Of Simplicity and Spuds

‘What’s the ****ing point of a fancy loaf of bread or making poncey sauce when you can buy it cheap in the shops?’ shouts one of the ghastly Gogglebox blokes when forced to watch Tom Kerridge’s ‘Top of the Shops’.

Life would be quicker if I did one huge haul of fluorescent sauces and sliced white once a week.  But oh, no.  Why make life easy?  Even whilst cooking for other people all weekend we still go home, wash up and start again for ourselves.

The 70s were all about convenience.  Mum would drive to the little local supermarket to buy a packet of Smash rather than walk round the corner to Vic le Riche’s rickety little stall with the honesty box on his muddy farm drive for a bag of freshly-dug Jersey Royals.  Not really more convenient.  She probably just wanted to keep up with the times.

A neighbour would bring mackerel after a day out fishing, or crabs which clattered around the kitchen floor while us lot stood on chairs, screaming.  I don’t remember us eating those goodies though; probably saved for the grown-ups while we ate our reconstituted spud.

Lurch from the 70s to the yuppie years.  Working for a merchant bank, it was all excess – any excuse for champagne and eating out.  Lobster? Chateaubriand?   Yes please.  Madness really.  But it was the norm.

Now?  I’m at *that* age.  I want good food but can’t be bothered to faff.  I’m knackered and curmudgeonly.  I eat the things that still make my parents grunt at suppertime:  leftover Jersey Royals, roasted in a bit of oil, then dunked in a fried egg.

Instead of reaching for Nigella, if I want to bake a cake, I use Mum’s old ‘4, 4, 4, 2′ recipe for buns (4oz self-raising flour, 4oz caster sugar, 4oz marge, 2 eggs).  Beat softened butter (I still use Stork, for nostalgia!) with sugar ’til pale; add the flour, then the beaten eggs.  Go wild, pop in a dribble of vanilla extract.  Dollop into (buttered & floured) cake tins.  The whole thing takes about 20 mins, including the 15 mins baking (180 in a fan oven).  Feeling yuppie?  Bit of whipped cream with a little bit of icing sugar and sliced strawberries in the middle.   Lush.

Homemade lunchbox muffins.  What child wouldn’t want those?  Not us 70s kids, to be honest.  We wanted Penguins.  And I still have a soft spot for a Club.  Mint, please…

Waste Not Want Not

The Greek God has many skills (apparently).  His best, he often tells me, is being able to conjure up a feast from bits and bobs – leftovers, if you will – from the fridge or cupboard.

We watch Masterchef together with mixed emotion; the invention test hurls me into menopausal pantry anxiety while the Greek God bursts forth with recipe innovation.

It’s not how my brain works.  I like to shop, French-style, daily.  Fresh veg, a bit of fish… whatevs.  Years with teens and the frequent lament that “I may as well just empty my purse over the bin” as they ‘didn’t really fancy’ what we had rings loud and frequent.

I’m an artisan foodie lady now – skinflint?  miseryarse?  on trend?  I’ve started shopping more effectively.  I think ahead. Crikey.  Don’t tell anyone, will you?

But there’s a problem.  I shop. I roast a spiffing chicken.  Last night’s came with new potatoes (where are my Jersey Royals this year?!) and fennel slaw.  My new mean mind expects this chook to last a while.  I’ve got veg in to roast with couscous with the other half. Two meals.  Boom.

This morning, the Greek God waves a sandwich bag at me.  “Awesome leftovers!” Our evening’s dinner is compressed inside a gone-wrong pitta.  Oh dear.

How does one convey that leftovers aren’t *actually* leftovers but dinners for the rest of the week?  I don’t want to squish his creativity or ‘owt.  So.  We currently have his ‘n’ hers fermentation going on.  Can you guess which one’s which?  On the right, rhubarb and raspberry gin.  On the left, some sort of dodgy pickled leftover cabbage destined to become a smoked kimchi granita gel.  Bloody Masterchef.  Bloody Greek God.  Thank goodness for leftovers gin…

Going Against the Grain

It’s fair to say that, doing the street food thing, we’ve met the BEST people ever.  Passionate, wonderful, odd – and mainly skint – people.

Not long after we started, we had a random message on Twitter.  A photo of some whisky with the tasting notes that said it would go well with souvlaki.  Er, ok, I thought. Whatevs.

