Tuesday

Dreams. A new word. And a mushroom tartling.

I dream about food. Spiced lamb samosas for a dinner party of 12 until my friend says that at least three or four guests are vegetarian. What about the others? I ask her. Do they eat red meat? I don’t think so, she says. And there’s less than an hour before everyone arrives. We could go and get fish and chips, I suggest. But now I don’t want to be the one in charge. I don’t want to face these disappointed and disagreeable people. I say to her, if they’re invited to someone’s house for dinner they’ll just refuse to eat what they’re served? That’s just plain bad manners. I’m losing in all directions: my food, my friends, my generosity of spirit.

A fish-hook dream: one that threatens to tug me along by the lip for the rest of the day if I let it. And I don’t have to let it. I just have to recognise that my emotional response has been produced by the dream’s wake. I can keep my head above the water; I don’t have to go under.

~~~

This morning the lawn is spiked with tiny mushrooms. 


I watch their caps soften and stretch like Dali’s soft watches until they’re just a smear of their former selves. Mushroom identification, on the web, is more challenging than I thought it would be but, as far as I can tell, these are Coprinopsis atramentaria – common ink caps – which are poisonous when consumed with alcohol. No danger of that happening: they’re not the most appetising looking fungi around, particularly as they slip towards their demise, but I’m grateful to them for introducing me to the delicious word of ‘deliquescence’, to dissolve gradually by absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, to melt away. But as beautiful as it is I can’t imagine ever using it in a line of prose or poetry; words with their roots in Old English, like melt and soften, feel more comfortable in my mouth, sound more authentic in my voice on the page.

But let’s stay with mushrooms. More specifically Mushroom Tartlings.  (Or ‘tartlets’ if you’re from the BBC or just prefer proper words.) I use these loose-bottomed tins, prick the base of the pastry with a fork and pile in the mushroom mixture. That way there’s less of a puff pastry frame to munch your way through. 


They are lovely - sweet and meaty in a non-meaty way. So why didn’t I think of these in my dream for the wanting vegetarians and unfairly judged non-red meat eaters? I could have saved myself all that angst. Kept my friends. But it usually involves a morsel of pain, a sprinkling of regret for not knowing better sooner, for me to learn something. In dreams and waking life. 

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about losing a friend.
Write about the early morning.
Write about poison.
Write about melting away.
Write about saving yourself.

Wednesday

Last night the rain...

...woke me. In the dark a loud volley of drops ricocheted off the Velux window, rushed and hard, like rain wanting to pass and getting it over quickly. This morning the sky still holds its echo and the espalier wire around the cherry trees hangs onto its presence: a flick would send them bouncing. 

after the rain
Does rain make you nostalgic? I remember picnics on the back seats of cars. Plastic raincoats that unfold from a packet the size of a matchbox. The smell of rust on a metal drainpipe. What's your memory of rain?

But before the rain we ate outside, a trial run of two new recipes - chicken tikka and chicken satay, grilled on the barbecue. I've listed the recipes at the end of the post.


chicken tikka and chicken satay


chargrilled red peppers, chicken tikka and satay skewers,
peanut sauce and tikka sauce
Then later we took the tractor around the orchard.


sunset in the apple orchard
Some days seem to unwrap themselves organically with no effort from us, each segment evolving perfectly into the next. 

Other days resist our every move. As Tony can confirm. He fell over five times on Sunday. 

Helping to lever the mower onto the tractor he stepped back into a dip and fell into a bed of thistles.

'You alright there, Tony,' Aaron the tractor man asked as Tony wiggled around, trying every which way to get up without pushing down onto the stingers.
'Yeah, fine, having a great time. Just call me Brer Rabbit.' 

Later the nozzle on the pipe from the diesel tank refused to click off when he was filling the tractor, spilling the fuel over the engine, so he grabbed the nozzle then slipped in the fuel that had pooled on the hard standing. He got up, stuck the nozzle in an empty can and went to run towards the packing shed to switch off the electric pump... and slipped on the fuel again.

'You should have seen me,' he said. 'I was like bloody Spiderman sliding around on the concrete.'

