Not hot and not cross

I have been considering sweet dough buns for a while – ever since Christmas when I came across a River Cottage recipe for an enriched dough. I couldn’t make it at the time because it called for six eggs and the hens were on strike. With the longer days, eggs are no longer a problem – all four of our ladies are  laying:

IMGP5211

plenty of eggs (if somewhat muddy)

When I returned to the recipe, however, I felt that it was a bit too rich, so I looked for a different version and found a recipe for sweet dough by Ruby Tandoh (a Great British Bake Off finalist a couple of years ago) that looked ideal, although it only uses two eggs. I like the idea of Hot Cross Buns – soft dough with a sticky top and lovely spices. However, in general I find them rather disappointing and, to be honest, I’m not particularly keen on dried fruit. So, inspired by one of Mr Snail’s favourite flavour combinations, I made chocolate orange buns by adding the zest of two oranges and a heap of dark chocolate chips:

IMGP5214

not a raisin in sight!

But I couldn’t leave it there… I mean I’d only used the zest of the oranges, so I really needed to do something with the juice. The answer was clearly orange icing. So, I present to you, chocolate orange iced buns, the perfect spring (or any other season) bread product:

IMGP5215

not hot, not cross

Delicious with a cup of coffee.

 

 

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

IMGP4820

This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

Start with a seed

One of my favourite activities at this time of year is ordering seeds. It is a tangible manifestation of the summer to come, of abundance and the promise of longer days.

IMGP4883

recipes and future ingredients

For my birthday Mr Snail gave me Rick Stein’s new book The Road to Mexico, as I had very much enjoyed the recent television series. I like Mexican food, but I’ve never really cooked it. I settled down with the book the other afternoon to drool over the recipes and read what he has to say about various ingredients. As I read, I realised the potential from growing some of the herbs and spices for myself, and so I did some research and modified my seed ordering accordingly. I spread my orders between companies because no single company had all the seeds I wanted, including the two Mexican herbs Epazote and Hoja Santa. I placed the first order on Wednesday, so I was delighted to receive the seeds this morning. The company in question, South Devon Chilli Farm, sells ingredients as well as seeds, so I gave in to temptation and bought some large dried chillies and some chipotle (dried, smoked) chillies too. Chillies are the first seeds that I plant in the year because they do need a good long time to grow, so I’ll be planting the ones pictured very soon.

The rest of my seed orders mainly stuck to tried and tested things: a good range of peppers, spring onions, courgettes, squashes, parsnips etc. My only other departure was tomatillo seeds – another common ingredient in Mexican recipes and something that I grew successfully many years ago, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with at the time. I do love the process of growing the things that I want to cook with – it may be taking ‘slow food’ to the extreme, but it is so satisfying.

My next gardening job is to have a good clear-out in the limery and then I’ll be all set for the 2018 growing season. Do you have plans to grow anything new this year?

IMGP4884

pictures and the real thing – hopefully I’ll have home-grown ones later in the year

 

A moveable feast

You know how you have plans, and then something happens…

celebrating the prospect of spring… the specific day probably isn’t important

In general we have a special celebration on the day of the winter solstice. We celebrate the turning of the seasons, the shortest day and the prospect of light and abundance to come. We have a special meal – usually made using local produce. This year I ordered some locally produced, grass-fed beef (quite a rare meat for us to eat) and was supposed to be collecting in on Thursday (the solstice itself) with the aim of cooking some to eat in the evening. However, a message yesterday asked if we could collect it on Friday instead… I hadn’t explained its date-specific use to the producer. So, that aspect of our celebration has been postponed.

In addition, yesterday I suddenly got a pile of requests for editing work – including one piece to be done by Friday. Everyone is so focussed on Christmas, that there is little understanding that some people might take time off work at any other time… especially in the week before 25 December. However, I am pragmatic and work is work, so I didn’t say no. A flurry of editing this morning has allowed me to make good progress and so I think I will be able to find time for solstice-related activities on Thursday, albeit without the beef.

RIMG2420

A past 25 December picnic

So, the new plan is either to go out on Thursday or for me to raid the freezer and rack my brains for some suitably celebratory dish that I can make from what’s in there… possibly plaice or mackerel. Then we’ll have our local beef with Yorkshire puddings on Sunday, and that will leave some lovely roast beef for sandwiches to eat during our traditional (indoor) picnic on 25 December. Life is all about being flexible…

Rare as hens’ eggs

Sunday waffle-making

It’s that time of year again when the ladies don’t lay much. That, coupled with the fact that none of our little flock is a spring chicken anymore, there haven’t been many eggs to be had for the past couple of months. Gone are the days of a poached egg every lunchtime and as many cakes as we could eat. Instead, there’s warming vegetable soup for lunch and what eggs there are are used for very specific things – waffles for Sunday brunch, for example. We could buy eggs, and occasionally we do, but the scarcity makes our home-produced eggs so much more precious and makes us so much more grateful for the abundance when they are ‘in season’.