And then this man turned up with a little bottle.  At Bury St Edmunds Market.  I was a little surprised.  I didn’t let it show though.  I’m a pro, doncha know?  I poured it into a mug and, serving up a souvlaki to our visitor, we decided to see if it was true.  It was.  Bizarrely.  Whisky and souvlaki.  Who knew?  (A 19-year-old Highland Park bourbon cask matured whisky, since you ask.)

That mug of whisky was passed between me, the Greek God, Whisky Man, our teetotal vegan market neighbour and the Greek God’s 16-year-old son.  It’s funny how people appear when there’s free secret booze in a mug!

18 months later, Whisky Man still pitches up, sometimes clutching fabulous goodies to try.  I’m ashamed to say  I’m never going to be a whisky afficionado (though I love the idea that, as a writer, I’ll be slurping until all hours, Tom Waits style, spilling words onto the page as it courses through my veins).  But he’s a top bloke. And he knows about gin too.  Oh yes.

There are such good people in our new life: finding awesome gin, making their own cider, feeding us 80% butter croissants.  Hoisin duck pies.  Hot, sticky, Asian coconut buns.  Punjabi samosas & pakora.  Our lives and waistbands are bulging but we have the best time.  And, as Cider Making Man said last week… “I’ve waited all my life to be in a position to be this skint.  Fun though, isn’t it?”  Hell yeah.

New Year, New Dreams

January’s a funny old month; Christmas a distant memory yet daffodils a hopeful pipe dream.  Sunshine is what we need and where better to recharge, recalibrate and fire oneself up for the year ahead than… er… the Northumbrian coast.  A great big Greek bloke, posh Jersey bird and their brute of a rescue dog holed up in a teeny tiny whitewashed cottage in Seahouses.

My mother’s uncles were  fishermen in Seahouses, back in the day.  I grew up with Mum’s endless stories of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Of Lowry’s paintings.  Of how the endless consumption of oily fish made her aunts  the least wrinkly ladies ever.  Of the time Mum was supposed to be looking after her little brother, Jimmy, when they got cut off by the tide and nearly drowned until she spotted steps to safety.  Magical steps, that appeared magically!  Steps that had never been seen before nor again after.  The steps that saved their lives.

I confess, I didn’t want to listen to Mum’s dreary old northern ramblings as a child growing up in Jersey.  But I suppose those stories became embedded because, well, here I am.  The old girl has talked about coming back to visit for years – along with all the other places she’d been saving for her retirement.  But her eyesight’s gone, unexpectedly.  She can’t even stalk Seahouses on Google Maps now, so here I am.  Seeing it all for her.   I’ve seen ‘her’ castle; the Bamburgh butcher (Carter’s, established in 1887, and one of Rick Stein’s original food heroes) where I ‘had’ to buy sausages (the Greek God’s cooking them as I type).  I haven’t seen the magical life-saving steps though.  Funny, that.

The weird thing?  I’m strangely at home here.  I can find my way without satnav.  I’ve fallen in love – hopelessly, helplessly and irrevocably – with the arse-bitingly cold wind that chases us as we slip and slide over the frozen rockpools and frosty rocks; mad cows guarding the gate from dune to beach; hot kippers in a bun; proper pubs full of glowing glass and brass with pints of Farne Island beer to be swigged by a roaring fire.

Tomorrow we visit Holy Island after which my grandmother, Lindis, was named.  The perfect way to spend our last day.  But we’ll be back.  I’m already secretly searching for houses.  Shhhhh.  It’s our little secret.  I need to talk the Greek God round first.

A Lovely Christmas Post

So I know a lot of ‘blended’ families aren’t all ho ho ho but luckily, from their first well-timed meeting on the doorstep a few Christmas Eves ago like a Richard Curtis film scene, the four boys we have between us all get along jolly well.

The blended Crimbo tree, however… oh dear lord.  Past years have been a tragic tinselled tangle of mismatched ancient decorations because, you know… tradition. And it’s always so heartwarming as the sprogs gasp with great festive joy, ‘oh, not that lame old shit again’ or, my personal favourite, ‘for God’s sake Mum, what’s actually wrong with you?’ as they behold the beauty of 20-year-old bits of curled up, mangled foil with their name spelt wrong on the back.

I’m not really sure what constitutes a good tree but this one’s got balls, I’ll give it that. The Greek God’s angel has taken precedence, the smug cow. Mine looks rumpled if relieved to have been retired after years of being strapped to the tree like a hostage. It’s a great comfort that her successor seems to be wearing handcuffs though. A new adorable tradition in the making.

Merry Christmas then…