Of Simplicity and Spuds

‘What’s the ****ing point of a fancy loaf of bread or making poncey sauce when you can buy it cheap in the shops?’ shouts one of the ghastly Gogglebox blokes when forced to watch Tom Kerridge’s ‘Top of the Shops’.

Life would be quicker if I did one huge haul of fluorescent sauces and sliced white once a week.  But oh, no.  Why make life easy?  Even whilst cooking for other people all weekend we still go home, wash up and start again for ourselves.

The 70s were all about convenience.  Mum would drive to the little local supermarket to buy a packet of Smash rather than walk round the corner to Vic le Riche’s rickety little stall with the honesty box on his muddy farm drive for a bag of freshly-dug Jersey Royals.  Not really more convenient.  She probably just wanted to keep up with the times.

A neighbour would bring mackerel after a day out fishing, or crabs which clattered around the kitchen floor while us lot stood on chairs, screaming.  I don’t remember us eating those goodies though; probably saved for the grown-ups while we ate our reconstituted spud.

Lurch from the 70s to the yuppie years.  Working for a merchant bank, it was all excess – any excuse for champagne and eating out.  Lobster? Chateaubriand?   Yes please.  Madness really.  But it was the norm.

Now?  I’m at *that* age.  I want good food but can’t be bothered to faff.  I’m knackered and curmudgeonly.  I eat the things that still make my parents grunt at suppertime:  leftover Jersey Royals, roasted in a bit of oil, then dunked in a fried egg.

Instead of reaching for Nigella, if I want to bake a cake, I use Mum’s old ‘4, 4, 4, 2′ recipe for buns (4oz self-raising flour, 4oz caster sugar, 4oz marge, 2 eggs).  Beat softened butter (I still use Stork, for nostalgia!) with sugar ’til pale; add the flour, then the beaten eggs.  Go wild, pop in a dribble of vanilla extract.  Dollop into (buttered & floured) cake tins.  The whole thing takes about 20 mins, including the 15 mins baking (180 in a fan oven).  Feeling yuppie?  Bit of whipped cream with a little bit of icing sugar and sliced strawberries in the middle.   Lush.

Homemade lunchbox muffins.  What child wouldn’t want those?  Not us 70s kids, to be honest.  We wanted Penguins.  And I still have a soft spot for a Club.  Mint, please…

Waste Not Want Not

The Greek God has many skills (apparently).  His best, he often tells me, is being able to conjure up feast from bits and bobs – leftovers, if you will – from the fridge or cupboard.

We watch Masterchef together with mixed emotion; the invention test hurtles me into menopausal pantry anxiety while the Greek God bursts forth with recipe innovation.

It’s not how my brain works.  I like to shop, French-style, daily.  Fresh veg, a bit of fish… whatevs.  Years with teens and the frequent lament that “I may as well just empty my purse over the bin” as they ‘didn’t really fancy’ what we had rings loud and frequent.

I’m an artisan foodie lady now – skinflint-y?  miseryarse?  on trend?  I’ve started shopping more effectively.  I think ahead. Crikey.  Don’t tell anyone, will you?

But there’s a problem.  I shop. I roast a spiffing chicken.  Last night’s came with new potatoes (where are my Jersey Royals this year?!) and fennel slaw.  My new mean mind expects this chook to last a while.  I’ve got veg in to roast with couscous with the other half. Two meals.  Boom.

This morning, the Greek God waves a sandwich bag at me.  “Awesome leftovers!” Our evening’s dinner is compressed inside a gone-wrong pitta.  Oh dear.

How does one convey that leftovers aren’t *actually* leftovers but dinners for the rest of the week?  I don’t want to squish his creativity or ‘owt.  So.  We currently have his ‘n’ hers fermentation going on.  Can you guess which one’s which?  On the right, rhubarb and raspberry gin.  On the left, some sort of dodgy pickled leftover cabbage destined to become a smoked kimchi granita gel.  Bloody Masterchef.  Bloody Greek God.  Thank goodness for leftovers gin…

Of Multicultural Confusion

I’m a Jersey girl, baking Cypriot pittas by the billion in my little Victorian kitchen in Suffolk whilst listening to Indian music on French radio.  No wonder my brain’s a bit wonky.

