Monthly Archives: December 2016

Mellow at Hogmanay

Greetings to you all. My damson gin is all finished, in the happy pursuit of sampling and gifting. It was delicious. Must make a bigger batch next year.2016-12-31 18.24.42.jpg

Also, as I have been nursing a heavy cold, I am well fortified with Benylin, Lemsip, Strepsils, and hot toddies. So I’m coasting gently towards the Bells, and depending on whether or not it rains tonight, I might foray out and take part in the Oddfellows’ Parade – a surreal and well-named event that happens here each year. I think it has masonic connections, so it wouldn’t normally attract my attention. The Oddfellows, dating from four or five centuries ago, I think (pardon the mellow approach to historical accuracy), were the unskilled labourers who weren’t eligible  to join the craft guilds. Their march involves someone riding backwards on a Clydesdale horse, up the high street, with a band following; and revellers dressed up in pretty scary costumes dashing around terrifying the populace and collecting money for charitable causes. Follow the link to get a 5 year old account of the event by another Newburgh blogger, with good photos. This photo isn’t the Oddfellows! it’s from Bourdain’s book.

2016-12-31 18.22.11.jpgQuickly before the parade sets off, I’m going to talk about two good food books I’ve read recently. The first was a gift from a fellow blogger – thank you so much, FoodinBooks! This is ‘Appetites’ by Anthony Bourdain. I’d read his ‘Kitchen Confidential’ and ‘Cooks’ Tour’, both of which had me laughing and gasping with horror/delight – all about his coke-fuelled path to chef stardom. This latest book is about so-called family cooking – with his appreciative comments about the unconventionality of his own family. The book, like his others, is completely irreverent yet dedicated to good eating. Very meaty, with graphic photos not much enjoyed by the Troubadour. Great fun though. Inspired by some of his recipes, and the donor of the book who, I discover, hails from New Mexico, I cooked up a bit of a Mexican storm a few weeks ago – huevas rancheros and patatas bravas, quesadillas, and stuffed peppers, sweetcorn fritters and so on. I suppose it wasn’t anything like authentic Mexican cooking so I apologise for what is probably a highly clichéd menu. As if haggis, neeps and tatties were the only thing Scots eat. But it was hugely enjoyed. An old song came to mind, plucked out for me by the Troubadour – El Paso by Marty Robbins. Again, probably clichéd (Donald, whaur’s yer troosers?) but I love it.

(A slight digression – here’s a video of the Troubadour using the tune of this song for a wee ode to Scottish artist and sculptor Tony Morrow. This is a picture of his pie and bridie, cast in bronze).2016-12-31 20.50.37.jpg

Bourdain has a French parent; and the author of my second book has been living in Paris. 2016-12-31 18.25.01.jpgAnd both are chefs. That’s the similarities dealt with. David Lebowitz’ ‘The Sweet Life in Paris’ is a book I’d  been aware of because I follow his blog – in his blogsphere I am the flea that sits on the hide of the elephant – he has thousands of followers. Anyway his book is very entertaining – I saw it in the library in Perth when I was studying for my recent exam (yes thank you I passed) and have loved reading his full-length work. He describes how the Parisians hate Americans, and his efforts to kind of blend in. Like, eating with your hands, in the streets? Very no-no to Parisians apparently. He describes how a Parisian eats a banana – with knife and fork and napkin … Hilarious, even though I suppose it’s exaggerated and maybe Parisians don’t recognise this view of themselves. His eventual acceptance was very much aided by his prowess as a patissier and chocolatier.

Incidentally, do you like the background surface under the books? Still in New Mexico mode. Happy new year to all my friends around the globe, I will be drinking to your health this evening; here’s to a brilliant 2017.

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Happy Cheesemas

2016-12-25 08.22.00.jpgSo there we were, having a nice coffee with our eggy-cheesy-bread on Christmas morning; and I had the great idea of adding a little Kahlua. And then a blob of cream. Very festive and got us off to a most enjoyable day. I hope you all had a good time too.

A few days before Christmas we were visiting Glasgow so I took the opportunity to call in 2016-12-15 18.50.18.jpgat Ian Mellis’s cheese emporium. Although there’s a lot of great artisanal cheese made in Scotland, there aren’t many specialist cheese shops; Mellis’s is one of the best, and best-known. I was interested to know how cheesemongers are feeling about the recent ban on Errington’s cheeses being sold. There was a recent outbreak of E.coli 0157, and one of Errington’s cheeses was implicated. The evidence seems to be in dispute, as Errington has had his own lab tests taken, with no traces of E.coli found. Food Standards Scotland is now paying Errington’s legal costs, in an acknowledgement that their actions could easily drive him out of business.

