Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Squid with an autumnal hue

Last night I decided to do something a little different with the 2 squid I had in the freezer. Usually I either griddle or bbq it with chilli and lime, or slice into rings and cook it with a breadcrumbs and lemon pangrattato. Last night, though, Autumn felt decidedly in the air and in my kitchen, so out came whole roasted squid with roasted vegetables and chorizo dressing.

So... for two people, parboil 6 baby leeks for about 3 mins, then leave to steam dry. Add to a roasting tin with quartered radicchio or chicory, courgettes sliced lengthways, quartered fennel - anything you fancy really, but that's what I had and roast until wilted and bronzed.

On the hob, saute chopped chorizo, garlic and rosemary in olive oil until the fat has run. (This recipe is actually a bastardized version of a Jamie at Home, but who follows the rules...?). Then scoop out with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil behind and fry off a good handful of stale breadcrumbs until rusted and crisp. Scoop them out, set aside and add the chorizo mix back into the pan. Add a good squeeze of lemon and 1-2 tbsp of balsamic.

When you're about ready to go, prepare the squid. Mine were whole and - tip from Jamie again - slide a large knife down the middle of the squid, then score concertina-like cuts about 1cm apart along the length of the squid - the inner knife ensures you won't cut through. Add the squid and tentacles to the roasting tin, set the timer for 4-5 mins (depending on size) and gently reheat the dressing.

Take the tin out the oven, arrange the veggies and squid on a plate, pour over the dressing and scatter over a handful of breadcrumbs. Deeply savoury, pleasingly textured and the autumnal hues are spirit-lifting on a dull night.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A Little Local Colour...

Ok, off with the slough of despond and on with life.

I did mention Tandoori roasted chicken and pickled green beans in my last post (not to be eaten together, if you've any sense) and I will post the recipes later this week, promise. In the meantime, I thought I'd start an occasional series on where I live in Crystal Palace in South East London.

Actually, intriguingly enough Crystal Palace doesn't exist as a place. Although it has a train station thus called, the area of Upper Norwood - its rightful title - was simply nicknamed after the Victorian Crystal Palace and the name stuck.

One of the nicest things about Palace is the village feel. There are more diverse restaurants (good ones, thank God) than you can think of, an excellent bookshop, nice cafes for coffee, a little bakery, boutiques and antiques and even a sex shop - no village is complete without one. One of the more contentious battles right now is the war between the community and the church in the hostile takeover of the bingo hall. Originally an art-deco cinema, there are plans to re-open it as such, which would be an enormous boost to the area and it would be nice not to have to go all the way to flipping Croydon for a film. However the church believes that what our ethnically-diverse community needs is yet another place of worship and goodness, they're being sneaky about it. Anyway, the battle rages on: you can sign up to the petition for the cinema here.

Another little-known fact, and one strictly for the Durrell (Gerald or Lawrence) fans, is that before the epic move to Corfu before the war, the Durrells lived in a little flat in the gardens of the Queens Hotel on Church Road and after Corfu they lived briefly again, whereabouts unrecorded, in Norwood before moving more centrally. This may mean little to the rest of you, but for me it's kismet, fate, meant-t0-be.... (MCD is quite aware it's only an accident of fate and birth and timing, goddamnit, that I didn't marry G Durrell first - lucky lucky man, the both of them....)

There are a few things missing in the Palace. A farmers market would be no.1 on my wish list. At the moment I go to Penge, which isn't far at all, but it would be nice to have one in Palace itself. There is a market every 3rd weekend, but it's that terribly tired formula of cynically-expensive French cheeses, olives, bread and salami, which is all well and good but not terribly useful when you're still forced to Sainsburys to complete the weekly shop. Hopefully it will grow and diversify, but the space in Victoria Place is a little limited, so who knows....

Apparently there used to be independent butchers, greengrocers et al, but with the reasonably recent opening of Sainsburys, they've gone. It's hard to believe, but there's not a single retail outlet selling fresh fruit and vegetables apart from Budgens (limited in the extreme) and the supermarket. Again, Penge has a remarkable butchers in Murray Bros, so this combined with the farmers market offers a decent spread. However, the farmers market is struggling slightly with lack of footfall - please, please, please my reader(s), support your local farmers market if you have one. Once it's gone, the council won't bring it back.

