Monthly Archives: July 2015

Mothers aren’t to be trusted

Sometimes the Oldies at work rebel a bit about fruit and veg and I remember the devious depths I have plumbed in the past to try and convince people what’s good for them.minach

For example, when the Wunderkind was six years old he had a certain antipathy to various green veggies, notably spinach and courgettes. Nothing unusual in that of course but I thought I should help him get over it. For his own good, obviously. His cousin Stephen, two and a half years older but less precocious, was visiting at teatime one day and I was serving up spinach. ‘I don’t like spinach,’ says the Wunderkind.

‘It’s not spinach, it’s minach’, says I.

‘Minach? Minach? What’s minach?’

‘Oh a lovely vegetable that tastes great and gives you immense brains and muscles. Do you like it, Stephen?’ (Wink from treacherous mother).

Stephen’s penny drops: ‘Mmm, yes, we have minach all the time, I love it.’

Wunderkind extends the tip of his tongue and licks half a gram of minach from the end of his fork. ‘Yes it’s okay,’ and eats it up. Ha! I win.

Next day I serve up courgettes. ‘I don’t like courgettes,’ says the Wunderkind … similar conversation ensues in which I assure him these are bourgettes, yum yum, and Stephen is nearly wetting himself with the joy of another  joke against Smart Wee Cousin. Wunderkind tastes, swallows, concedes bourgettes are okay whereupon Stephen and I fall about in fits and Wunderkind realises he’s been had. He looks at me as if I’ve murdered the tooth fairy. How could I be so BAD?

Yeah I know. I mustn’t try it on the Oldies. But evil or not, 19 years later, the Wunderkind is still enjoying his minach and bourgettes.

Burnt Offerings

Recently I had a go at making Cherry Clafoutis. My friend John and I had a long debate about whether it was worth buying Kirsch, as specified in the recipe, or just to use the Kirschwasser that was left over from a fondue. And then the recipe also specified Morello cherries – not just any old cherries. But we couldn’t find Morello Cherries anywhere. Eventually we went with the Kirschwasser and fresh cherries, leaving the stones in to prove it was fresh, and so that we could all play the old game with the cherry stones – to figure out whom you will marry. The answer – count the cherry stones: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief. Yes I know, it wasn’t an aspirational childhood for girls back then.

Anyway the only reason I’m writing about this just now is that Massiclafoutis - burnt offeringsve Blogger David Lebowitz has just posted about making Cherry Clafoutis – imagine! I’m driven by the same impulses as the great David Lebowitz! The only difference is that his turned out beautifully and mine, er, well, it turned out … burnt. Great recipe, very easy, it even tasted good under its carbon coating – but next time I’ll use a bigger tin.

Sea Green

I was shopping in Tesco for baby veggies that would go with a big fat trout (nice gift from fisherman neighbour Allan), and to my delight came across samphire. I love samphire but don’t see it very often. The only other time I remember seeing it for sale in Scotland was in Valvona and Crosamphire and crab 2lla’s, a great Italian deli in Edinburgh – not on my doorstep or, these days, in my price range. The Tesco samphire was in a ‘Three for £4’ range so I got my green beans and baby carrots too, and felt this was all pretty reasonable in price terms. My dinner guest didn’t fancy the samphire – doesn’t recognise what’s good for him – but all the more for me and I must say it was just delicious. Like a smack of sea air on a plate. I ate some lightly steamed last night with the trout, and some raw today – both great, nice and crunchy.

Samphire, according to my Food Lover’s Companion, comes from two places in the main – the UK and the US. These are slightly different varieties and it seems the American one – more often known as salicornia, apparently, is expensive because it’s rare. Well, I would have thought the British one would be rare too but I guess I just got lucky. There’s a great article in the Telegraph from two years ago, about how it’s being grown in Devon. As with so many things, gathering it poses certain dangers for the pickers. Or maybe ‘dangers’ is putting it too strongly, but certainly it’s a bit of a challenge. I’m very grateful the pickers decided to take it up.

The photo here obviously doesn’t feature the trout, but a new friend I brought back from the picnic at Tentsmuir last week – an empty crab shell, its eye sockets glaring balefully. My star sign is Cancer so I thought a crab shell discovered on my birthday would be a good thing to keep on my window ledge alongside my bits of stone from Iona and various other places. I’ve only once cooked crabs – but that’s a story for another day.

People Need Pies

That was the thinking behind a potential business idea. I thought I might be the pie lady and bury myself in flour and lard and tote my offerings round the farmers’ markets. My friend Jude sighed, mid-swallow, one day and opined that people NEED pies. It seemed like a great slogan.

