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Mostly Concerning Food

I haven’t done this for a while. And yes, I know I said I was done with it but I’m not a fellow to be trusted. Winter has descended with the first frost and snow of the year and my thoughts have turned once again to baked potatoes and rich stews and dumplings. The camera has been stowed at the other end of the house where its sole use is to record the way I’m changing the property. I must be one of the few people who haven’t got a camera on the phone, so an indulgent spate of eating out isn’t recorded here. A pity because I can’t remember having my food cooked for me more.

The rugby union world cup dazzled the world with 15 a side rugby that actually involved some running, passing and tackling. Keep it up boys and you’ll soon be playing for over half the match. (In fact a couple of games involving southern hemisphere countries kept the ball in play for over 40 minutes. Something the fat northern hemisphere boys seem to have no intention of incorporating into their game plans). A league lad turned out for England and was roundly turned upon by the Nigels in the Grammar School press for being solely responsible for the nations dismal showing. The fact that England were winning comfortably while Sam Burgess was on the field (and the man he had marked out of the game for 60 minutes set up a try for the Welsh within a minute of him being substituted) was over-looked with a twisted myopia that soviet historians would have been proud of.

Having absorbed the way the union boys blamed him for everything from naivety to shortening the vowel sounds in the line-out; as well as lacking the skills for the lying on top of each other and grunting aspects of the superior game; Burgess made his way back to rugby league to the delight of half of Sydney, the entire north of England and the combined Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby union teams.

November was league month. A quality test series between England and New Zealand produced three well matched games that brought real sporting pleasure to the Johnson household. League is criticised by the Nigels as being too “stop-start”. They don’t mind the stop part- they’re used to that. It’s the start bit that confuses them. I loved it. Home-made burgers for the first test, hot dogs with Marks and Spencer’s buns and excellent sausages for the second and a big pan of chilli-con-carne with guacamole, tortillas, soured cream, romaine lettuce and freshly squeezed lime juice. Charlie came round and food and rugby were greatly enjoyed in equal measure.

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I’ve been pretty busy. I divide my days between office days and overall days. Now the mercury has dropped I’ve come inside, put away the bricklayer’s trowel, hammer and spirit level and taken up the plasterer’s float and the paint-brush.  There are also travelling days but these aren’t quite as much to my taste. I’ve done many of those over the years. I haven’t done enough home days.

The schedule  is busy. T gets home around 4 or 5. Jolly gets her third walk of the day as we share stories and enjoy the darkness descending. The dog-walkers of this part of Derbyshire are fair-weather fellows. The paths and fields are busy in the summer but from November to March we become a select club. Fine people and dogs all. I reckon I do between twenty-five and fifty miles in an average week: Jolly does at least twice that (mostly running!)

DSC_0035Twenty minute meals became really popular when Ready Steady Cook was on the telly.  I find twenty minute meals perfect for weekdays. I can work up until T gets back and then after the walk she’s got time to change and sort out her paperwork before I put a meal on the table. My favourite this week was a mushroom risotto using dried portobello mushrooms and vialone nano rice. I would have used shiitake mushrooms because they give me schoolboy giggles as well as tasting rather good, but they take 40 minutes to steep. Portobello mushrooms take 10 minutes in standing in boiling water and the stock is perfect for risotto. The rice gives a creamy finish with larger grains than carnaroli or arborio. It isn’t better. Just different.

DSC_0036 DSC_0039-001A lunchtime meal for one on an overall day. The sausage is again from Marks and Spencer. It is as good a Cumberland sausage as you can get without being lucky enough to have an exceptional butcher nearby. The egg is from Frances’ chickens and the chips are Aunt Bessies. I don’t use chips all that much, haven’t had a fryer for decades and find these perfectly ok.

DSC_0040Poached eggs on English muffins. Even we English are beginning to call them that. No problem there. There is a great deal still to be absorbed from our American cousins but I’d be happy if they’d take their cold beverages back (and their Christmas trucks). I have said before that if you know someone who can do a good poached egg then you know a good cook. The older Roux Brother used to interview trainee chefs by giving them a single egg and asking them to cook it for him. It’s a fair challenge. Do not use margarine!! A poor egg needs butter; a good egg deserves it!

DSC_0041The most November meal of all. Not a twenty minute meal. Potatoes take an hour to bake but putting a few potatoes in the oven and switching it on doesn’t interfere with other activities. A good cheddar cheese grated is my favourite accompaniment. Again don’t mess with man made spreads. Use butter.

DSC_0042These potatoes were king edwards. They baked very nicely and the jackets were (as they should be) the best part.

DSC_0043I’d worked hard and gave myself a day off on Friday. A full English (exactly the same as a full Scottish (except white pudding and occasionally haggis), full Welsh, Ulster fry (except soda bread and potato farl) and full Irish) and two newspapers. It’s been a heck of a week news wise and interesting to see how different papers absorb events and regurgitate them to suit an agenda. Oh, for true press freedom!

DSC_0045A very Derbyshire November skyline.

DSC_0074Family round for tea on Friday for a little celebration. I cooked half a gammon using cloves, cinnamon sticks and curry leaves as well as onions in the stock. I like to half boil it and then finish it off in the oven. That way you get lots of extra flavour in but also get a nice crumb on the slices. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed family members are featured on the coasters and place-mats.

DSC_0078A little Saturday treat for Simon. I’d eaten them (with finely copped onion, black pepper and freshly squeezed lime juice) before thinking to find the camera. I keep meaning to buy an oyster shucker and risk serious injury by using the end of a sharp knife. A real treat. (For me: no-one else would touch them with a barge-pole!)

DSC_0080Vanilla pods.

DSC_0081We got a micro-wave this week. It’s years since we last had one. We got rid of it when it seemed to be taking up space without ever getting used. Then we had a Christmas pudding in a cafe and realised that a microwave was justified on pudding grounds alone. I also was royally entertained at a friend’s house recently with superb food, beautifully cooked and clever use of a microwave to produce perfect vegetables and potatoes. Time for a re-think. Here a simple bought Christmas pud is served up with a decent white sauce (with a whole vanilla pod). I’m tempted to count off all the remaining days until Christmas with a Christmas pudding. It’s far too good to only eat once a year.

DSC_0071Catkins! In November! O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?