To be fair, the Indian music was accidental but such is the joy of FIP.  Never let it be said their music combinations aren’t eclectic: Miles Davis followed by Wham and then perhaps Manuel Volpe & the Rhabmontic Orchestra.   I love it.  But then I love everything French.  It’s my dark secret.  As I tap away here, the Greek God is whizzing up mint for tzatziki and marinating his pork (ooh er) for tomorrow’s souvlaki.  But naughty me is having secret thoughts.  French thoughts.  Ooh la la.

I’m surreptitiously working on the Greek God: in the spirit of ‘you are what you eat’, I’ve started feeding him all things français: jarrets d’agneau braisés au vin rouge last week (“d’you fancy lamb stew on Sunday, darling?”) and caviar d’aubergine:

Halve three aubergines lengthways and score the flesh in a criss-crossy pattern.  Bung ’em on a baking tray and drizzle with oil (I’m loving English rapeseed at the mo).  Grab six garlic cloves and squish them flat with a knife, leaving the skins on and put one on each aubergine half, along with a sprig of thyme.  Cover with foil; bake at 180 for an hour or so.

Take ’em out, discard the thyme and peel the garlic.  Scoop out the aubergine flesh and chop it finely, adding the garlic, S&P and a drop more oil if you need it.

I think I swerved international suspicion by serving it with pitta chips made from leftovers.  OPA!  Cheeky AND cheap.  What’s not to love?

Recipe swiped from the utterly gorgeous French Brasserie Cookbook by Daniel Galmiche.  Le sigh.  I love this book.

Going Against the Grain

It’s fair to say that, doing the street food thing, we’ve met the BEST people ever.  Passionate, wonderful, odd – and mainly skint – people.

Not long after we started, we had a random message on Twitter.  A photo of some whisky with the tasting notes that said it would go well with souvlaki.  Er, ok, I thought. Whatevs.

And then this man turned up with a little bottle.  At Bury St Edmunds Market.  I was a little surprised.  I didn’t let it show though.  I’m a pro, doncha know?  I poured it into a mug and, serving up a souvlaki to our visitor, we decided to see if it was true.  It was.  Bizarrely.  Whisky and souvlaki.  Who knew?  (A 19-year-old Highland Park bourbon cask matured whisky, since you ask.)

That mug of whisky was passed between me, the Greek God, Whisky Man, our teetotal vegan market neighbour and the Greek God’s 16-year-old son.  It’s funny how people appear when there’s free secret booze in a mug!

18 months later, Whisky Man still pitches up, sometimes clutching fabulous goodies to try.  I’m ashamed to say  I’m never going to be a whisky afficionado (though I love the idea that, as a writer, I’ll be slurping until all hours, Tom Waits style, spilling words onto the page as it courses through my veins).  But he’s a top bloke. And he knows about gin too.  Oh yes.

There are such good people in our new life: finding awesome gin, making their own cider, feeding us 80% butter croissants.  Hoisin duck pies.  Hot, sticky, Asian coconut buns.  Punjabi samosas & pakora.  Our lives and waistbands are bulging but we have the best time.  And, as Cider Making Man said last week… “I’ve waited all my life to be in a position to be this skint.  Fun though, isn’t it?”  Hell yeah.

Sticks and Stones…

Man, I feel old.  I hurt everywhere – the kitchen, the dining room, the garden…

Last month, we were walking ten miles a day in howling icy gales, making our foodie  five-year plan and laughing that we were more driven and oomphy than most 30-year-olds.  Then, on yet another windswept yomp, the beastly dog twizzled me round at high speed and I fell on my twisted knee.  I’m too old for unexpected twizzling; I need a little advance notice.  So.  Torn cartilage.  Knee bigger than my head.  Bruises forming as I lay on the Felixstowe footpath, crying, with gravel in my hair.

“No need to fuss,” I told the Greek God as he hauled me up.  “Let’s go to the pub.”

Never let it be said I’m not a brave soldier.  But two weeks on and it’s fair to say I’m a bit down in the dumps.  My career options as a downhill skier or knee model have hit the skids.  There are no treats to eat and I can’t even drive to the shop because the clutch is too ouchy.

I could sleep for a million years.  But there are books to read.  Lovely, lovely words that always perk me up.  In the absence of being able to shop for/cook food, I’m reading about it instead.  Far less fattening.  I’m loving Ruby Tandoh’s ‘Eat Up’ – not quite what I expected but I’d go so far as saying her writing has a touch of the Nigel Slater about it.  She seems a good egg; I’d invite her round for a natter.  So long as eating up doesn’t involve standing up.  Did I mention I’ve got a sore knee?  No?  Oh…