Christmas? Not yet, but …

Festivals, Food & Cooking

I decline to have anything to do with Christmas before December 1st at the earliest. I close my eyes to Christmas decorations in the streets, and scuttle out of any shops belting out Christmas musak. A three month long celebration ain’t our kind of Christmas at all.

There are just two exceptions. Christmas pudding has to be made on Stir Up Sunday. And since I was a small girl, October half term has been the time to make the Christmas cake. That way, it’s got time to sit and mature, have all those rich flavours get acquainted, and wait for us to feed it with frequent tablespoonsful of hooch. We made the cakes last Saturday – one for each family in the family – and today I’ve got them out again to pour a little whisky on the already sozzled cakes.

That’s the beginning of our kind of Christmas.

#

#Kinda Square Be sure to read Becky’s post. She has some fine suggestions to make today a better day for you, and for others.

Be-Kind-to-Myself-Day

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

It rained yesterday, and the day before. All day. Self-indulgence was in order. An afternoon of cosiness and cooking. I took myself off to the kitchen. I made rich flavoursome stock from the weekend’s chicken carcass. I got ahead and made a meal for later. And then I indulged us both by making a cake – one I’d spotted and book-marked in last weekend’s Guardian.

Although not especially pretty, it really is rather good. Unless you’re working hard on keeping your waistline in trim, in which case it’s not. But it has a high Feel-Good Factor, which is a prerequisite of being kind to oneself.

#Kinda Square

School Dinners: a Labour of Love

Ariège, Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking, France

I was casting around wondering what to post for this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, Labour of Love.  And I remembered a wonderful experience I had when I lived in France, when I was part of a small team invited to cook an English school dinner for a local primary school.  Truly, the experience was a Labour of Love, as it was for the charismatic school cook, each and every day. My memories of this special day are entirely positive and happy.

September 26th 2012

‘School dinners, school dinners….

 

‘School dinners, school dinners.

Iron beans, iron beans.

Sloppy semolina, sloppy semolina –

I feel sick, get a bowl quick.’*

Do you remember this cheery ditty from your days eating school dinners?  Only if you’re British, I suppose.  And most right-thinking French men women and children would be quite prepared to believe that all English food is just like that.

Not the mayor of Villeneuve d’Olmes, where Découverte de Terres Lointaines has taken its Yorkshire exhibition this week.  Back at the planning stage, he’d told us about their school caterer, M. Feliu, who uses almost entirely organic or local ingredients, and who likes to introduce the children to the cooking of other countries every time the excuse arises.

We met M. Feliu at La Freychède.  We worked together to produce a menu (Cheap. Tempting to the young French palate. Three courses that work with the kitchen facilities to hand.  Conforming to nutritional standards).

The school kitchen.

This is what we came up with:

Crudités with beetroot chutney 

Macaroni cheese with green salad

Blackberry and apple Betty with custard.

Yesterday was the day.  I turned up at 10.00 with my English friend and colleague Susie to find the work almost done.  All we had left was to churn out batons of carrot, black radish and cucumber for the first course, which was not, let’s face it, Awfully British.  But it had to fit in with other considerations as above.

11.00: The prepared and cooked food was heaved into insulated containers, and transported by van to one of the local schools.

11.30. Ditto with van number 2.  This batch was sent off to Villeneuve d’Olmes, with me following.

12.00. Children arrived at the canteen.  One of the helpers, Pascale, spoke good English.  ‘What’s your name?’ she’d say to each child in English.  When she had her reply, they could go in, and sit down at one of the circular tables, tinies in one room, and juniors in another.  I joined a table of lively 7 year olds.

One of the staff told me the rules that the children expect to follow:

  • Take turns to serve the dishes of food to everyone at table.
  • Wait till everyone’s served before beginning to eat.
  • Try everything.
  • You can have the portion size you choose.  Once it’s on your plate though, you have to eat it.

Everyone accepts this and we all sat together, eating and chatting.  The children chomped their way through all the crudités, they even enjoyed the chutney, whose sweet and sour taste is not an automatic choice round here.

Once cleared away, bread appeared on the table – this is France after all.

Two more children served the macaroni cheese and the salad.  Most of us came back for seconds.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – in English – to a birthday girl.

I gave an impromptu talk on the food on offer.

The blackberry and apple Betty was served.  Yum! How could it fail?  Gently cooked fruit with a crunchy crust of soft breadcrumbs crisped in golden syrup and butter, with obligatory custard, of course.

Then the children cleared their tables, stacking dirty plates and glasses neatly for washing up, before going off to play.

I was so impressed.  The children here learn that the midday meal is so much more than a pit-stop.  The expectations, reinforced daily, are that this is a moment to spend with friends, a time to share, to think about the needs of others, and to appreciate the food on offer.  The occasion lasted well over an hour.

The view from the kitchen door.

Another view from Villeneuve.

* To the tune of Frère Jacques

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #113: A Labour of Love

Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Ariège, Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

It’s got to the point where we could almost put chilli on our breakfast cereal. Jalapeño, Scotch bonnet, bird’s eye, habanero, chipotle, cayenne: all have become everyday objects in our home.

