Mostly Concerning Food
I learned my worker’s rights in the seventies. It was a period that has come to be derided by the work ethic lobby, and though much of the parody is unfair, there was, in my case, a certain ring of truth. I wasn’t cut out to give my life to the company in exchange for a carriage clock and chronic arthritis. I knew the average number of days a worker took off sick and regarded these as part of my annual holiday entitlement. I had an easy solution to a nit-picking superior which was to take the opportunity to point out a few faults of his (always his) own and to seek a new post at the end of the week. I rarely allowed a hangover to prevent me from going to work but did allow it to interfere with my productivity. I held a dozen or more jobs during these years and as each was a job that attempted to exploit me, I developed ways of making the exploitation unprofitable. When treated well I responded well. Good employers got good service. I’ve never been afraid of hard work but I’ve often been choosy as to where I contribute it.
When working for a bus company we not only got free transport but also got our travelling time paid as part of the working day. When working for hotels and hostels, where meals were part of the conditions of service, I ate heartily. We clocked on before changing into overalls, we had fifteen minutes for tea-break but added on ten in front to make the tea and twenty behind to finish the crossword. Each day would have one meal break, two tea-breaks and about fifteen smoke breaks when we stopped whatever we were doing, lit up and contemplated the quality of our labours. Even non-smokers did this (without the lighting up). Often we’d done so little that the contemplation was of a purely philosophical nature. I was lucky in my work-mates and the tobacco conversations were often superior to the philosophy seminars and lectures which lay in an, as yet, uncontemplated future.
Now I’m working for myself and, as I am an exemplary boss, I work very hard. Each day has a meal break, several tea-breaks and no smoke breaks. I gave up smoking a number of years ago but still tot up the pennies saved. Each cigarette at today’s prices is about 45 pence. If I don’t smoke ten I can afford a decent steak for lunch. If I don’t smoke twenty I can end the day with a trip to the cinema. Every penny I have saved from not smoking has been put on one side and spent, quite deliberately, on sheer pleasure. Money denied Alfred Dunhill and Messers Benson and Hedges has provided holidays, paintings, concerts, theatre visits, CDs, even the computer I am writing this on.
I’m a generous boss and pay myself handsomely. I like being well-treated so I work very hard in return. As well as money in my wallet the food is excellent even if I have to prepare it myself. I don’t regard cooking time as work; it’s a relaxation after hours spent with words or walls (I divide my time between writing and renovating buildings). I don’t miss the cigarettes one jot but remember them for those many moments of quiet contemplation they gave during the working day back in the seventies. I miss my erstwhile colleagues with their ready wit and shared sense of giving true value to the boss. Most of them are now dead but their ghosts will turn up every now and again: during times when I put down the trowel or the plumb-line and look over the efforts of the day.
“Not bad Simon lad.” they’ll say. In the old days they’d say, “Now, what about a pint?” and we’d adjourn to a Huddersfield pub and tire the evening out talking around a table that would soon be clouded in smoke. I wouldn’t want to re-write a minute of that history and I’d give a great deal to be able to sit down with those people again. These days we head to the kitchen. Beer and fags have gone but the sense of celebrating the day is still there; and it comes on a plate. Food is my true reward.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted. I’ve eaten a lot of food since then.
Simple salad of hard boiled eggs, new potatoes, radish, tomato, spring onion and beetroot. There isn’t much beetroot in the greengrocers’ at the moment. Plenty of vacuum packed stuff in the supermarkets. It isn’t wonderful but you can improve it considerably by putting it in a serving bowl and adding some boiling water with salt, pepper and sugar dissolved and an equal amount of malt vinegar and letting it sit for five minutes. Not as good as boiling your own but better than in jars and certainly better than doing without.Spring has taken a while to arrive and a bowl of porridge with Demerara sugar slowly melting has been a popular breakfast of late.A typical work treat or modern day equivalent of a smoke break. All this (except bread and salad) was in the deli section of the local supermarket and all of it was reduced to clear. Less than the price of four cigarettes; scotch egg, gala pie, cured tongue. Now that’s what the ploughman would have chosen.A little smoked salmon with a poached egg on a muffin. Refuse to say English muffin as I know of no other kind.In the morning I dug footings for fence-posts. The clay was tough, the streak was tender. The spinach was to revive flagging muscles.Largely a leek and potato soup with cream and hunk of crusty bread. Soup is my desert island meal. If I was only allowed one type of food for the rest of my life it would have to be soup.Lots of family round at different times over the holiday period. Think that is my eldest son’s hand in the fare ground. I’d guess by the eggs that there were four or five of us sitting down to share this. The Swiss Roll has now made it onto my “don’t have to look at the recipe” list of favourites. The purist would say it shouldn’t have cream in it. I’m no purist.Mushroom and peppers in creme fraiche served up with spaghetti.Another lunch for one after a tiring morning up and down step ladders. This time pork chops with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy. I worked through the afternoon with an extra spring in my step.
More pork chops. This time with scrambled eggs (freshly laid by very happy (and inquisitive)) chickens, and some grilled tomatoes. If you haven’t already read Emil and the Detectives, I recommend you do so. I laughed uproariously throughout (though I seem to be one of the very few who realised it is a comedy (as well as a work of genius)).
Like many others, I go through phases. At the moment I’m going through a passion for Serrano and Parma hams. We really are lucky to live in an age when you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the great foods of the world. This little (3.7kg) rib roast comes from the butchers at the Welbeck Farm Shop. I cannot recommend this shop too highly. They don’t do as big a range as the Chatsworth Farm Shop but I’d say that the quality is higher. And I speak of an admirer of the Derbyshire venture. I hate the concept of the wealthy and great living in splendour and state but I’m not above taking advantage of shops like these.
My sister came round. Last time she came I made a cake out of the Primrose Bakery cookbook. Why change a winning formula? Last time the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted. This time the first and best coconut cake I have ever made. It was superb. If you like cakes, buy this book.
The best meal I’ve eaten this year. I bought a big bag of Wija potatoes from Welbeck. It’s nice to be cooking with spuds that arrive with mud on them. They last much better that way and have a better flavour. Baked with Welbeck’s thick pork sausages. A few pickled dill cucumbers have sneaked onto the plate. These were ok but the thing that made the meal came when T found a forgotten jar of beetroot chutney from last summer. I’d forgotten just how much some chutneys mature in the jar. Happiness on a plate.
I finish this post with some variations on Italian and Spanish ham meals and snacks. All with gorgonzola cheese, some good grapes and some sweet and wonderful Medjool dates. Happy spring-time wishes from Derbyshire.