After he'd cleared up he got on the tractor to go cut the grass in the orchard but as the soles of his boots still had traces of diesel on them he slipped off the footstep banging his shin.

And finally, when he got off the tractor between two rows of apple trees he stepped back into a big mound of dried grass and went arse over heels again.

I didn't laugh once. Well, not at the time because I wasn't around to see any of them. But I was wiping tears from my eyes when he recounted each fall that evening. 

As I said, some days are just the best : ) 

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about the sound of rain.
  2. Write about a picnic.
  3. Write about falling.
  4. Write about a cartoon character.
  5. Write about the best.


Chicken Tikka Marinade
I came up with this after reading a number of different recipes and adding a few personal substitutions when I didn't have any particular ingredient.

150 ml full fat yoghurt
1 tbsp oil
1 heaped tbsp of Very Lazy Ginger - chopped more finely.
1 finely chopped garlic clove
quarter of a teaspoon of hot chilli flakes and a good pinch each of cardamom seeds and fennel seeds, ground to as fine a powder as you can manage
1 tsp of curry powder
half teaspoon of turmeric
1 tsp of salt
30 gr of grated cheddar (I know, it sounded weird when I read it in one recipe but I gave it a go. Though I think you could leave it out and the marinade would still be nice.)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 beaten egg
2 heaped tbsp of ground almonds

Mix everything together really well, add to about 400 gr of cubed chicken breast, stir it all up and leave in the fridge overnight. 

This makes 4 reasonable skewers or 3 unreasonable ones.



If you're using wooden skewers make sure you soak them in water for a few  hours before threading the chicken onto them and barbecuing as this will stop them burning up completely. 

I had some marinade over so I heated it up (to avoid poisoning anyone with the raw egg), added a generous couple of dollops of mango chutney and some more yoghurt, warmed it through again and served it as an accompanying sauce.

Chicken Satay Marinade & Sauce
400 ml can of coconut milk
45 gr of dark brown sugar
2 tbsp of light soy sauce
2 tbsp of curry powder
1 tsp turmeric

Mix all these together and use to marinate about 600 gr of cubed chicken breast. A couple of hours will do but overnight is even better.

Drain the chicken, and thread onto skewers, and heat the marinade to a boil with another tablespoon of soy sauce and a small jar of crunchy peanut butter. Mine was 227 gr. Simmer and keep stirring until it thickens - the sauce starts to come away from the side of the saucepan. Add a tablespoon of lime juice, or more according to how zingy you like it.

Serve with the grilled chicken skewers. 

The skewers don't take long to cook... a matter of minutes on each side. Enough time to open a bottle of chilled rose and make a toast. Bon appetit. After a short while your table should look like this.




Tuesday

Wibbly Wobbly. Or Not.

I posted a link about champagne on Facebook recently. Scientists reckon that drinking between one and three glasses of champagne a week might counteract the memory loss associated with ageing and even help delay the onset of dementia.

There was half a bottle of Nicholas Feuillatte in the fridge last night, the still bouncy, sparkling leftovers from a lunch party on Sunday so I poured myself a glass and sipped it while watching You’ve Been Framed. (People falling over to Harry Hill’s witty commentary really cheers me up.) When I sidled into the kitchen during the commercial break for a refill, and a few slices of Wensleydale with cranberries on some fine milled oatcakes, I forgot to take the glass back with me. Up I got again, chatted to Tony who was making a cup of tea, then headed back to the lounge. Yep, that’s right. I forgot it a second time.

I blew apart a decade of research in the space of three minutes. And this morning my finger joints ached like bicycle pedals left out in the rain for months. Is champagne trying to tell me something?

lemon and sugar syrup bolstered
with gelatin
So what do you do with leftover champagne? Now there’s a question I never thought I’d ask myself; the surprises life throws at you as you get older. Google offers me recipes for Champagne sorbets and sauces, for cake-pops and jellies. I plump for jelly and put my trust in Delia.

