instant roast etc etc.

Don’t get me started about roast potatoes. That’s another story.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Saturday Morning

Strange things keep happening, I turned my phone off before we went into the theatre to see Colin Fry, but got a message received bleep on the way in. But there was no message on my “Silent” phone. And on Monday, I could hear a voice on it, although I had ended the call to my daughter! Not only that; Yvonne was present and heard it as well, like an indistinct echo of a bad connection.

Blood Doners yesterday; so that was an excuse for a large breakfast, (If one was needed) and lots of coffee/liquids. Also we went into the Black Cat for a cake afterwards.

I started giving blood years ago, and took my daughters along to show them how painless it was, and encourage them to donate. When I first took Naomi (now a Midwife), I was alarmed to find that halfway through donating, the line started leaking somewhere between the cannula and the bag. The result of that was that blood was pouring on to the floor. Naomi went a little pale when I asked the nurse, who hadn’t noticed, if the blood wasn’t supposed to be going into the bag. It didn’t put her off.

And now, we have had a call from Naomi to say that she has crashed her car. Apparently someone was driving like a pr*t in front of her and in trying to get out of the way, she hit the central reservation. I know from experience that there are a lot of people using the M25 who haven’t got a clue what they are doing so I can totally understand what she means. There are times when I have only just escaped from the lane changing, pointless braking, phone using, totally out-of-their-depth sort of driver who cause an accident, meanwhile continuing blindly on- blissfully unaware of the carnage behind.

To say I am upset is putting it mildly. At least she (and everyone else) is OK, because whatever you might think, you can always get another car. Someone is obviously watching over her.

Blood donation went well, in and out in 25 minutes, good banter with the staff, and then with Yvonne to The Black Cat for a piece of cake and tea. And we got home before it rained.

Now it’s Saturday morning and I’m about to wrestle with my sourdough, I fed it last night and left it out to bubble, so we will see how it performs.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

I’m suffering from a severe case of not really knowing what to write about at the moment, it feels like my life has stalled and that I’m just marking time. I’m not really sure what the hold-up is, but I have felt for some time that I am supposed to be doing something different, especially with all the spare time that I now have. It’s an ideal opportunity to develop my ideas in a new direction. The trouble is, I can’t see which direction to move in. I certainly don’t want to go back to full time working, and shifts are right out. The fact that I can’t think of what to write would seem to preclude a career in the printed word, and my cooking will never make my fortune, so what to do?

When I was young, I wondered what I would do and see, and I guess it must have been the same for my parents, watching me grow, not knowing what I would become.
Now that I’m a father myself, I have felt that sense of wondrous anticipation for my children, and dare I say it for their children as well.

I wonder if one day, a part of me will stand on an alien shore, bathed in the glow of a giant red sun, with their whole world shades of pale rose. Will there be some connection then, can I believe that a part of me will be there through my nucleotides?
And what will he (or she or they) achieve, will their lives be meaningful, of course in the great scheme of things all life is meaningful, and you never know what the results of today’s actions will be, but I think you get the picture.

We went to Babbacombe Theatre to see Colin Fry last Saturday, a really good evening with a tremendous atmosphere, and a very rewarding experience, in many ways. Not that we had a message specifically, but the whole thing only served to reinforce our beliefs. And the one thing that comes out over it all is that this isn’t everything that there is, it’s only the start. What we think of as the end is merely the end of this bit.

 Funnily enough, talking about the atmosphere in the theatre, there was even more of a crackling tension in the air at the nearby pub where we had a drink before the show. And a lot of the people in the pub were at the theatre later.

 I feel that I have strayed away from the food based theme of this post, but wanted to get that out of my system.

We have actually had a few days without major rain, still a few showers but no flooding downpours. Anyone who has been to Singapore will know about the 3pm shower, we had a few of those over the weekend.

I’ve cooked lots since my last post, some of which suffers from the miss-naming problem. Yvonne’s favourite is “Shepherds Pie” but made with Beef mince so it really should be “Cottage Pie” I guess. However in our family the content is immaterial, in fact if I made it with Lamb mince I suspect that it wouldn’t go down so well. This time I had a secret ingredient to add to the mince, Chilli Chocolate! It gives a much rounder flavour and a bit of a kick as well, so if you try adding it to your version, whatever it’s name, it might be an idea to reduce the garlic a bit.

On the subject of Lamb mince, we both like Moroccan style spiced lamb, with Apricots, currents, pistachio nuts and couscous; I actually use a ready made Tagine paste to flavour it and some home made pitta breads add the final touch.

Bread wise, I have made Pizza dough,

Freeform Pizza


and a no-knead wholemeal loaf,

all coming out well, the baguettes were from a Dutch website, The Weekend Bakery, which is a good source of inspiration. Check it out here:

I also made some choc-chip shortbread, using Yvonne’s grandmothers’ recipe, which substitutes half the flour for semolina, it makes it a lot crunchier.

Because I had to dig my potatoes early, I now have a huge surplus, and I’m looking at ways to use them up. Also I always buy frozen pastry as I can’t do it myself (Pathetic isn’t it), today’s mission was to make a Homity Pie, that’s a mixture of potato, onion and cheese in a pastry flan case.

The easiest way to get the right amount of raw potato is to fill the container before you start prepping,

Just enough Potatoes

the onion and cheese will go in the gaps when you assemble. Until I realised this I used to either have too many or not enough. This time I used a mixture of red and white potatoes, cutting them into small pieces and boiling until soft. Meanwhile I chopped and fried onion and garlic. I rolled out the pastry and filled the baking dish.

You can blind bake pastry without baking beans if you prick the pastry with a fork before you cover it in foil.

About 15 minutes covered at 180 degrees then 5-10 minutes uncovered to brown.

When the potatoes are cooked drain and allow to cool. Add the onion and garlic and a sprinkle of mustard powder and mix well. Don’t worry if the potatoes break up a bit, they will be fine.

Put the mixture in your pastry case and top with grated cheese.

Cook it at 180 until warmed through and the cheese is melted and bubbling. Any spare pastry can be made into easy cheese biscuits, just roll out the pastry, sprinkle with cheese and laminate a few times before baking.

 My blackcurrants are rotting on the bush, where there has been so much rain; the bunches of berries have got soaked and there has been no warmth to dry and ripen them. So it looks like my jam making is on hold for a while, until I can mix what I can salvage with any Blackberries that have survived the carnage at Sharkham. (All the bushes were cut down in January this year) At least last years Elderflower wine is ready to drink.