Our love affair with the chilli began in France. This is odd, because the French, on the whole, do not do spicy foods. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ Henri howled, clutching his throat, when we put before him one day the mildest of all mild kormas.

But on a smallholding near us, a chilli enthusiast, Jean-Phillipe Turpin was busy. He grew mild chillies, medium-hot chillies, and chillies so hot they were off the Scoville scale. We came to call him ‘Mr. Chilli’.

Mr. Chilli at Mirepoix market.

He came to sell his wares every week in summer and autumn at two local markets. Fresh chillies, strings of dried chillies, powdered chillies, chilli plants. We became regular customers, as did other English, from far and wide. The French? Not so much.

Back in England, we still buy different chillies, every week. The dozens of varieties purveyed by Mr. Chilli rarely come our way. The ones we do have are everyday objects in our house. As are jars of spicy pastes and potions.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #111: Everyday Objects

A Foodie Childhood?

England, Food & Cooking, London

When I was a small girl in London food was a big part of my life.  I don’t mean eating, but shopping for food and cooking it – I’d made my first Christmas cake when I was four after all.  It’s possible I had some help.  And I certainly licked the bowl.

This Sainsbury in 1950’s Streatham is a close cousin of the one we visited in Victoria (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)

Because my mother taught all week, weekends meant a Saturday morning trip to Sainsbury’s in Victoria. I would watch as the shop girls reduced large yellow slabs of butter to half pound blocks using large wooden butter paddles – look, we still have some domestic-sized ones –

while others weighed sugar into dark blue paper bags. I looked on impressed as the man on the bacon counter turned the whining, shining wheel of his slicing machine – ‘Thick or thin madam?’.   After she’d bought all we needed, my mother joined the queue for the cashier’s window and fumbled in her purse to find the right change.

This is the kind of sight that greeted us as we shopped for groceries – counter service only (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)

It was the greengrocer’s stall on the market next.  I liked collecting the decorated tissue squares that oranges and tangerines were wrapped in.

This is a market stall in Cádiz 2020, not London in 1950-something. But you get the idea.

 I liked helping to choose the weekly vegetables, and learnt when to expect the different apples coming into season.  Discoveries came first, even before the autumn term started. Then James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Laxtons (Supreme and Superb), and round about Bonfire Night, the brown-skinned Russett.  Oranges and tangerines were for Christmas time.  I always hoped that there might be enough money left to buy a seasonal treat – perhaps a single peach.

Best of all  was the delicatessen.  This shop wasn’t at all the preserve of the moneyed middle classes, reviving holiday memories by buying exotic food stuffs.  Instead it was a refuge for the stateless, rather rudderless foreign populations of shabby 1950s Britain.  There were huge numbers of Poles who’d served out the war in the UK  –  my father was one; Italian ex POWs;  Hungarian Jews –  all the flotsam of Europe.

A cheese counter, probably in present-day Germany. (Waldemar Brandt Unsplash)

Here we’d buy Polish boiling ring, cooked simply in water and eaten with buttery mashed potatoes and sauerkraut or cabbage. I loved the wizened dried sticks of kabanos, a thin sausage that my school friends assured me was made from donkey meat.  There was Polish rye bread, speckled with caraway.  It was at the delicatessen that my mother learnt about pasta. We started eating spaghetti bolognese in about 1954, long before it became a British standard.  We bought Samsoe from Denmark which makes the best toasted cheese in the whole world. My school friends found our food odd.  That was alright.  I found theirs odd too.

A selection of sausage, quite possibly from Argentina (Edi Libedinski, Unsplash)

Very occasionally on Saturday afternoon  we would catch the tube all the way to Trafalgar Square and walk into Soho and the Italian store there.  Those impossibly long packets of spaghetti!  Those solid piles of Italian sausage:  pink fat-studded mortadella; Neapolitan salamis the colour of dried blood!  A great wheel of parmesan from which some cheery Italian with lots of smiles but little English would hack crumbly fragrant slices with a seriously stout and heavy knife! Aromatic roasted coffee beans clattered into special scales used for nothing but weighing coffee! And Italian voices, laughing, chatting, shouting and thoroughly at home. I don’t think we ever bought a great deal here.  We were there for a spot of sensory overload, and a few small treats.

Impossibly exotic in the 1950s: pasta neither hoop-shaped nor in a tin with tomato gloop (Markus Spiske, Unsplash)

Many of my childhood memories centre around preparing the food that we bought.  But that’s a story for another day.

Top Scran

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

I had a friend once, boarding school educated (I thinks that’s relevant) who used to describe a good meal as ‘top scran’.

Definition from Dictionary.com

This is top scran.  It tastes good, and it’s mainly free. I foraged this wild garlic found alongside yesterday’s Top Dog.

Here’s a recipe: Simi’s Wild Garlic and Potato Curry.

An entry for April Squares #Top

 

A Nice Cup of Tea … or Coffee

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

Oh, I’m so glad you’re here – welcome to my little party.  Look, I’ve made coffee already, but if you’d prefer tea, I’ll pop the kettle on.  Darjeeling?  Ceylon?  Do you prefer milk or lemon?

