It’s been a dull summer in Scotland – not much sunshine, lots of rain, sometimes even a bit cold. But I have pledged never to moan about Scottish weather (‘moderate but changeable’ according to Visit Scotland – now there’s a euphemism!) after my stint in Zanzibar. Dull/cool/wet are easier to cope with than hot, steamy, mosquito-ridden. And somehow or other, despite the drabness of it all, things are still growing in people’s gardens. Here are pictures of two gifts that have come my way recently.
This first is an armful of sage from my friend Margaret’s back door – it grows wantonly and she never uses it in cooking, so it was about to be dug out and dumped. I am drying it on a contraption normally used for drying my knickers … ideal, actually. Sage dries well and I use it through the winter in lots of things, especially Italian-based recipes.
The second photo was taken last weekend. After church I was invited to go to the home of a lady I’d only just met, and help myself to her redcurrant harvest. I’m glad I did – it was absolutely rampant. I put the fruit in the freezer when I got home and will make jelly as soon as I remember to buy a large sieve. Tomorrow, hopefully. Redcurrants have a lovely tart, fresh flavour and their jelly is gorgeous either on scones or with a nice piece of lamb.
I’m wondering whether there’s a redcurrant version of Creme de Cassis – has anyone come across such a thing? A Kir, Royale ou normale, is a wonderful thing. I could invent a nice Scottish aperitif – although as with most of my brilliant ideas, somebody probably already has.
And finally, here’s a picture of my own back door, with its neatly-edged path courtesy of Mary the Mower. I lashed out £15 recently at Aldi’s to buy the bay tree – a great bargain, I believe – and so far I haven’t managed to kill it. This morning, not before time, I transferred it into a much bigger pot so it’s looking a bit more comfortable. Every time I spend 70p at Tesco on a toty wee packet of bay leaves that are dull and dry and last no time at all, I tell myself I must buy a bay tree. And now I have. So if my arithmetic’s correct, I’ll be in pocket after 21 harvests … that’s a hell of a lot of bay leaves. Maybe it wasn’t such a bargain after all. But it does look nice.
Scottish readers will be all too aware of Scotland’s new drinking laws, which came into force a couple of weeks ago. Basically, the amount of alcohol present in your blood stream must be below 50mg per 100 mls of blood. In baking bread, I’ve recently discovered that mgs and mls weigh the same – I don’t need to change the setting on my scales between weighing the flour and salt, and then the tepid water. So it sounds as if I’m allowed to have half the weight of the blood coursing through my veins as pure alcohol. In the rest of the UK, it’s 80% – outright scary. But I’m not a scientist and I’m easily confused by numbers. And clearly my conclusion is false because the public awareness campaign in advance of the new law advocated drinking no alcohol at all if planning to drive, as even the sherry in your granny’s trifle could put you over the new legal limit.
I grew up in a largely alcohol-free household. If there was ever any drink in the house, it was because somebody brought back a bottle of something syrupy and possibly dubious from their holidays – Spain was all the rage, back then, for those who could afford it. My mother didn’t have to worry about drink-driving limits, partly because she didn’t drink much anyway, and partly because she didn’t own a car. An evening’s entertainment involved walking up the hill to the church hall, having a meeting of some kind followed by a cup of tea and a bit of home-made shortie, then walking back home again. Last year I read Jeanette Winterson’s brilliant autobiography, ‘Why be Happy when you could be Normal?’ Not that my childhood was like this but I could recognise some parallels, like the way that church life provided a community and family to belong to. At one point, talking about the activities (prayer meetings; soup kitchens; choir practice; bible study etc) provided by church involvement, Winterson comments on the joy of having something to do every night of the week, in a town where there was nothing to do.
Anyway, I digress. One of the odd bottles which found its way into our house was thick, yellow and viscous. You mixed it up with lemonade (lots of fizzing) to make a Snowball; and one Christmas season I remember my mother fixing herself a little Snowball on a regular basis to accompany Coronation Street and the filling in of her football coupon. To my astonishment, I found a bottle of said yellow gunk in Aldi the other week, and at £4.99 per 70cl, had to have it. Reader, I confess, it’s nearly finished. I might even go out and buy another bottle. There’s something nostalgically frivolous about it. It’s called Advocaat and hails from Holland. It has 14 degrees of alcohol by volume so mixed with lemonade, it’s not going to make a big impact on your ability to drive. That said, I’m not taking even that tiny risk. I’m very attached to my driver’s license. The Snowball is my strictly bedtime drink. Cheers everyone! Drive safely!
(Or ‘Hello Squid Kid’).
Last week I bought a couple of tins of sardines for the cupboard – apparently their nutritional qualities are unaffected by the canning process and of course they’re cheap. According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall they’re also sustainable if farmed correctly. However I must admit it was a bit of a ‘worthy’ purchase rather than a passionate one. My memories of past tins of sardines are not inspiring. Still, at 45p a tin in Aldi, I couldn’t pass them by. Then I spied, sitting right beside them, tinned calamari, and tinned mussels – each at 86p a tin, hey big spender! So I took a tin of each.
Cooking for one can be a bit of a challenge – I want things to be quick and easy and tasty; healthy; good for the environment; and preferably also, in my current circumstances, cheap. Well I’m glad to say my Calamari in Tomato Sauce have ticked all my boxes. Or at least I think they have; I’m not a sustainability expert but from a quick trawl on the internet I can see that there’s some debate. Apparently the little squids are scoffed by the bucketload by cruising sperm whales; so by comparison it seems humans might not make a major impact. And they breed fast, the little blighters, you’d think all those arms and legs would get in the way.
According to the box, my supper contained 7.4g of fat, of which saturates were only
0.8g. The whole tin contained 150 calories and it wasn’t even high in sugar or salt. With my baked potato and salad I felt I was being suitably virtuous but also, I have to say, it tasted really good. So now I’ll approach my tins of sardines with a more optimistic fork. Especially since Hugh F-W uses the term ‘Bloody Mary’ as a verb in a recipe suggestion… sardines with vodka, anyone?