I had a birthday the other day and prepared a great picnic (though I say it myself – 59 is not the age for false modesty!) and ten of us, plus four dogs, had a lovely time at Tentsmuir Forest. I made a raised pork and egg pie – sometimes known hereabouts as ‘Gala Pie’ – loaf-shaped, porky mixture with hard-boiled eggs tucked inside. (The eggBirthday 59s also were Jude’s; not hers personally of course but from her hens. She has a commendable pie commitment.)

Well the pie was very good. But the crust kept falling off. As my  brother pointed out, this also happens with bought Gala Pies. It’s a bit of a nuisance but gives you another excuse for licking your fingers. This was a Paul Hollywood recipe and it’s not really difficult. I had a sticky moment (due to kitchen not being sufficiently spacious – okay then, due to kitchen not being sufficiently tidy) when one of the loaf tins fell off the worktop. The pastry didn’t fall on the floor, I promise, not even for the permitted three seconds, but it sort of collapsed in on itself and had to be re-rolled. Bit of a footer but I guess my skills (and tidiness) will improve through time.

No, there’s another reason that I have scrawled ‘NEVER AGAIN’ across the recipe in the book. It’s the usual reason: saturated fat. I am very desirous of acquiring a free bus pass such as our wonderful Scottish government hands out to citizens of this great country on their 60th birthdays. And I don’t want to curtail my free travel years. So it’s back to the cookery books and the search is on for a nice low-fat pie with great flavour and lots of good healthy life-affirming vits and mins. Suggestions welcome.

Just Food

Last night our short-story-to-film group met to watch ‘Sweet Land‘, inspired by Will Weaver’s short story, ‘A Gravestone Made of Wheat‘.  I had loved the short story – small and perfectly formed in that unique way of the best short stories, with a tight little plot and a beautiful, small cast of characters amazingly well-drawn in such a few (13) short pages. The film was okay too and if that sounds a bit grudging, I’d have to add that in my view, it was a bit blowsy and in places not-very-believable compared with the book. But don’t let that put you off. There were some good performances and gorgeous midwest prairie camera work, and an entirely surprising support role played by Alan Cumming, the Scottish actor.

One of the main features of the story is that Inge, a German woman who has been living in Norway, travels to the prairie for an arranged marriage with Olaf. The action takes place in 1920 and she is met with intense anti-German hostility by the wider community, including the legal systems responsible for her immigration papers, and the church. Happily however she and Olaf hit it off swimmingly and she learns some useful prairie skills including scything and threshing the wheat, and cooking. Olaf can’t get enough of her and at one point, mouth filled with pie, asks, ‘Is this German food?’ She shakes her head and replies, ‘just food.’stuffed-dumplings-coltuna%C5%9Fi[1]

It seems that when her nationality had been used to ostracise and vilify her, she didn’t want her nascent domestic skills to be pigeon-holed, but instead appealed to the universal need to eat, for survival as much as for pleasure. We all need the same things, really. And as this scene also played out in the context of Inge and Olaf’s mutual desire and attraction, the ‘just food’ message acquires the warm sauce of seduction. Yum yum.


Dubious Distinction

My cooking has received two compliments recently which made me pause and ponder: Am I in the wrong job? What would Delia say? Where did it all go wrong?

Firstly, my Fish Pie a la Nigella was greeted by one of the Oldies with enthusiasm. He quickly cleared his plate and announced, ‘Mmmm, fish in a bag, I love it!’ Before he made the decision to come and live here, after his wife died, boil-in-the-bag cod in butter sauce was one of his comfort staples. Otherwise, I might just have thrown it at him (joke).

Secondly, I set out my Gingerbread a la Delia for a meeting of the Board of Management, and the Chairperson rhapsodised (no exaggeration) afterwards: ‘Helen, your gingerbread is sheer perfection!’ Sheer perfection? Was she taking the Mickey? I asked her what she meant, and she said it looked as if it had come straight out of a shop. Let’s hope she meant artisan bakery, as opposed to cut-price corner store.bland food

So there you have it. My personal style in cooking is rustic and healthy-wholesome, with a dash of Mediterranean; but I’ve been having to refine my efforts in line with the preferences of my aged clientele, whose tolerance for fruit and veg and ‘fancy stuff’ is limited. I know, because I have gently pushed those limits, and from time to time come up against a brick wall. Last week, for instance, there was a Meatball Revolt from one tenant. ‘What’s wrong with mince and tatties?’ he pleaded. Bad news for one of us as I’d stood that morning making 42 meat balls in little batches for the freezer. ‘Old people don’t need to be healthy’. Well I had to disagree with him on that one, happy though I am to receive feedback.

So what should I do? Persevere, dumb down,or find a middle way? Anyone with any experience of cooking for older people – I’d love to hear your suggestions.