I was hoping you’d come along, so I’ve baked a cake.  I thought carrot cake would kid us into believing we were having one of our five a day, and this recipe from the Guardian looked good .  But I’ve got biscuits too: I made these with teff flour in case anyone’s gluten-free, but I love the slightly malty taste.

I hope Su will come along.  These virtual tea parties were her idea.  Is my carrot cake like yours, Su? And Jo.  Jo always appreciates a slice of cake, though usually at the end of one of her Monday Walks.  Which aren’t happening anywhere just now. Kiki wangled an early invitation, so … come on in! We don’t have to practice social isolation on line.  Let’s have a good time!

 

Inspired by Zimmerbitch’s Invitation to Tea.

And – oh look!  I have a six word post title.  Do you think I could persuade Debbie to come along for Six Word Saturday?

Pay-As-You-Feel, Eat a Good Meal

Food & Cooking, North Yorkshire, Ripon

Let’s begin at the beginning.  A couple of years ago, Alison and her husband were in Saltaire, looking for a late lunch.  They found it at the Saltaire Canteen, and soon realised it was no ordinary café.  Here, the ingredients used were all past their sell-by dates, and had been intercepted from landfill.  They’d been transformed into appetising meals, mainly by volunteers, and customers were encouraged to pay what they thought was fair, or what they could afford.

‘We could do that in Ripon’, thought Alison.

Actually, that’s not the beginning of the story.  We need to go back to December 2013, when The Real Junk Food Project opened its doors in Armley, Leeds,  as a café offering meals made from food destined for the tip.  People ‘paid’ for their meals with money, by offering skills or even food.

It was the brainchild of Adam Smith, who had a Road to Damascus moment on a pig farm in Australia, where the pigs were eating discarded food he’d have been happy to put on his plate.  Back in England,  The Real Junk Food Project was born, firstly as a café: then as an ever-expanding movement helping others develop their own models; as a Sharehouse sourcing and distributing waste food for those cafes; pay-as-you-feel supermarkets of discarded food; Freegan boxes of intercepted food designed for families; for distribution in a school setting (breakfast clubs, or for families in need for instance); even outside catering.  I’d like to get married all over again for the pleasure of having a Junk Food catering team deliver the party!  You can see why Alison needed to talk to Adam.

She found a co-conspirator in her friend Janet, and between them they located premises at Community House, equipment, cookware, crockery, cutlery, napkins… everything you need to feed the masses.  I’ve dismissed that task in a sentence, but I don’t underestimate the achievement.  They found volunteers too.  I wasn’t in at the beginning, but I’m part of the team now, and I wouldn’t miss my stints for anything.

A year ago, the café opened.  It’s on Thursdays, Ripon’s Market Day.  People start to drop in from 11 o’clock for a coffee, maybe a cake.  From 11.30 they’re eager for lunch.  Seating is at refectory-style tables, so whether you come with a friend, family, or on your own, you’ll be sitting with others and soon be talking to those around you.

Look!  Here are a few sample menus.

The cooks for the day will have been to Wetherby the day before to collect supplies, considered the random collection of ingredients and devised and cooked a varied and tasty menu to suit everyone: there are always vegetarian and vegan choices.  There’s nearly always a soup or two, and good old fashioned nursery puddings are hugely in demand.

The volunteers have been in since 10 o’clock, setting tables, chalking up the menu, getting everything ready.  At 11.30, they become waitresses and waiters: taking orders, collecting and serving the food to the diners, taking turns to wash up, and finding time to chat and be welcoming.  Newcomers become regulars: regulars become friends. We have office workers; young families; elderly people who welcome a hot meal in friendly company; visitors to the city …

At the end, people put what they feel in a box by the door.  The point is to save food from landfill, not to make money, so those who can’t pay don’t need to feel embarrassed.  Some offer services instead – there were some electricians in one week ….  There are costs of course – notably the rent: so far donations have kept us in the clear.  Any profits are re-invested in improved services.

Then, for the volunteers, it’s time to wash up, tidy up, put things away, swab the kitchen floor, pack away the tables and chairs, vacuum … and finally go home for a rest and a nice cup of tea.

Wholemeal has become a real asset to Ripon community life. And look at the food that’s been intercepted from landfill!  Win-win.  Thank you, Alison.  Thank you, Janet, thank you Adam … and everyone else who’s made it possible.

Radio York transmitted its whole morning show from Wholemeal last Thursday.  Anyone who’s super-interested can listen here, on BBC Sounds.

Light-headed? Blame the Gin….

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

… because it’s Seville orange season, and time to make next Christmas’s supply of Seville Orange Gin, that perfect winter warmer after a day walking in the bright frosty air.

January Squares, # January Light

PS.  Several of you have asked for a recipe.  There are any number on the internet, but they are all similar to this one from The Cottage Smallholder.  I saw a different recipe that suggested cardamom, so I have used this instead of cloves.  And I only used 150 g. sugar.  Also.  Three years?  Not a chance.  We’ll be drinking ours at Christmas.