For a slice of life at the top of the hill, then, I'll be posting restaurant reviews, thoughts, events, anything going on really, as I get wind of it. Anything I've missed, chuck it over and I'll blog about it.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

An exercise in catharsis

I'm a great believer - if not excellent practitioner - in mood control, ie, bucking yourself up, finding something to smile about, giving yourself a good talking to when all you actually want to do is throw yourself on the floor in a stormy tantrum. Or worse, hide away under the duvet until the clouds have passed - worse because this is sometimes worth giving in to and extremely hard to resists - duvet days were a great invention, but for most of us, unfortunately, a weekend luxury. Life's not that convenient.
In my post last week I talked briefly on feeling blue and shaded in and how I'd 'had a word with myself' as a friend puts it and came back to some sort of equilibrium - a truce with myself that I could feel down for X amount of time, but thereafter, back on with life, hi-ho. And I managed it and the last few days have been fine, but I still feel a little wound up inside, not quite back to sunny normality.
Now, I'm not apologising for this - I believe that in actuality, humans have a licence to feel how they wish as long as they don't inflict their mood on others (and goodness, isn't that a demanding and incredible position to maintain, but we can all aspire), but I do find that during a consistent bout of feeling a bit down (no more no less), my dream-subconscious decides that it might as well get in on the act and give me a good psychological battering just when I really really don't need it - and it's this I want to explore.
One of my most frequent dreams that occurs when I'm feeling low is undoubtedly a Freudian classic (and I'd love to see how Jung or Adler might approach it), and it never fails to leave me feeling the next morning as if I might just give it all up now and go take my black and stormy person off to some wasteland somewhere where I might not poison anyone else.
So what is it? Well, the dream is always along the lines of a scenario being played out (last night it was Christmas Day) and my parents are extremely disappointed, then subsequently angry and dismissive about what they view as my childish point of view/behaviour/feelings in that scenario, and then dismissive of me as a person - it's like I'm wiped from the family unit. I, meanwhile, feel extremely frustrated and angry that I can't get my point across, that I'm being shown up as childish and behaving badly. Always in the dream, my parents end up taking my sister's side and pretty much constantly you can bet that my dream-sister has done something to antagonise the situation, making me furious and look like the bad party. So far, so very consistent...
Last night's was a humdinger though. This time my dream-sister and I didn't actually end up in yet another physical fist-fight, where I want to hit her so hard - and yet somehow can't quite land with the power I want - but she in fact called upon a gang of kids (good grief!) to threaten me with violence, push me around and make sure I was terrified.
The therapy-view is reasonably easy to guess at in these circumstances - it's never my husband in these dreams ever (for which I am endlessly grateful, one less stick for my subconscious to beat me with), but my family, whose opinion I respect and need (I surprise myself in writing that, but it's true) and my sister whose existence I'm sure I did at one point in my toddlerhood deeply resent, but it's all worked out now - but these things run very deep - the people whose love and sympathy I need most are those who are natural objects for the subconscious to use to turn that around. And - hard to believe - I'm not a depressive, although it was touch-and-go for a while there a couple of years back - God bless the old therapy couch.
By writing this down, I wanted to see if it's easy to gain some sort of perspective on the whole. Naturally I don't feel at my most loveable after these dreams and it takes a good couple of hours to bring myself around, talk myself back into a less harsh and judgmental stance on myself and feel a bit sunnier. However, I'm interested in how I'm responding to it writ large in black and white.
I still feel at the bottom of it all an underlying sadness and sense of worthlessness that stems deeply from the dream, that I'm better off on my own (a feeling I have to fight with all my being sometimes, because it's both untrue and ridiculous - no-one is). I find it hard to address these feelings or to talk to my amazing husband about them, because it would feel as if I was admitting an intrinsic failure in myself and an innate unloveable-ness - if I have these dreams, I'm both evil and unworthy and definitely insane, goes the thought process.
I suppose by writing it down, I'm trying to take away, or at least subdue, the power this recurrent dream has over me. It attacks me when I'm already at my lowest, reinforcing all my self-doubts, which I've worked hard to get over anyway, and it takes a while to pick myself up again, emotionally at least.
I now want to write - flippantly - what a nice, self-indulgent post that was and what you're quite supposed to do with it, I'm not sure. What I'm quite supposed to do with it, I'm not sure either. It's an exercise in reducing the power of dreams and taking back a little control - look, no hands - and I'm not sure yet if it's done the trick, but I'll keep you posted.
And tomorrow - just for added light relief - pickling green beans and whole-roasted Tandoori chicken - who says I don't do rounded.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Sunny - Outside and In

When the weather's gloomy as all hell we all need a touch of sunshine. Check out Island Fusion in Crystal Palace for a bask in the warm rays of Caribbean hospitality. And a glorious sunset painted along the back wall for extra good-mood vibes. Four of us has a starter platter with jerk wings, ackee fritters, grilled plantain, callaloo and dipping sauces; then curried lobster, a deeply savoury oxtail with rice and peas, jerk pork and chicken, bammy (cassava crumbed and fried) - a feast and a spicy, savoury kick up summer's backside.

Saturday was pizza night - we'll gloss. I made the dough to prove in the breadmaker - (did it in my old breadmaker before and it worked a treat). Came out curiously half-cooked, so we leapt into action and kneaded together another load of dough to prove for an hour, before rolling it out and leaving it to prove for another 30-45 mins. The tomato sauce was simple - garlic, basil and our own cherry tomatoes cooked down with olive oil and left chunky (laziness rather than purity winning the upper hand there). My favourite topping combination at the moment is aubergines, cubed and roasted in olive oil with oregano, then adding them to the pizza and topping with fresh chilli. Bake it off, then top with cold ricotta and fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

And Sunday saw a Portuguese steak sandwich: marinade the steak in bay leaf, oregano, a couple of tbsp red wine, olive oil, crushed dried chilli flakes, onion and garlic for a couple of hours. Drain the marinade and reduce to a tough, punchy little sauce. Griddle the steaks and slap in split and toasted ciabatta with rocket and the sauce dribbled over... Add potato wedges and it's a feast for a sultry Sunday night in the garden with a South American red...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A shade of blue

Today I feel sad and a little blue - quite a dark shade - and I'm not really sure why. I feel a little lost and out of sorts, not on-par with the rest of society. I don't know if it's the rain, which is likely as I'm very weather-dependent for my mood, or something out of kilter elsewhere that I can't identify.
I get these moods - as does everyone I suspect (written about eloquently by Tania Kindersley here and here) - but when you're in the mean reds, or even the furious fuchsia-pinks, it's hard to recognise that. So I've been snappy and a bit mean and perhaps not as nice as I would want to be towards the people I love. And hopefully they'll forgive me because that's what they do (quite often as it turns out).
I gave myself a good talking-to this morning - 'You'll turn out like your grandmother; no-one likes a meanie; it's your mood - take control of it' - but it hasn't quite done the trick. So I'm a bit lost still.
So last night comfort food of the most peculiar order. I always turn to cheese - so chicken, sauteed with anchovies, garlic, chilli and lots and lots of greens and samphire for health and then covered the lot with a particularly stinking Camembert slightly past its best. Rather like a carb-free raclette. And I'm not saying it was comfort food of the highest order (that might be macaroni cheese) but it was hot and melty and while the rain was pouring down, it made me feel a little better. But not much...

Friday, 7 August 2009

Quick, Quick - while the sun's shining..

Everyone rush to the garden armed only with a good book and the following sharpener - perfect for all day-drinking - very important when you're grasping every second of sun...

1 shot Campari
2-3 shots dry white wine
Soda water

In that order, topping the glass up with the soda. Long, cool, refreshing and it's known as a bicyclette.


Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A Succession of Treats

I so adore my newly-discovered farmers market in Penge, of all places. I know, I know, but when you come from Islington's Market, down south it's all a little more effort for less reward. But no longer - there is Penge and there am I, so happy days.

Anyway, very unsustainable and unethical, I'm sure, but I have a particular love of monkfish cheeks at the moment. I ended up buying 6 for a few quid, a pot of cockles and some smoked mackerel from the fish stall. Qu'est-ce qu'on fait..?

We-ell, Saturday lunchtime was bacon fried until golden and a little garlic, then I tossed in the (washed - they can be a tad sandy) cockles, a slurp of white wine, the cockle liquor, reduced the liquid and added cream (single because it was there) and served the whole lot up on toast with parsley, a squeeze of lemon and lots of black pepper.

Sunday we had ourselves a Southern feast of ribs from the Giggly Pig and chicken wings, which I rubbed with paprika, cumin, seasoning and brown sugar, before roasting for 40 minutes or so, intermittently basting with a mixture of ketchup, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, maple syrup and chilli flakes. Sweet, sticky and entirely more-ish - chicken wings are a fabulous cheaper treat, easy to cook and easy to adapt to any taste you fancy.

The monkfish cheeks are great on their own, but last night I fried some up with raw prawns (is there no end to my shellfish selfishness?), garlic, chilli, white wine and tomatoes and parsley and tossed the whole lot with tagliatelle and ate outside in the miracle that was yesterday evening's sunshine.