9 Meals 9

a seasonal summer meal – now a distant memory

I like this seasonality of food. I know that, with enough money, it’s possible to have pretty much any sort of food at any time, but what’s the fun in that? How lovely it is to enjoy the first strawberries o the year – picked and eaten on the same day. What delights to see the sequence of British apples arriving in the shops in the autumn. What a pleasure to eat seasonal salad leaves, so that each season delivers a different set of flavours and textures. And eggs are the same in this house – plus the yolks change colour with the season, influenced by what the hens have been eating.

Eating seasonally is a fundamental way of connecting with natural cycles, plus it’s good for the environment.

Meaty matters

I am a firm believer that if you are going to be a meat eater, you should do your best to make use of all the bits of every animal.  We do often buy meat in the form of a ‘half sheep’ or a ‘quarter pig’ and this means I use some of the less usual cuts, such as pork hock or neck of mutton, which rarely appear on supermarket shelves. Often these cuts are the ones that contain lots of connective tissue, so are tough unless cooked long and slow – something that I don’t mind doing at all, especially since they are frequently very tasty. However, I’m not a very big fan of offal, so I do struggle to put my ‘use the whole animal’ belief into practice. Nevertheless, last time we bought a box of pork from the amazing Martha Roberts, I did ask for the liver and today I took the plunge and made pork liver pate – something that Mr Snail really loves.

I chose a recipe from the River Cottage Cookbook that uses liver and belly pork. Mincing the meat up was rather messy and stretching the bacon to line the tins took a bit of time, but the results looked promising when they went into the oven. I’m really hoping that this will be a success, because it can be sliced and frozen for later use, and should go a very long way.

Anyway, it’s in the oven now and hopefully we’ll have a verdict tomorrow once it’s cool.

I noticed that the recipe on the adjacent page was for pigs trotters… I might have to work myself up to trying that!

Good food for everyone

IMGP6142

Such diversity – of people and produce

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last week I made one of my occasional visits to the Friday morning fruit and veg market stall in Newcastle Emlyn. It’s always good to get there early for the biggest choice, so I was home by ten past eight (although it did mean I missed my early morning swim). It’s a great way to buy cheap fresh veg, especially in an area like this where we don’t have the sort of permanent, diverse market that I knew when I was growing up in Leeds. There, Kirkgate Market  is an amazing place to buy all sorts of food, from game and meat to fish and fruit, not forgetting all the range of vegetables and pretty much anything else you might want to own. The place was characterised by the cries of the stallholders and I can’t hear a yell of ‘getcher caulis ‘ere’ without being transported back to the sights and smells of the market. If you want to get a feel for the place, the reviews posted here give a good flavour. I have clear memories of my mother shopping there regularly – the open air greengrocers’ stalls were right at the bottom by the bus station, so we bought fruit and veg last on any shopping trip to minimise the distance it had to be carried (these were the days when families had no more than one car and women went shopping on the bus).

Although the Friday stall is not easy to access by public transport, it’s still well used. There are people buying their weekly greengroceries, people shopping for catering supplies, people buying in bulk for preservation (like me). It doesn’t seem to attract a particular sort of clientele. Everyone in the town knows it and it’s always busy… even at 7:30am when they still haven’t finished pricing everything up! And people like me are happy to drive there from the surrounding area.

IMGP4508

we should all have access to this

Recently, in contrast, I read a post by Steven Croft about the exclusivity of farmers’ markets. He cited Jessica Paddock’s research which found that “predominantly working class people consider themselves to be out of place and possibly not welcome at farmers’ markets”. It saddens me that something which should connect producers directly with consumers has become divisive and too expensive (or at least perceived as such) for everyone to benefit from. “Normal” markets seem to be thought of differently. The Friday stall is not run by a producer, but by a greengrocer, and the customers do not seem to fit into any particular category… other than that they’ve all got up early!

I wonder how we best connect growers with consumers and make that connection seem normal. Neither consumers nor producers seem to benefit much from supermarkets other than in terms of convenience. All the packaging and hidden processing associated with supermarket produce cannot be a good thing for either people or the planet. Buying direct would certainly address this issue and others, but the mechanisms are challenging and the logistics within both rural and urban areas are problematic. So, all I can say is support your growers whenever you can and don’t be intimidated by farmers’ markets – they are not entirely full of hipsters seeking out venison and cranberry sausages and locally grown quinoa (pronounced keen-wah, you know!).

