High in the hills of South East London there’s a portal to another time and place. Not a police box or wooded park, nor the back of a wardrobe. It doesn’t announce itself with strobing lights or whooshing noises. It’s almost diffident really … except that it seems kind of impossible. It’s an unpaved lane, pot-holed and dusty, lined with squat little cottages that leads into the briefest of shaded woods and then bursts into a glorious vista of the entire city. It’s invisible from either end – I doubt if many more people than those who dwell on the lane even know of its existence.
Charming though all that is, that’s not what makes this spot the aforementioned portal. What makes this lane an enchanted pathway to the past is that recently it’s been simply covered in blackberry-laden brambles.
The past I’m speaking of is, of course, my past. My childhood, to be exact.
When I first ventured down this lane a few weeks ago, and my eyes fell on the jet clusters of berries swarming over the lane walls, I was instantly back in a hot English summer of my childhood picking blackberries alongside the train tracks with my siblings and my Granny.
Does anyone remember that craze back in the 90’s, where people gave each other little pocket sized computer thingies that you had to ” feed” and “bathe”, or they pinged in an annoyingly loud manner? Or that episode in “Frasier” where Niles attempted to simulate fatherhood by looking after an eight pound sack of flour for a week? No?
I had forgotten them too – but they all came rushing back to me in the early hours of the morning about a month ago, when I found myself under the glare of my kitchen lights, giving it the full Colin Clive and screaming, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!”
I was making my own sourdough bread.
Moreover, I was learning – all too painfully – that making your own sourdough bread is not about the baking the bread, but rather about making the “starter.” And making a sourdough starter is uncomfortably like looking after a small baby for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of feeding and changing, quite a bit of gas, the regular disposal of beige goop, some malodorous smells, and far too much fretting and crying.
How did I get to that darkly cinematic moment in my kitchen in those wee small hours? Not naturally or easily actually. I have always considered myself more of a “cook” than a “baker” but my confidence in baking had truly grown in the last few years. Continue reading “The Bread Baby”→
It started a few weeks, back, under the cover of night. I’d been aching to try it for a while, but it seemed so difficult and dangerous that I was nervous about an actual attempt. I’d read about it of course, and even seen a few videos on one of those specialty YouTube channels. They made it look so easy, but still I was afraid I’d wind up with a mangled corpse and a kitchen saturated with blood.
A Decision Made
Finally I plucked up the courage to try my hand.
I waited until I knew there would be no witnesses to catch me should I fail. I brought my victim home, put on my apron and sharpened my largest, heaviest knife. Then, with a drink to steady my nerves, I sneaked up behind my victim, and set to work.
The relief and pride as the job was done were immense. And later, as I gazed down at my victim lying spread-eagled before me and sampled the juicy morsels of tender flesh, I knew I would do it again. And again and again. This was not some dark adventure to try only when the moon was full or when I could hold out no longer against my dark desires. This would happen regularly, perhaps once a week if I was lucky and could find people to share my new compulsion – and if my freezer could hold the rising tide of body parts. I had become a man obsessed.
Yes. Spatchcocking chicken had changed me forever. You may have heard of Spatchocking as “butterflying,” but that’s far too pretty a term for what this process involves. Continue reading “Spatchcock Psycho”→
It’s not what you think. I’m not wallowing in wine or whacked out on weed. (At least not right now.) I do, however, have homemade bread baking in the oven, and I’ve just put up a bunch of pickles. Again, it’s not what you may think.
I haven’t joined a commune in Vermont, delved too far into the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or taken up extreme right-wing ideologies and moved into a nuclear bunker in Tennessee. I’m just trying to stay hip. And for once, I’ve found I haven’t already aged out of the latest trends. Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years.
Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years. Continue reading “Pickled And Baked”→
I remember being a child watching my dad make his spaghetti Bolognese sauce, and how – though it’s certainly my own sauce now – mine is based on his. Yes, I know that sauce is actually called a ragu, and that in Italy it’s never served with spaghetti (except perhaps resignedly to tourists) because spaghetti is the wrong shape and texture to properly hold the sauce, but like everyone who didn’t grow up in Italy, that’s the way I first ate it. And it’s still how I prefer to eat it to this day.
As a teen, I learned how to eat spaghetti properly, instead of cutting it into childishly spoon-able lengths; how you gather a few strands on the tines of your fork, and twirl the fork against the side of the bowl or a spoon until they’re neatly twined around your fork. And how it’s actually okay to slurp a bit , just to get those few recalcitrant straggly ends into your mouth. (At least it is in my house.)
Then I remember how I learned to cook spaghetti (and all pasta) properly:
I somehow suspect that it is not that ambrosia that they meant Ambrosia Day (Dec. 12) to celebrate. No, I believe that it is a day devoted to ambrosia the fruit salad, staple of the Southern table. Not as lofty sounding perhaps but certainly more accessible to those of us not numbered among the deities.
So begins one of the loveliest and headiest passages of poetry William Shakespeare ever wrote. It hails, of course, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and is spoken by Oberon, King of the Fairies.
It’s absolutely right and proper that such an intoxicating speech should begin with a reference to thyme. This evergreen herb has almost magical properties in the kitchen, and a fair number of medicinal uses as well. Continue reading “Thyme And Thyme Again”→
Okay, so my name is Patrick and I’m a single foodie. By which I don’t mean I’m one single foodie among thousands (or millions if we’re talking about social media – I’m looking at you, Instagrammers), but rather that I’m a foodie and single.
And most of the time that’s a delicious way to live. I can eat what I like when I like in whatever combination or volume strikes my fancy. I don’t have to watch my weight for some theoretical partner because their opinions about my weight or shape are also purely theoretical. As the old song goes, I don’t have to share a pair of pork chops when I crave champagne and cheese.
In that “create my own drink” mode again. Last time the result was a cranky apple/pom variation. This time I was looking for a way to use up the VAST QUANTITIES of mint. The results are a refreshing, “too early for the bar bell” mock-jito.
Assemble the following items:
A sturdy tumbler
dash of either lemon juice or lime juice. OR even better a slice of lemon or lime
Take the following steps:
Muddle the mint with a slice of fruit or a squirt of lemon juice (or lime juice) at the bottom of the tumbler. Use the handle end of a wooden spoon if you don’t have a wooden muddler.
Add lemon-lime soda and stir. No need to use sugar in the muddling as one would do with an actual mojito because the soda has sugar in it already.
Add ice, stir briskly.
Add bendy straw (cause ALL my drinks involve bendy straws)
If you’ve heard the bar bell (or imagined the bar bell. or figured the bar bell must have rung SOMEWHERE), switch from mock-jito to mojito and add rum to taste. Or vodka. Also to taste