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Monday, 23 June 2014

Fig and Orange Jam

Yesterday was one of those days that made me glad to be alive.
Nothing extraordinary happened.
In fact nothing happened at all.

And yet, it was one of those moments that creep up on you suddenly, when you know, in a heartbeat, that you are where you are supposed to be.

And it seems to me, that finally, I'm here. Where I'm supposed to be.

I had recently heard about a new local farmshop - one of those off the beaten path, family-owned-family-run gems one hears about occasionally, from here and there, and usually does nothing about, save reminisce for some seconds about how nice it all sounds. And then life takes over. As usual.

But yesterday being one of those so-rare Sundays without a plan, we decide to actually try and find it.

So we get in the car, windows down, sun on my bare arms, wind in my hair, Hotel California playing on a loop and sure enough, a long, lazy drive through winding country roads later - we are there.

And I marvel to myself how wonderful and how most-unusual it is when the journey is as enjoyable as the destination hopes to be.

The entrance to Fernygrove Farms is marked by a little blackboard sitting on an obscure turning, off the "main" road. Had we not been on the lookout for it, we'd have, without doubt, missed it. The signage - handwritten chalk on board - promises a "coffee shop with a view!"

We bite.

We turn into a dirt road that seems to lead to nowhere, and finally arrive at a little parking lot. There are three cars parked, we're the fourth. I already love it. We park beside a white van, sliding doors open, gorgeous golden lab sitting inside, wagging it's tail, waiting patiently for its owner to return. And I feel like I'm in a book.

Fernygrove Farms is an unassuming a series of converted barnyards. One houses a butchery and farm shop, the other is the coffee shop, which we enter, lift up our heads...

...And let out a collective gasp.

"Wow" says my 3 yr old, eyes bright with wonder
"Coo" says my 7 month old, right in my ear
Sid slides his hand in mine, and I squeeze a little harder
I love moments like this.

Because in front of us is a sight that I have trouble believing still exists. It extends, for as far as the eye can see, this English countryside of the books and the movies - that patchwork quilt of green fields, those grasses waving in the summer breeze, that sunny, bucolic utopia where skylarks sing and wild roses bloom. And us. In the middle of it all.

There's so much green, my eyes hurt a little. This is therapeutic you see, what with staring at concrete for so many years. Too many years. 

Inside is airy and light. Standing fans help dissipate the still heat.
The radio plays Snow Patrol:
"If I lay here. If I just lay here. Would you lie with me and just forget the world.
Forget what we're told. Before we get too old. Show me a garden that's bursting with life."

There's a girl with a smile and another blackboard, chalked with the same hand as the one outside. The menu is limited - fresh farm produce - eggs, ham, cheese, tomatoes.
I have a ham sandwich on flatbread that's slathered with something that blows my mind. I ask what it is and the smiley girl says it's a fig and orange chutney - "all grown on the farm," she tells me proudly "there's some of each in the farm shop!"

So off I go to the farm shop, buy what I need and then I come home and experiment before the memory fades.

Here's what you need:

1-3/4 cups water
1 cup honey or 200g sugar (or more or less, your sweet tooth, you decide!)
4 oranges 
14 ounces dried figs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup orange liqueur

Here's how you do it:

Wash the figs and trim the end stalks. Quarter them and place them in a large stock pot. Moving on the the oranges, grate the rind and save it - we'll be using the zest. Cut away the white pith and then segment the oranges. 

Heat the figs with 1/4 cup water just to get them started. Cook the figs on medium-low until they start to break down, stirring and smashing them with the back of a wooden spoon to help break them down further. They will start to thicken. Now add the honey, oranges, and zest, and liqueur and stir to combine. I use Grand Marnier...but listen, this is optional really,  Im adding it only because The Closet Gourmand once told me that dessert without alcohol is rubbish and since The Closet Gourmand is the best chef I know, I just shut up and listen. But you don't have to.

Anyway, keep stirring so that the mixture won’t burn on the bottom. Since you are working with honey and not sugar, the tendency to stick and/or burn might be a little higher than usual. Cook the jam to your desired consistency; the longer you cook the mixture, the thicker it will be.  
Figs and oranges that's all this is, but the flavour of their union make me shake my head in disbelief.
This is incredible stuff.

