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…

New Year, New Dreams

January’s a funny old month; Christmas a distant memory yet daffodils a hopeful pipe dream.  Sunshine is what we need and where better to recharge, recalibrate and fire oneself up for the year ahead than… er… the Northumbrian coast.  A great big Greek bloke, posh Jersey bird and their brute of a rescue dog holed up in a teeny tiny whitewashed cottage in Seahouses.

My mother’s uncles were  fishermen in Seahouses, back in the day.  I grew up with Mum’s endless stories of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Of Lowry’s paintings.  Of how the endless consumption of oily fish made her aunts  the least wrinkly ladies ever.  Of the time Mum was supposed to be looking after her little brother, Jimmy, when they got cut off by the tide and nearly drowned until she spotted steps to safety.  Magical steps, that appeared magically!  Steps that had never been seen before nor again after.  The steps that saved their lives.

I confess, I didn’t want to listen to Mum’s dreary old northern ramblings as a child growing up in Jersey.  But I suppose those stories became embedded because, well, here I am.  The old girl has talked about coming back to visit for years – along with all the other places she’d been saving for her retirement.  But her eyesight’s gone, unexpectedly.  She can’t even stalk Seahouses on Google Maps now, so here I am.  Seeing it all for her.   I’ve seen ‘her’ castle; the Bamburgh butcher (Carter’s, established in 1887, and one of Rick Stein’s original food heroes) where I ‘had’ to buy sausages (the Greek God’s cooking them as I type).  I haven’t seen the magical life-saving steps though.  Funny, that.

The weird thing?  I’m strangely at home here.  I can find my way without satnav.  I’ve fallen in love – hopelessly, helplessly and irrevocably – with the arse-bitingly cold wind that chases us as we slip and slide over the frozen rockpools and frosty rocks; mad cows guarding the gate from dune to beach; hot kippers in a bun; proper pubs full of glowing glass and brass with pints of Farne Island beer to be swigged by a roaring fire.

Tomorrow we visit Holy Island after which my grandmother, Lindis, was named.  The perfect way to spend our last day.  But we’ll be back.  I’m already secretly searching for houses.  Shhhhh.  It’s our little secret.  I need to talk the Greek God round first.

A Lovely Christmas Post

So I know a lot of ‘blended’ families aren’t all ho ho ho but luckily, from their first well-timed meeting on the doorstep a few Christmas Eves ago like a Richard Curtis film scene, the four boys we have between us all get along jolly well.

The blended Crimbo tree, however… oh dear lord.  Past years have been a tragic tinselled tangle of mismatched ancient decorations because, you know… tradition. And it’s always so heartwarming as the sprogs gasp with great festive joy, ‘oh, not that lame old shit again’ or, my personal favourite, ‘for God’s sake Mum, what’s actually wrong with you?’ as they behold the beauty of 20-year-old bits of curled up, mangled foil with their name spelt wrong on the back.

I’m not really sure what constitutes a good tree but this one’s got balls, I’ll give it that. The Greek God’s angel has taken precedence, the smug cow. Mine looks rumpled if relieved to have been retired after years of being strapped to the tree like a hostage. It’s a great comfort that her successor seems to be wearing handcuffs though. A new adorable tradition in the making.

Merry Christmas then…

Cold in Kebabylon

‘Seven quid? Bloody ‘ell. What do I get for that then?’

‘Well, my fine fellow…’ I don’t say. I’m thinking it though. I think a lot of things, whilst wearing my special Dealing With The Public smile.

‘You get free-range chicken. Blythburgh pork. Pitta bread which I baked myself last night. Tzatziki made with mint I grew in the garden. For two Great British pounds less, however, you could go over there and have a cheap old sausage in a dry roll from the cash and carry.’

He glances over at sausage lady who is wearing a ‘comedy’ outfit (the only thing she could find in her van to combat the cold, apparently) and having a fag.

‘Er, maybe I’ll live a little,’ he says, counting out his change.

I despair. Not least because sausage lady probably makes way more money than us. Good food costs money. If you want high quality produce, it costs more. Simple, innit. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong; nipping to Bookers for a box of buns would be far easier than all the kneading, rolling out of dough and hoovering up of flour.

I try not to mind. People can’t help it. We’re off to Essex for an event soon. While the Greek God tries to blend in and goes all ‘geezer’, I find my inner Joanna Lumley spontaneously erupts.

‘We do try not to use the ‘K’ word,’ I’ll chirp cheerily through gritted teeth as I stand out in sub-zero winds, wearing ALL my clothes at once and lamenting the thread veins that no one mentioned in the Street Food for Dummies manual.

‘So it’s just a kebab then, yeah? For seven quid? Rip-orf…’

It was a dreadful rip-off. I might have that inscribed on my headstone when I’ve died of hypothermia, hurty knees and baker’s lung. It’s cold in Kebabylon.