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Writing frenzy, eating...?

What's the opposite of a frenzy? Whatever it is, that's what food has become for me. I am writing and editing like a woman possessed and eating like a woman who's forgotten how to cook. Wraps. Vegetables thrown in the Actifry for 20 minutes. Clementines. Crisps and cheese. That's the bulk of my diet right now. I just need to get 8,000 to 10,000 words of Real Port Talbot done over the next 4 or 5 days and then I'll be able to relax over the Christmas week. And speak to people. And eat. And breathe. In an attempt to make myself appear as if I am still interested in food I've changed the banner picture on my hungry writer Facebook page to last year's Christmas table. Before the scrum. I went for silvery and understated. This year I'm going for jolly red and green and gold.

And here's a pic of the sprouts with bacon and pine nut sauce I'll make.

 And here's a glass of champagne. Yay! Yes, please!


I'll be back here before the festivities begin t…

The F word. No, not that one.

You wouldn’t have seen me within sniffing distance of these 30 years ago and I like to think that it’s a discerning palate and not age that accounts for my conversion. I’m sure there’ll be a whole swathe of people out there who would still step back quickly at the mention of them but if you belong to that group try and rein in your prejudice, and stifle any early memories of four sloppy granular balls in an aluminium container with a cardboard label stamped with the word ‘Brains’, until you have visited Bro’s CafĂ© on Llewellyn’s Quay in Port Talbot, run by Mark and Alison Mizen, and ordered these little beauties.

Oh unfussy deliciousness. But… if anything needs a name makeover in the culinary world it’s the humble faggot. From a bundle of sticks to a cigarette, from a 16th century abusive term for old stick-gathering women to North American hate-speech targeting gay men, it’s carrying a lot of baggage before it even arrives on your plate.  Wiki’s page about the origins and evolution of…

Apple Butter... oh oh, I feel an analogy coming on

I should know better.
I'm the one who nipped Tony's analogy-making in the bud when the phrase, 'If I could just make an analogy...', was becoming an unconscious habit rather than an occasional interruption. I'm not against analogies per se. I just don't want to be force fed one in every conversation. But here I am about to serve one up in a jar for you. I think we've done our last picking in the apple orchard. What remained on the trees of the Golden Delicious and the Cox have long dropped. Pecked by pheasants and drenched in rain they have slowly dissolved into the earth around the trees. The Ida Reds are hardier and most of them are still on the bare branches, a remarkable sight last weekend: red apples in bright winter sunshine against a blue sky. We won't manage to pick them all though: we invested in 300 bottles and have chopped, crushed and juiced enough apples to fill 220. The latest picking has yielded enough for the remaining 80. We've worke…

Out to impress

I was 26 when I met Tony, back in 1985, and had always lived on my own until then. The idea of shopping for a family and planning meals for days ahead was an alien concept. On our first trip to Safeway together, as I pushed the trolley from aisle to aisle hoping for inspiration and he lagged behind, he said, 'So what are you doing, just picking up bits and pieces, shopping for the week? Or what?' 'I don't know!' But having you drifting around my heels like tumbleweed isn't helping, okay? I didn't articulate that last sentence. I'd only moved in with him a week earlier and before that we'd spent nine days in total together. This was a learning process for both of us. I think it's natural to want to impress new loves in our lives: we want to show them (consciously or unconsciously) that we are their best choice, we want to make them happy, we want them to admire us, not be disappointed. I remember making two and three course meals with wine every n…

How to disappoint a hungry writer...

I guess the lesson is: Don't believe everything you read. Nothing remotely edible at the old Penrhyn Gate to the Steelworks in Port Talbot. But I bet they did a great bacon bap in their day.

Luckily 12 Cafe in Taibach came to the rescue with Cheese and Potato Pie. The next day Tambini's in Margam fed me a Ron Evan's Mince and Onion Pie and a Custard Slice.

There are stories everywhere I look: this writing under the bridge, the old ruined chapel on Mynydd Margam, and this gravestone in the Holy Cross graveyard in Taibach:


Lost at sea: a phrase that conjures stories, real and imagined, language powerful enough to transport us to the storm-wrapped deck of a ship, the hollow left in a woman's life. Powerful enough to be grateful for the nearness of our own family.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about a lie.
Write about a wall.
Write a list of the last 10 things you ate.
Write about standing at a graveside.
Write about what's close to you.


Living appley ever after

Apples everywhere at the moment: on trees, windfalls in the long grass, and in trailers:




Temperamental weather has left us (and lots of other apple growers) with the worst apple harvest for years - particularly in orchards planted with Cox. And guess what we've got? The applejuice man we sold our crop to last year said it wasn't worth his while sending out pickers and bins and lorries for the few tonnes that we do have so we've started to juice the apples ourselves. We had a trial run (to see what the juice tasted like) with my electric Champion 200 fruit and vegetable juicer and then kitted ourselves out with some proper (if small scale) gear:

From the top: the metal hopper and windable crusher, then the press underneath and the bucket with a tap on the floor. The only thing we add to the juice, in the bucket, is ascorbic acid (basically vitamin C) to stop it going brown, and we let is sit for a few hours to settle before siphoning it into sterilised bottles. Then it gets p…

Bad food

I'm attracting bad food. And in places where I really don't expect to. I tried Carluccio's Pasta Fritta a couple of weeks back - pasta 'crisps' with herbs and sea salt. Sounded good, something savoury to go with the pre-dinner olives and wine. No. They are two words I do not want to see together again, on the page or on a plate. Think salted, wilted cardboard. Perhaps I was unlucky. Carluccio's is generally a good bet. Perhaps I should have stuck with the pasta as a maincourse though because my Italian Sausage with Lentils didn't win any prizes for its looks and only scraped above an average mark in taste. I didn't complain about the pasta crisps and I should have. There could be someone in the kitchen who needs to be told they're doing something wrong. And there was someone in the kitchen at the Giant's Bar in the Mermaid in Rye yesterday - a restaurant and hotel whose reputation has muscles on its muscles - who needed telling. You'd think t…