If you are interested in equity, ethics and sustainability with respect to production and access to food, there are some interesting articles on the Sustainable Food Trust’s web site.

A souper weekend

Over the summer we often have eggs at lunchtime, but as laying declines in the autumn and the weather turns colder I start to crave warming soups. I years long distant, I might have opened a tin, but my tastes have changed and now I just want home-made soups. Whilst I sometimes use meat stocks, most of my soups are vegetable-based. So, on Friday I went and bought in bulk from the regular stall in Newcastle Emlyn:

IMGP4508

my ‘haul’

I’ve spent much of the weekend in the kitchen. I started off with spicy parsnip soup – a Jane Grigson recipe. She is one of my favourite cookery writers and her ‘Vegetables’ book is pure inspiration. Second, I made spicy roasted pepper soup using a recipe from Riverford, but with a few modifications, including using yellow and orange peppers rather than red ones. Third, I made leek and potato soup – no specific recipe for this one, just leeks, onions, potatoes, chicken stock and water. Fourth, I made sweet potato and roasted pepper soup – inspired by, but not exactly the same as a recipe from a Women’s Institute cookbook. After this I’d still got ingredients left, so I made more spicy parsnip and more roasted pepper. I still have plenty more veg and I also have a freezer drawer full of portions of soup for two.

Buying in bulk means that the ingredients are very cheap and having room for storage means that I can take advantage of this; but also knowing what to do with all these raw ingredients is important. I worry that people who don’t know how to prepare fresh foods are stuck in a trap of being forced to rely on processed and pre-prepared meals. A friend mentioned the other day that at school in ‘cookery’ classes, all her son learned was how to put toppings on a pizza base and all about the dangers of cooking food for himself (hygiene issues, food poisoning etc). She said that he was so frightened by the horror stories of what could go wrong when preparing food, that he daren’t cook for himself any more. I could weep, but instead I will continue to share recipes and inspiration, to share home cooked food with my family and friends and to encourage everyone to cook their own food whenever possible.

IMGP4525

many lunches to look forward to

A supply problem

imgp1132

non-homogenised milk… complete with cream

The best laid plans are often scuppered by circumstances beyond our control… and so it has been this year with my cheese-making.

I love making cheese and I was happily enjoying doing it using milk from a farm just down the road until the summer. And then it all came to an end. The milk I was using was linked to a food-poisoning scare at the local farmers’ market and sales ceased. Now, we and many other local people had been drinking and using this milk for over a year without incident, including during the time the problem occurred. I haven’t been able to find out whether there was any conclusive link between the milk and the food poisoning, but the upshot is that the farm has stopped selling raw milk and have not yet decided whether they will ever start again. Whilst this should have been nothing more than a set-back for me, it’s actually turned out to have completely scuppered my home cheese-making.

The real problem is that, to make cheese, you need non-homogenised milk. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pasteurised or not, but it mustn’t be homogenised… which almost all commercially available milk is. I hunted the internet, but I’m not having much joy. You can buy it from a posh supermarket that we don’t live anywhere near, but it really isn’t commonly available. I thought that I had found another local farm to buy it from, but further investigation revealed that their milk too was homogenised.

I can only assume that homogenisation is so common because it allows milk sellers to control exactly how much butterfat there is in the milk. Sadly, it means our milk is one further step removed from being ‘natural’ and so I can’t make cheese. The other depressing upshot is that our milk for general use is now arriving in plastic packaging – something I had completely eliminated by collecting our milk in my churn direct from the tank on the farm.

So, my quest continues and in the mean time, I’ll have to buy my cheese ready-made, and eat the stock I’ve already got maturing.

IMGP4377

fortunately, this monster is now in the fridge maturing

The fruits of my labours

Knowing what goes into the food that I eat is very important for me. Whilst we do buy a few ready-made foods, I tend to cook most things from scratch and I love using fresh ingredients. Since this isn’t always possible, I work hard over the summer and autumn to fill my store cupboard with bottles and jars of provisions to see us through the year. Today I’ve done the last of the apple juicing for this year and now all I have are a few fresh cooking apples to use over the coming weeks and a bowl of eating apples to enjoy fresh. The preserving is mostly done for now.

So, I’d like to present this year’s store cupboard:IMGP4380Not bad, eh?

%d bloggers like this: