24 Oct 2012

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 pasteurised in what is more or less a hot water urn: the bottles sit in 80 degrees of water for about 25 minutes.

Tony's currently thinking about label designs. I'm thinking of names. The Cox juice is tart: apple elixir to cure the vapours, to battle against an excess of sentiment, to strengthen resolve.  The Golden Delicious is sweeter: apple ambrosia to soften the heart, to dilute harsh words, for sweet dreams.
 
If you know me and live close enough you can guess what you'll be having for Christmas. In the meantime, if you live close-by and you have pigs then we're your answer:
 
 
Although we can help out in a number of other ways too. If you have warts: rub them with two halves of a cut apple then bury it. Or if you have an apple-shaped birthmark, rub that with an apple and then eat it. Or rheumatism: rub the affected area with a rotten apple. 
 
I also have a recipe in my head for hot apple punch: apple juice, rum or brandy, brown sugar and cinnamon. I might try that this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about something you see everywhere.
Write about the weather ruining your plans.
Write about sharpness.
Write about pigs.
Write about a magical cure. 
 

17 Oct 2012

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 that even your least experienced kitchen member could lay out a cheese and charcuterie platter, wouldn't you? It sounded good if a bit pricey at £20. The Mermaid Deli Board - hot baked cheese, cold meats, chutneys, pickles, home made bread - and the prep was impressive: a waiter brought one of those tiered metal stands that normally holds a plate of Fruits de Mer to our table, laid out silverware, plates and napkins. I'd drawn a face in the foam on my half a Guinness. Tony was sipping a pear cider. We were happy. Then the food arrived.

Think of three small twists of singed baking parchment each holding a smear of liqueyfied, unrecogniseable cheese. Now think of the unnatural sweaty pink of thick sliced processed ham. A single rumpled circle of Italian salami. And the tour de force: a slab of chorizo. The kind of slab you get when you open a packet of ready sliced chorizo and instead of unpeeling each slice and layering them on a plate, you just pick up the whole thing and slap it onto some salad leaves.
 
The Restaurant Manager took the plate back into the kitchen and came back with the chef's apology: he hadn't supervised that plate, hadn't checked it before it left. We could have something else, anything at all, or a refund.
 
By this time we'd eaten the three small bread rolls (Three?? Were we supposed to arm wrestle for the third?), the contents of the butter dish and the ounce of chicken liver pate on the plate. Not a substantial lunch but the trouble with bad food is that it puts you off eating anything else. We took the refund. But paid for our drinks.
 
They could have been more considerate. They could have offered the drinks on the house. Or lunch for free on another day. They might have if I'd insisted but complaining once was all I was prepared to do. If they don't care enough about their reputation  to ensure that dissatisfied customers end up satisfied then why should I?

A group of people were looking for a table so I told them we were leaving. 'Don't have the cheese and charcuterie,' I said. They laughed. 'I'm not joking,' I said. Then they looked at me suspiciously. 'Really,' I said. I was starting to sound like Ray Winstone so I smiled and left.

There's a wooden carving above the gorgeous inglenook fire in the bar: it looks like dancing babies.


In fact, they are running away. Run, babies, run.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write a menu for a meal you would hate to eat.
Write a list of complaints.
Write about happy faces.
Write a list of apologies.
Write about running.

2 Oct 2012

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 closes with:
 
the delicate hairs on the nape
of my neck…..
 
hold a scent so frail and precise as a fleet
of tiny origami ships, just setting out to sea.
 
 
I can try and articulate why that makes sense to me, but it feels right before I even begin to think about it. Intimacy and fragility: there’s a connection there.
 
I can’t imagine anyone without a sense of taste wanting to try the stilton with mango after I tell them it tastes like tomcats! But maybe they would want to try the easiest Thai green chicken curry in the world if I told them it tasted like mini lightning bolts trapped in a silk scarf, or like the heat that makes your foot tingle when you first step into a bubble bath, the sparkle of foam.
 

I served it on a bed of steamed shredded cabbage and ribbons of carrots which I’d sprinkled with some crushed cumin and fennel seeds during the cooking time. The flavour of that worked perfectly with the Thai blend of ingredients. Would the curry have been better if I’d started with all the ingredients from scratch rather than using the paste? Possibly. Probably. But sometimes cooking is like sending an email to an old friend rather than a long letter to your great aunt. Comfy and quick with the shorthand you can use with someone who knows you well. And the ready-made paste was my shorthand.
 
Thai Green Chicken Curry (courtesy of Blue Dragon)
 
1 tbsp oil
¼ jar of paste
400 ml of coconut milk (there’s a half-fat version out now)
2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 pepper thinly sliced (or mix up different colours as I did)
 
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the paste for 2 minutes. Then add the coconut milk and mix in well. When it’s hot add the chicken and pepper and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Coriander is pretty on the side and you can always have rice with it if you’re not into cabbage. The sound of the word isn’t great, I have to admit. Cabbage? What does it sound like? 
Shredded cabbage and carrot ribbons steamed with crushed cumin and fennel seeds
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about the smell of summer.
  • Write about a smell that reminds you of sadness.
  • Write about a sound that makes you feel happy.
  • Write about something fragile.
  • Write about taking a bath.