I treat myself.
I spread a little brie - salty and rich and creamy - on a cracker and slather my chutney on top.
And I realise I don't need to worry about my memory fading.
This sort of stuff stays on in a place where no one can take it from me.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chickpea and Lentil PatTEAs

Isn't it an absolute giggle how certain words take on an entirely new meaning once children happen.
Take TEA for example.
Not sure why that's in CAPS, but now that I've done it, it can stay that way.
Although it took me longer to type out the above totally useless sentence (not to mention this one) than it would have to erase and re-type tea in its grammatically correct avatar, but oh well. My fingers sorta do their own thing sometimes. Freaky, I know.

Anyway, we were discussing tea. Or TEA. Whichever you like, my dahlings.

So in the pre-kid era (I just love that phrase "pre-kid era" by the way. It's got an out-of-wordly charm to it.  You know, like the pre-historic era. Which it may well be, really, given how long ago it all seems.)
But anyway, in the pre-kid era, tea to me was tea. As in the drink.
A nice hot steaming cuppa Darjeeling brewing in a fat round teapot. Preferably a white one. Don't ask why. One doesn't ask silly questions.
So yes, tea meant tea. And tea time meant, sitting on the sofa, garden door open, shoes kicked off, legs tucked under, with a good book, teapot (yes the white one) having done it's job, sipping delicately on the freshly brewed Darjeeling.

And NOW?
(that's fully intentional CAPS usage, in case you're wondering)
NOW. Hmph. 
I shudder as I type. Which makes for tricky tpygni. 

See, NOW,  when one says "TEA" in my world, it means something entirely different.
Which is kind of a dramatic understatement on my part.
Because compared to the above described scenario, we could well be on different planets.

Because, now, tea means a whole host (I don't count, it scares me) of grimy nearly-4-year old boys stomping into my house from the garden after playing whatever sport they happen to be playing on any given day.
Frankly, I never really know what they're playing. Looks all the same to my untrained eye, because really all they seem to be doing is climbing on top of each other. And a few chaps seem to get properly pounded while they're at it. Oh and there's always a ball involved. And sometimes some bats or racquets. But sometimes not. Truth be told, I'm amazed the lot of them manage to disentangle themselves in one piece. Seriously. I have actually stopped watching them because my heart stops a little too much, a little too often when I do, and really - that can't be good for you. 

The only civilised thing in the whole shebang is the fact that they take turns to get pounded. Seems (interestingly) in this rather strange game that everyone's clamouring to get pounded. As in, the goal is to get pounded like a mutton chop. I once asked my son the rules of the game and he gave me a rather pained "like, really, how can you not get this" look and then proceeded to say "I don't know"
So I left it at that.

Still, the important thing (and one that makes my heart swell with so much pride, it's practically a balloon inside my chest) is that these guys take turns. Gentlemens' code of conduct. Or something.

Anyway, so after the above-described activities which happen quite routinely in my garden conclude,  
they all traipse in, demanding tea.

But you know of course that they don't really want tea
As in my notion of tea.
This lot aren't even allowed tea.
Unsurprisingly I might add.  Add caffeine to their already overstimulated nearly-4-year systems and they might all just explode with excitement.
Which might be quite fun, except I dare not try it.

So, no.
The tea they want is food.
And enough to feed a small city
How these kids have this much tummy capacity in their entire 24 inch frames is beyond me
But as you know by now, much of what they do is beyond me
I just stand and watch in dumb amazement most of the time
Which I find is really very helpful

Right, so mostly because I got rather bored, rather quickly, of making cucumber sandwiches or cheese sandwiches or cheese and cucumber sandwiches, I started exploring a few marginally more exciting options.

And NOW I can boast that TEA is part of my repertoire

For e.g. I refer to these chickpea and lentil patties
Or PatTEAs
yes yes thats where I was going all along, very clever of me I know, thank you

Here's what you need:

200g can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
200g can red lentils, rinsed, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
50g raw cashew nuts
½ bunch coriander, chopped
2 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
50g chickpea flour

Here's how you do it:

Combine 2 cups water, chickpeas and lentils with some salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the lentils are tender and falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Drain in a colander, and let cool to room temperature

Meanwhile, toast cashews in a small dry skillet over  low heat, stirring, until golden and fragrant. Chop them as finely as possible.

Finally, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, and translucent. Keep aside. 
When all of the above has cooled, mix all the ingredients together and shape into patties - its time to cook!

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in the pan.  Fry the burgers for 2 minutes on each side, then cook in the oven for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.