The scent of memory

This is an appetiser: But work with me first. How do you describe the smell of rain to someone? Or the scent that rises from a drawer full of fresh but worn bed linen when you first open it? I have been trying to capture the smell of my dad’s black donkey jacket, the one he wore to work in the 1960s. When he came home from his shifts at the steelworks he hung it under the stairs in the porch. The closest I can get is ‘a mixture of oil and cold weather and the inside of a lorry cab’.  Tony bought some cheese a couple of weeks ago, two white stiltons, one with chopped mango the other with blueberries. I couldn’t eat the first one: it tasted like tomcats to me. ‘I know what you mean,’ his daughter said. Not that either of us, please believe me, have tasted any part of a tom cat but there was something about the acidity, the sourness, that automatically conjured the image in my head. Or in my mouth. There’s a poem by Kate Clanchy called, 'Poem for a man with no sense of smell’ that close…

Highs and lows: food to die for and food that just dies

Expectations are slippery little suckers. They can send you sliding towards ecstasy or straight into a black hole. I wonder what the statistics are of expectations realised and expectations vaporised?  If you Google ‘having expectations’ a list of pop-psychology responses trickles down the screen: Have no expectations. Just see where life takes you. Expectations harm relationships. Manifest desires freely by having no expectations. But some people are more positive or upbeat about them: Let us be about setting high standards for life, love, creativity, and wisdom. If our expectations in these areas are low, we are not likely to experience wellness. Setting high standards makes every day and every decade worth looking forward to. Greg Anderson Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents with high expectations. Bob Beauprez It is great to be a blonde. With low expectations it's very easy to surprise people. Pamela AndersonEdward d…

Well fed in Port Talbot and chameleon grapes

I don’t think that many people stay at Blanco’s Port Talbot for the view. Carpark on both sides and on the perimeter of the town’s by-pass roads. But I just stuck my camera out of the window and Mynydd Dinas in the background makes it a lot better than I’d imagined. But as I said it’s not the view you want to come here for: it’s the food. I’ve only had two breakfasts and one dinner so far and my 'impressed' monitor just keeps climbing. This morning I had Eggs Benedict, with Welsh bacon.  (Little aside: 'Eggs' is mine and Tony’s nickname for the current Pope.) Yesterday, I had two perfect fried eggs on wholemeal toast. Last night, for dinner, I had the Celtic Pride Welsh Beef fillet steak… ahhhh!!! Opened like butter to the slight pressure of a knife and was cooked with culinary precision to medium rare. I’m in my own little food heaven this week. I bumped into Rachel Howells at the library this morning. Rachel’s a journalist with Port Talbot Magnet, an online news site tha…

A will of iron: take a bow, Tony

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the BBC2 Horizon programme (Donks, fish and muffin tops) about how fasting can make you healthier, and slimmer, and  recklessly announced I was going to adopt the two day fasting/five day eating routine. And I did. For 2 days and 5 days. Then I promptly forgot all about it. Tony, however, decided to hit the fasting ground running and for the last three weeks his daily diet has comprised of soup, a few grilled vegetables on some days and hot drinks. I think it was the combination of the Horizon programme with the Hairy Dieters' determination to reduce their weight and body fat (one of them reckoned he was the human equivalent of foie gras...) that propelled him into extreme action. But I have to say that Tony does have a will of iron once he gets into the right frame of mind. He also says that he finds it much easier to go with the draconian measures rather than cutting down. There's no such thing as, 'I'll just have the one boiled egg&#…

I heart tomatoes

I Y tomatoes. Not in a salad where their seeds and juice run into the leaves and make them soggy but salted on a plate of their own, or chopped and cooked for a few minutes over a high heat in some olive oil and hot spice and served on toast, or stuffed with a savoury mince and topped with grated cheese and flashed under the grill. I like them sliced on top of a cheese and potato pie and sprinkled with oregano. (Does anyone make cheese and potato pie anymore?) I like them picked from the vine and eaten while they're still warm. I like them on a Margherita pizza. I like cherry tomatoes on the vine sprinkled with coarse sea-salt and roasted in the oven until their skins plump up but don't burst. I like them slow roasted. I like sun-dried tomatoes, sun-blush tomatoes, green tomato chutney, home-made salsa. And I think this tomato likes me. My step-daughter grew this one - in fact she had three perfectly heart-shaped tomatoes from her father-in-law's greenhouse. John died last …

OMG - chips. Let me rephrase that. CHIPS!!

I interviewed BBC Radio Wales’ iconic gay radio presenter, Chris Needs, a week ago (for Real Port Talbot) and he has converted me. I can now stand up and say, proudly: my name is Lynne Rees and I am an Actifryer. 
Chris has a clutch of homes in different parts of the world and is so attached to the Tefal Actifry he has one in each of them. I quizzed him about the chips. C’mon, are they really that good? Are they as good as deep-fried home-cooked chips? Can you make enough chips in one of those things? Yes. Yes. And yes. 
There was only way to find out.
The secret to getting them crispy is to make sure all the starch is rinsed from the raw chips and they’re completely dry when you put them in.
I made 500gr of chips (about 2 decent sized, but not enormous, jacket-type potatoes) and used 7.5 ml of olive oil. Definitely enough for two people. Or one greedy one.
You can make up to a kilo adding a maximum of 14 ml of any oil you like. Even as I pressed the ON button, and heard the appliance blow…