2016-12-15 20.42.40.jpgThe cheese in question is made from raw (unpasteurised) milk. In Scotland, raw milk cannot be sold for drinking purposes, but it’s okay to produce cheese. There are many raw milk cheeses for sale at Mellis’s, and the manager told me that nearly all producers are going forth optimistically, determined to stick with their sublime products. This is reason for rejoicing, I must say, and I applaud their courage in an industry that is being seen as highly risky.

Coincidentally there was a great episode of the Food Programme on Radio 4, compered by Dan Saladino. Entitled ‘The Future of Cheese’, it explored the mysterious bacterial actions that work to give individual cheeses their individual characters. Apparently cheesy traces have been found in Egyptian crocks, 7,500 years old! It’s an amazing story, I urge you to listen to it. I never studied much science back in the day, and am easily befuddled by all the techy lingo. However it seems the scientists haven’t figured it out either! Fabulous, individual, packs-a-punch cheese seems to be a gift from God. Or Geraldine, as I’ve taken to calling Her.

Rest in Peace, Lionel Blue

Have had a couple of frustrating days with Internet connections. Crossing fingers this connection lasts long enough for post to go out … anyway I have two things to say to you all:

  1. Happy Solstice! There’s a walk in the woods this afternoon in North Annsmuir Forest near Ladybank, and we all have to take something edible-by-wildlife to hang on a tree. It’s being led by a bone fide Person of the Cloth – Churc2015-05-01 13.08.17.jpgh of Scotland no less – and if that isn’t cause for celebration and hope for the year to come, I don’t know what is. In case I’m being obscure, I’m talking about formal religion embracing the numinous …
  2. And as with the title of this post, rest in peace Lionel Blue. I’ve loved him for decades. It’s the way he expresses (sorry, expressed) his desire to do the right thing, and over and over again his disappointment and self-forgiveness at not quite managing it. Especially on the food front! So the night he died I thought about making a pot of lentil soup, and ended up making Rocky Road instead … 20,000 calories in every mouthful (depending on the size of your mouth of course). In the lovely obituaries that have appeared in the last couple of days I have learned that Rabbi Blue used to address God as ‘Fred’ – and would sit with Him on the sofa, having a cuddle and a laugh. I’ve decided to call Her ‘Geraldine’, and let her rummage round the kitchen cupboards while I footer about with the flour and eggs and sugar. The link I’ve given for Lionel Blue is an interview in the Guardian, written a couple of years ago, and it’s brilliant, so do have a read if you want to be cheered up.

For further cheer-enhancement, try:

250g dark chocolate, melted with 150g milk chocolate, 175g butter and a couple of tablespoons of golden syrup; add half a big bag of mini-marshmallows, 100g crushed tea biscuits, 50g glace cherries and 50g chopped nuts (hazelnuts are excellent, but use what you have). Stir it all together and pour into a lined tin about 12″ by 9″. Let it chill. Slices like a dream, makes about 24 portions but again, that depends on the size of your portion/mouth … This is based on a Nigella Lawson recipe so you will know that it breaks all bounds of restraint. And a good thing too, at this time of year. From now on, the days are getting longer!

Feed the neighbours

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I did my stint with the Neighbourhood Food Collection the other day, co-ordinated by the Trussell Trust and FareShare. The venue was Tesco at Dalgety Bay. It was quite profitable, I’d say – in my two and a half hours I estimated I took in about £200 worth of food plus a £20 donation. People were very generous. Some people had questions or comments, like:

  1. ‘It makes me so angry that this kind of thing is necessary’.
  2. ‘It makes me feel really guilty when charities keep asking for things.’
  3. ‘Is this stuff really for local people? You mean in Dalgety Bay? You’re not telling me people in Dalgety Bay need help of this kind?’

No good answer for No 1 – it makes me angry too but that’s the way it is. For No 2 I’d say you need to live without guilt – either by hardening your heart or getting in touch with your generous inner angel (the lady in question obviously did the latter as she deposited a couple of bags of lentils into the trolley). For No 3 – well, who knows? I don’t live in Dalgety Bay, which is, as far as I can tell, a prosperous commuter town facing Edinburgh across the Forth. But I bet they do have people who struggle, for all the usual reasons – age, infirmity, job loss and so on.

Most of the donations (tins, teabags, coffee, UHT milk, pasta, rice) will, I guess, go to the Food Bank for distribution. I’m glad it happens, but it doesn’t gladden my heart to think of living on processed food. Especially in a world where so much food is wasted. There was an inspirational series of programmes on BBC1 last week about a charity in Oxford which collects surplus fresh food from supermarkets and distributes it to local charities where fresh and wholesome meals are cooked and served to people in various kinds of need. This of course meets social as well as physical hunger, along with a good dose of vitamins and minerals. The project was rolling out to London and thence, it was hoped, ‘all over the country’ – not sure if they meant Scotland or not. However this is my task for the week – to find out what’s happening up here, and who’s doing it, and whether/how I can get involved. Anybody with any leads or contacts, will be delighted to hear from you.