29 Jan 2013

Filling v Satisfying

I am starving and excited to discover a pack of beef sausages in the fridge that my step-daughter bought for me at Christmas: part of a 'tastes of Tottenham' hamper that included chinese rice crackers, mango, fresh ginger, coconut, garlic cloves in chilli and greek yoghurt. 

98% beef the label says and they have a delicious piquant aroma while they're cooking. I love merguez, the north african spicy lamb sausages so popular in France, so I have high hopes for these. 

A dish of shredded steamed cabbage sounds like the ideal vegetable to go with them although the idea of 'sausage and cabbage' immediately conjures the image of a toothless and head-scarfed eastern-European woman ladling soup into a wooden bowl. Any fertile imagination will sometimes draw on a bank of absurd racial cliches... 


But I do want to like this dish so much. It sounds tasty. And it looks lovely:


And it's not that it tastes bad exactly, more that it has all the characteristics of 'filling' and not many of 'satisfying'. It's perhaps the spice that's overdone, making me suspicious of the quality of the meat. Or maybe the heavy minced texture of the sausage that's unappealing. But I eat it anyway. And feel even more like a babushka, my thick socks wrinkling around my ankles, chewing my toothless gums in front of an open fire. The open fire bit is true.  

More of a successful experiment this week was almost-instant treacle sponge pudding. I've only ever tried one other microwave cake recipe before - a chocolate cake in a mug - and it was pretty dire. But this one really worked out well. I recommend adding about four times the quantity of treacle though. Here's the finished pudding, microwaved in a plastic Christmas pudding container I'd saved.



And here's the recipe:


You have to eat it all straight away, or within an hour or so. It hardens to a hollow-knock by the next morning. But I'm sure you won't have a problem - the 'Serves 4' on the recipe is optimistic to say the least. Unless you're a family of Mbutsi pygmies.

Hungry Writing Prompts 
Write about a discovery.
Write about the tastes that encapsulate your town or country.
Write about what disappoints you.
Write about sweetness.
Write about feeling small.  



12 Jan 2013

Writing maps and writer's block

The inspiration for this post comes from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps. 


I'm beginning to think about other writing projects because I'm close to finishing the MSS for Real Port Talbot. I've overdone the required word count by about 5,000 but I've always found it easier to edit than write so I don't think I'll have a problem whittling away and compressing. 

Once the MSS is with the publisher I'll be free to start something else. But what? I have some vague ideas but nothing concrete and little writing tools like these maps, creative kick-starts to the imagination, are ideal in uncovering what's lurking in my subconscious as well as the dark and dusty places of my conscious mind.

I took a tour around my kitchen today (one of the maps is called Write Around the House), taking photos at random so I can use them as prompts later. 


Colours are good: brainstorming around them taps into all kinds of memories.


And time. The time spent in different rooms. Or the passage of it. When it seems to stand still. 

The clock above came from the kitchen of the house in France. It's only just over a year since we moved back but already it seems rather dreamlike. Five years that have shrunk into a memory that feels like the size of a clementine, small enough to hold in my hand. How can time do that? 

What are the occasions when time really slows down? When I'm eating something exquisite, something I don't want to end, time doesn't seem to move at all.

I don't believe in writer's block. There's not wanting to write. Or not being happy with what we've written. But we can always write about something.


Hungry writing prompts

  • Write about the map of your life.
  • Write about the colour blue.
  • Write about being late.
  • Write about holding something in your hand.
  • Write about what stops you from doing things.




1 Jan 2013

Let's do breakfast...

Are you a black coffee and a cigarette? Three cups of tea? Juice and toast? A bowl of cereal? Eggs? Full English? Or a Full Welsh - with laverbread and/or cockles? Kippers? Here's one of the loveliest breakfasts I've ever had:
 
 
A poached egg and thick cut bacon on a slice of Welsh Rarebit at the Gwesty Cymru in Aberystwyth. I tend not to make poached eggs at home. They make me nervous... you can never be sure there'll be no sloppy white inside until you cut them open and then it's too late to do anything about it. If anyone has a fool proof way of cooking them then please, please let me know.
 
So scrambled is my fallback process at home: with a good dollop of creme fraiche added towards the end of cooking to keep them creamy, a sprinkling of chopped chives and, when I have them in the bread bin, dry-fried croissant slices.
 
 
In his book, At Home, Bill Bryson describes a breakfast eaten by the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852): 'two pigeons and three beef steaks, three parts of a bottle of Moselle, a glass of champagne, two glasses of port and a glass of brandy.' Maybe you need to have a battle scheduled for that day to want to pack that lot into your belly.
 
My Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management from 1912 lists a menu for a simple breakfast in Winter: Cream of Wheat, Scrambled Eggs, Fried Bacon, Brawn, Baked Apples, Scones, Toast, Bread, Butter, Jam, Tea, Coffee, Hot and Cold Milk. Yep, that's simple! I'm sure there wasn't always the time to tackle the Family Breakfast menus that included: grilled kidneys, baked halibut steaks, cold ham, croquettes of fish, fried whiting, veal cake, sausages and game pie.
 
Your husband/wife/partner asking you to drop a slice of bread into the toaster and pass the jam out of the fridge pales into insignificance, doesn't it?
 
Mrs Beeton believed that the 'moral and physical welfare of mankind depends largely on its breakfast'. Hmmm... it's the kind of statement that makes you wonder what Attila the Hun, Hitler, Gandhi and Mother Theresa ate for breakfast. However, when she says, 'A being well fed and warmed is naturally on better terms with himself', that makes perfect sense to me. I get grumpy when I'm hungry.
 
Mrs Beeton also has lots of sage advice about laying the breakfast table: what cutlery to provide, where the serviette might be positioned, where on the table any cold dishes should be placed. It's a minefield... Fortunately there are 'no hard-and-fast rules... for the disposal of the cruets, butter, toast, eggs, marmalade.' Thank goodness. The times I've stood over the breakfast table with the salt pot and butter dish in my hands and not a clue where to put them : )
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about the first thing you ate this morning.
  • Write about a safety net.
  • Write about a battle.
  • Write about someone's morals.
  • Write about being grumpy.