Un Adieu à L’Agneau
Lent finished and for the first time I haven’t missed meat at all (For some years now I have given up eating meat as my Lenten fast). We eat meat this week but are at least three solid steps closer to becoming vegetarians. I’m following the same route, but more slowly, that left first alcohol and then smoking behind. The route of knowing that you want to be without them more than you want to be with them and then, very slowly and sustainably, changing habits.
We’ve long planned to have a roast leg of lamb for Easter Sunday. It was a tradition in T’s side of the family and I like to embrace those traditions (as well as celebrating the Johnson legacy) and we’ve got all three children for dinner and two of their partners.
Having said that, the first thought we both had was: when can we do this again? Soon is the answer. May has been designated a vegetarian month: “No Meat in May” is the slogan and our Eastertide roast will be the last time we buy lamb for eating. I’ve had a photograph I took a couple of weeks ago of three lambs in a Staffordshire field as my seasonal masthead. You cannot look into the eyes and not feel a sense of guilt.
It was always the intention to shed one of the main meats from our diet this year, and the others will follow year by year. I hope this approach doesn’t lose me any vegan and vegetarian readers. (In the same way as my holding a quiet and sincere faith is put up with by my non believing friends). I have been inspired by so many of your blogs and recipes. I know if I go ‘once at a crash’ then I will probably fail.
On Saturday I’m delighted that there is still some fish pie. This one may not look too spectacular but, by golly, it tasted fabulous. I cannot currently contemplate giving up meat and fish. This is comfort food of the highest order. The mashed potato is floury, the sauce creamy and the fish and hardboiled eggs are like the very food of the gods.
I don’t think we’ve had a roast dinner since the epicurean festival that was Christmas. The classic roast with potatoes and two vegetables sometimes appeals to me as the very finest of eating and at other times seems a huge interaction of disparate and different flavours and textures piled high. This one works very nicely. The meat is well cooked in that is carves, eats and tastes well.
I’m proud of knowing how to correctly carve all the different joints. What will I do with these skills once I have become a meat free eater? All knowledge is useful. Even if it’s just nice to know things.
The Yorkshire puddings don’t traditionally accompany lamb but we like them and I’ve got a new tray that cooks 24 of them at a go. It isn’t over successful as it restricts the natural expansion and produces a chewy rather than airy pudding. It suits the Yorkshiremen in the family. It fills people up nicely.
Seven sit down to dinner. Along with mint sauce I use the crab apple jelly I made from crab apples my cousin Peter picked for me from his Staffordshire garden. It goes perfectly, and looks rather lovely…a perfect orange/pink.
Two puddings were on offer. Easter biscuits made with raisins because not everybody likes currants. The rest of the cakes are shop bought.
It wouldn’t be a Johnson family feast without a trifle. Why does it work so well? It shouldn’t. But it does.
Even though the children are now all in the second half of their twenties, some traditions must continue. When I was little Easter eggs were rather expensive. I’m one of seven children and I only ever got an egg on one occasion. T was the same. Because of this we like to over-indulge everyone.
On Monday morning we take David to the station and contemplate a full breakfast. We compromise and go for what I call a Moreland breakfast (after the character Hugh Moreland from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time) of simple bacon and eggs. The bacon is dry cured and red tractored. The eggs come from Frances’s chickens. Bread and butter is the only accompaniment for this meal except a mug of tea…and then another mug of tea.
I’m back to baking most of my own bread. This batch seems to have got a bit of an air bubble. Probably down to a minute’s too little kneading. This bread was kneaded to three Emmy Lou Harris songs. My rule is three songs for white bread, two for brown. Blame Emmy Lou. The bread tasted excellent and the rising dough (made with fresh yeast) filled the house with a smell from a different era.
The rising loaf was left covered by a clean damp tea towel. After an hour it was doing very well. After ninety minutes it seemed to have a bit of a dent in it. On lifting the tea towel the dent looked about the size of a cat’s paw. Percy was looking out of the window denying all knowledge. A further hour semi-solved the problem. The bread was delicious.
The sun shone and we continue a cream cakes taste challenge. Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and the Coop’s cream cakes have been tried over the last week or so. The winners, by a long, long way, are the local bakers.
I saved two pieces of dough and popped them in a dish in the fridge where they rose slowly over twenty four hours before being rolled into pizza bases. I’ve long wondered how the very best pizzas are supposed to turn out.
They simply couldn’t be much better than these. The base goes from biscuit cracker crispy at the edge to foldable and gorgeous in the middle. The mix of Wensleydale and Mozzarella give taste and textural contrast. I’ve decided (after forty years vacillation) to have all the toppings above the cheese and this combination of onion, yellow pepper, fresh cherry tomato and anchovy works a treat. I just keep eating and though it is a meal for two, I have slightly more than my fair share.
The rest of the roast lamb makes a simple and tasty biryani on Wednesday. I enjoy roasting and grinding a spice mix in the mortar and pestle. The photograph doesn’t do it justice. It is tradition and spice and tasty rice cooked to a treat. It will be the last time I ever eat lamb. Of course I’ll miss the flavour and the smell of it cooking. There is no other meat that absorbs spices as well. I’ll stick to it. In contrast to my younger self, if I say I’m going to do something these days then I generally do. It was a return to form with the spice mix and a fitting way to sign off.