Thursday, 26 January 2012

Famine and feast

As previously mentioned we’re doing a bit of a carb-free push. It got to the point where sadly, I could no longer pretend that I was carrying  Caesarean scar tissue and baby weight (16 months on) alone, and that I was fine with it. So we picked up the Idiot-Proof Diet book again, put ourselves through no-alcohol hell for two weeks and we are slowly losing poundage. Well, I say we. MCD is has lost about 10lbs so far. Every week when I stand on the scales it starts at 0, climbs to 1 or 2 lbs under the weight I started (I’m not telling you) and then wobbles; when I descend the needle is no longer at 0. I think I have lost weight: I have a waist and my jeans are very loose; the scales are against me.

Anyway, it means I’ve been scouring my books for food that is both carb-free and non-diet-y. So far the runaway success has been the onion bhaji recipe in the IPD recipe book which I reproduce here, if only to point out that not only are they still good the next day, but if you lost the spices and the onions and substituted vanilla extract, perhaps cinnamon and blueberries or raspberries, they’d make fantastic pancakes too.

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 fresh green chillies, chopped and seeded
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 100ml double cream
  • 3 onions, finely sliced into half moons
  • Groundnut oil for frying

1. Roast the cumin seeds in a dry hot pan until they darken and start to smell fragrant. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Mix together the ground almonds, cumin, turmeric, salt, baking powder and chillies, then beat in the egg yolks and cream. The mixture will be quite stiff but never fear.

3. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then fold in, a third at a time, into the batter with a metal spoon.

4. Gently fold in the onion slices a few at a time until incorporated.

5. Heat about 0.5cm oil in a large pan and, using a dessert spoon, fry spoonfuls of batter on both sides until crisp and golden.

6. Serve sprinkled with mint and dipped in yoghurt.

Another hit (sort of) was the Highland mussels out of Jamie’s Great Britain. I was really taken with the sound of this recipe – a base of leeks, garlic and smoked haddock and double cream, then throw in 6 shots of whisky and 2kg of mussels and simmer until the mussels open. I thought it sounded smoky and peaty and delicious. We made it and although MCD thought it was fabulous, I was a bit more ‘meh’. Grumbles: there was too much whisky – I would have halved the amount. I’m not sure I like mussels in a cream sauce; my marinière is always cream-less. The smoked haddock was yum but it was overpowered by the whisky. It was all a little sickly.

[Interlude: And while I’m on the Jamie topic, another moan: the serving amounts in this book are way out. Allegedly the above mussels recipe serve 6. We finished it between two of us. I also made the Worcestershire beef brisket sandwiches (I only ate the middle out of the bread… so sad, so very sad) for Sunday lunch the other day. Apparently 1kg of beef brisket will serve 10. My ass. It fed 5-6 and there was enough left over perhaps for 1 very generous sandwich. However, if you should care to restrict your friends, do make it. It is fantastic. If you want the recipe, let me know and I shall publish it up here.]

On the other hand, there’s MCD Jr who is going through his own classic toddler phase of famine and feast. Last night I made him a macaroni cheese with fish and peas. It went down like a train. Here’s the recipe – it makes enough for 3-4 generous portions. It’s good for adults too.

Cook 2 generous handfuls of baby pasta in a pan, adding 2 handfuls of peas 5 minutes from the end of cooking. When all is tender, drain. Meanwhile, heat a good 100ml of full-cream milk and a good splash or two of double cream in a pan and poach the fish fillets (I used pollock) for a few minutes until they flake apart.

Flake the fish into an oven-proof dish, then add as much grated Cheddar as you like into the poaching liquor. Stir until melted. Add the pasta and peas, coating them in the sauce, adding more cream if necessary. Tip into the dish and toss gently, then top with more grated cheese. Grill until bubbling.

This is him licking out the bowl after MCD made carb-free chocolate mousse. I do have my standards, so it was 70% cocoa…

photo (2)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The cleverness of Japanese crows

As promised… This was actually part of a BBC2 programme about amazing natural events presented by Chris Packham which I wasn’t officially watching glued as I was to the campest fitness programme ever on C4. (Fatfighters, in fact. I was quite unable to believe what I was seeing with my eyes. However I justified the horror because my brain cells were being fed amazing snippets of information from the BBC2 programme.)

Anyway, it turns out the crows in Japan were very keen on  the local crops of walnuts – I think walnuts. They don’t sound terribly Japanese – but had to figure out how to crack the shells. First they realised, being clever corvids, they could drop them from a height on to a hard surface, such as the road and that would weaken the shell. They then brilliantly progressed onto using traffic on the  roads as giant nutcrackers, timing the drops so the cars would crush the shells. However, the retrieval of the crushed nuts meant for crushed crows, and the exercise was fraught with danger. So – and this is so unfathomably amazing I cannot get over it – they learned to drop the nuts on zebra crossings (again I question whether this was actually Japan, but on we plough) and then retrieve their bounty when the lights stopped the traffic. Hoorah, I cheered.

I shall treat you with another amazing crow story. The next unexplained phenomenon was the case of the exploding toads. Now, I missed some of the finer points in this due to the sheer inanity of the rival programme, but in short: somewhere in the world there was suddenly a mass number of toad carcasses found exploded. After examination they realised each toad had the same-sized puncture mark in the same area of the skin. What could have made the hole? It was a complete mystery. Bring on the crows (you could hear them being lined up in the wings, chattering about how finally they get their moment in the sun.) Toad skin can be so poisonous as to be fatal to any hungry predator. The toads also inflate themselves to make themselves look bigger and harder to tackle when under threat, ie from a peckish crow. What they discovered was that  - and what I missed was whether this was through trial and error, because otherwise those crows should be summoned forthwith to the NHS – the crows would get the toads to inflate themselves, then, once the target area was increased and easy to get out, stab the toad with their beaks at precisely the place where the toad’s liver is located (the most nutritious part), snatch it out and cause the toad to explode. How they learnt about toads’ anatomy I simply don’t know, but there it is. Precision surgery.

I suspect next time we shall be told they have mastered light aircraft and were the first on Mars. I would not be surprised.

I haven’t written about food for a few weeks because I haven’t wanted to bore with our slight regime change. Essentially we allowed ourselves to indulge shamelessly over December and come January 2, I felt just disgusting. So we have turned to India Knight’s Idiot-Proof Diet, based really on Atkins, to get ourselves right again. I did it five years ago and it was easy and lovely and I can heartily recommend it.  The joy of it is that it works and is really not only painless but enjoyable; the sadness is that it isn’t really worth blogging about eating lots of meat, fish and green veg and not drinking for 2 weeks, so I have sought to distract you with amazing facts. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Thought for the day; Or Thank god for the Irish

otherwise everything you read wouldlooklikethis. ‘Twas the Irish who invented spaces between words. Based at the further reaches of the Roman empire as they were, they had no native Latin speakers and so any communications from Rome came in Latin, written without the spaces between words, as was the custom. The Irish, realising this was all a load of gobbledegook without a native Latin speaker, came over all practical about the matter and shoved spaces into the written documents to break down the barriers of communication.

And thank god for Radio 4 who offers you gifts of facts like these to brighten the day.

Next time, the cleverness of Japanese crows.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

In which we get a little teary

So how was it for you? Lack of snow aside (and how very disappointing it was to be snowed in the week before, yet cooking with the door open on the Day), was the festive season all you hoped it might be?

I’m going to come over all sentimental and say that perhaps Tarporley is one of the nicest places I’ve ever celebrated Christmas. On the Eve we – as in us three and my parents – took the dog for a bracing walk around the back lanes of the village and called in at my NEW FRIEND’S for a glass of Prosecco and a mince pie. I LOVE things like that. Back when I was small, people were always dropping round to our house for drinks, even on Christmas morning, and even now occasionally it can seem a bit flat, being ‘just us’. Anyway, the Prosecco was a swift one because we all simply marched off to sing carols outside the church. In my defence, I hadn’t realised it was DIY, but actually it was rather lovely; about 100 people just standing with their dogs and/or children singing carols at a swift tempo – which is important if you’re to avoid them being too dirge-y – and we romped through them for about 20 minutes. NB St Helen’s Church: How nice it would have been to put the lights on round the tree while we chorused… But it was still very Christmass-y, if a little dim at 3.45pm on a dull day in December.

Christmas Day was glorious, as it would be with a 15 month old who has recently perfected the art of walking backwards and whose favourite toys were the helium balloon and my Dustbuster. We have a very clean house. The beef was – may I say – cooked to perfection and I even managed whole mouthfuls of the Pudding. It’s taken me 34 years but I’m starting to not mind its yearly outing. Needless to say, MCD Jr ate it by the handful.

Boxing Day is the day of the hunt meet in Tarporley and it is – whatever your feelings on the event itself – so soaked in goodwill and community-mindedness it’s hard not to love it. Although it’s also hard not to love the acres and acres of coloured corduroy abounding up and down the high street; it’s clearly where mustard and poker-red cords come into their own. I wanted to clap my hands over my face and shout ‘MY EYES’ every time a pair approached but it might have interfered with the ‘goodwill to all men’ bit. All the pubs were open, offering bacon sandwiches and mulled wine. Santa rode through at a fair lick. MCD Jr stroked a horse with his Grandpa and nearly fainted with delight.

It was all so very lovely it left me feeling quite tearful and sentimental. The community here really is all for one and one for all, it’s a rare thing and to be a part of it is quite tremendous. I can think of no other place I’d want to bring up my son and I think that’s something worth striving for. The warm glowing embers of Christmas feeling are fanned all year round here and even just those three days went a long way towards convincing us we want to stay. If life here is as rich as the festive season heralds, we’re in for a blast.