These are SO, SO good for you, you know. Chickpeas and lentils are packed with good carb and protein - just the kind of health enhancing, life lengthening stuff one feels obliged to feed children. Fresh coriander adds both aroma and flavour, while the spices lend a subtle kick of flavour to it all. I've borrowed inspiration from Mark Hix, who adds cashews to his potato patties and its a frankly brilliant touch - it adds a smooth, creamy "meatiness" to the patties that is just delish and really just brings it all together for me.

As an accompaniment, I use toasted pittas and a raita/yogurt sauce that is cooling and refreshing, the perfect foil for our piping-hot-off-the-pan patties.

Here's what you need for it - just mix it all together!!

100g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp tahini paste
2 tsp maple syrup
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp chilli powder

My troupe of dirty, muddy, sweaty, grimy - and eternally adorable - boys seem to love their patties - hope you do too! x

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

An Ode to Writing. And to Salmon. But Mostly to Writing.

This is much harder than I ever imagined it would be - this picking up where we dropped off business.
Especially in light of the fact that Sid and I talk about it a few months ago...

In sort of comes out of the blue you know, although I have been expecting it for a while, somewhere in the hidden recesses of my mind. But still, it surprises me. Maybe because I want it to. It makes hearing it easier somehow.

"When are you going to start writing again?" he asks casually.
But I know he's anything but. There's almost a rebuke in there somewhere, I know him well enough to hear it.
I turn to face him, look straight into his almond eyes.
"I don't know...I need to get back into takes a lot of effort you know" I say defensively. "Writing is hard. Good writing is hard anyway"
"No it's not - he says - not for you.  For you, it comes easy"

And while I dismiss him on the face of it, like we all do when a compliment is flung our way - one that somehow obliges one to act on it - inside, I believe him. Mostly because I want to.
You see because my love affair with words is stronger than any association I've had with almost anything else in my life.
And so I think maybe, just maybe, he is right.
That Writing will come back to me.
And we will be, once again, good friends.
Pick up where we dropped off.

But no.
It doesn't.
It's peeved at me like a churlish lover who's been ignored too long.
My excuses (particularly trying pregnancy? new baby? moving cities? new home, new life, new everything???) fall on deaf ears.
Unrequited love folks. It's hard.

So Writing spurns me and I spend many long hours in front of a blank screen, cursor blinking patiently, trying to conjure up something worth reading.
But I can't.
I try.
And I fail. And I fail. And I fail.

And so eventually, I realise I'm on my own.
And I grit my teeth and carry on.
I write.
Mostly rubbish.
And I want to give up several times.
But I cannot.
Im not the giving up type you see.

And so we come to today.
And I write. And it's still partly rubbish. Which is better than mostly rubbish.
So I decide to give it a go.

So here we are again. You and Me. And Food. And Words.
All that I love and always will.

Be kind to me, my friends, with these first few posts...
Be patient.
Because Writing and I need to become friends again.
And that may be a while yet.
And when we do, I'll let you know.
Or perhaps you'll let me know.


I made this one for lunch today, and it simply had to be shared. Try it and you'll see why.

Heres what you need:

For the Rice
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cube stock
salt to taste

For the Salmon
400g boneless salmon fillets
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 small red chillies, finely chopped
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped finely

Heres how you do it:

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chilli and stir over low heat for a few minutes. Add the orange juice and stir until the sauce reduces by about half. Add the lemon juice, soy sauce and honey and cook until you see the glaze thicken. Remove from heat.

Preheat the grill.

Cut the salmon fillets into chunky cubes. Rub the glaze into the salmon chunks and marinate by
leaving covered for about 20 minutes. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the glaze is sticky and yummy and caramelized and the fish is cooked through.

Meanwhile, wash the rice in cold running water until the water runs clear and drain off. Combine the stock, coconut milk, and salt in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the rice and stir. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat, until all the water has been absorbed and the the rice is fluffy.

Transfer rice to a plate, spoon the salmon and glaze on top and there you have it. This is classic lunchtime fare folks - light and luscious, tasty and delicious and positively bursting with Omega-3 goodness. Just the thing when you're stuck in that moment between somewhat hungry and not hungry enough.

Which is me now, so I'm off - but see you very soon.

Because here we are again. You and Me. And Food. And Words.
All that I love and always will.

An Ode to Writing
And to Salmon
But Mostly to Writing
(Lest it gets peeved again)