After the trauma of working out how to convert leaf gelatin into its powdered equivalent I had hopes that the rest of the process would go smoothly. But nearly an hour and a half later my jugful of lemon and sugar, heavily gelatin-ed syrup is about as gelatinous as water. Delia says it should be starting to set by now, at which point I’m supposed to add my half pint of champagne, mix gently then pour it into jelly glasses to set to a soft wobble. However, my frosted grapes are looking cute.

frosted grapes
I should probably give up now. But I’ll wait for another hour or so to see if it begins to firm up. If not, then I’ll be forced to pour myself another couple of glasses of champagne tonight to finish the bottle while it still has a trace of fizz. If I remember.



Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write a list of things you have forgotten.
  • Write about leaving something behind.
  • Write about leftovers.
  • Write about waiting for something to begin.
  • Write about surrender.

Postscript


After adding a few more sheets of gelatin to the syrup, before I poured in the champagne, the jellies did eventually set. And very pretty they are too. I used creme fraiche on the top (rather than following Delia's idea for a syllabub) but plain double cream would be better. Or really thick vanilla custard. 


I didn't manage to keep the bubbles showing in the jelly but I was using leftover champagne (albeit with some fizz left in it). I just couldn't imagine opening a new bottle of champagne JUST to make jelly. Oh no!




Toast, Asparagus, Birthday Cake

Toast is the title of Nigel Slater's childhood memoirs remembered through food. I first came across the book when I was teaching creative writing at the University of Kent and offered it to students as an example of how memoir can be shaped by theme. Toast might be told through the vehicle of food but, inevitably, it's about so much more. Our lives are woven around eating at home, eating out, the buying and preparation of food, the rejection of it, the pleasure it can bring. Our days are measured by it. The people in our lives are marked by their loves and dislikes of it. 

I like Nigel Slater. I mean I like the voice and insights in his writing and the personality he presents on TV. There's a low key, 'drifting down a river, strolling along a country lane, let's have a nice cup of tea' kind of mood to his books and programmes. It might sound strange but there seems to be kindness in the things he does: kindness towards the food itself (laying them on the top of my bag like a fragile bunch of flowers - talking about asparagus), and towards his audience (his recipes are cosy invitations rather than risk-laden challenges). He describes himself as a home-cook, a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one. And how can you not love someone who says about their recipes: Short cuts are fine, rule breaking is fine. What matters is that the food we end up with is lick-the-plate delicious.

I have his Kitchen Diaries I & II propped open on my kitchen counter at the moment, reading his days as mine unfold. On Saturday June 1st (Volume II) he has a recipe for Asparagus Tarts that should come with a warning to eat them at the table. The butter puff pastry distributes itself in every direction when you bite into one on the sofa in front of the TV. The cat appreciated it: she likes crumbs of all kinds. 

I'd like to show you a photo of the puffed and golden, hot from the oven, ready to eat dish but I only remembered after I'd eaten them. But they looked, very satisfyingly, like the photo in the book, except Nigel Slater makes five long, skinny tarts from his sheet of puff pastry and my stumpy asparagus were better suited for quarters. 

Page 230 - The Kitchen Diaries II
I so love recipes that deliver their promise of deliciousness easily. I also love people who deliver promises of deliciousness and this is what my step-daughter, Zina, delivered to me on Sunday.

Zina's Carrot Cake
This wasn't any common or garden carrot cake. This was home-made perfection:  moist, carrot flecked sponge with a gentle crunch of walnuts and pecans and a hint of cinnamon, a cream cheese frosting with a zing of lime juice. And it was probably big enough to slice into 55 pieces, one for each year of my life! 

Zina's cakes and dessert are always magnificent celebrations. This is an arena where size really does matter and her Lemon Meringue Pies are sharp and sweet high pillows of dreams. 
Zina's Lemon Meringue

She said on the weekend that she'd love to have a cake-shop. We didn't really talk anymore about it so I'm unsure how serious she was. Perhaps it's only a dream for her but maybe there is a way for that dream to become a reality. Because when she bakes for other people she achieves Nigel Slater's lick-the-plate deliciousness every time.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about rejection.
Write about a river.
Write about an act of kindness.
Write about a birthday cake.
Write about something, or someone, delicious.