Honesty is the best policy

Most of us are not mad-dog-crazy. Most of us are either ‘normal’ or ‘eccentric’. Most of us hope we are normal; the eccentric ones hope they (we) are eccentric. The scolding we give ourselves when we do something silly is usually disproportionate to the damage, even if it seems like a disaster at the time. In 50 years, none of it will matter. Next year it shouldn’t matter.

Whether it’s a dog-poo-on-shoe-and-hand-and-bag-and-coat situation; the many foot-shoved-in-mouth occurences; the accidental sarcasm to someone self-important, or tripping over tongue/kerb/bus step, just remember: none of it matters at all.

Laughter and positive intention are the most important things of all. Together they make people easy, funny, personable, likeable … all these are the same. If you can fall over and laugh first, cover your mouth in open horror, and reveal your inner child to the world, then kudos to you. The world needs honesty.


Doing the Shrimp Fantastic

Potted shrimps is the kind of experience that hits the pleasure buds situated inside the skull, slightly above the ears but below the level of the temples.*

What is potted shrimps?

Basically, little brown, coldwater shrimps, drowned in butter. And then drowned in butter again.

Now, do not imagine for one second that these shrimps are either inferior to or cheaper than the terrifying grey slugs that sit in plastic supermarket boxes labelled Tiger prawns. Oh no. These are almost 3 times the cost, at £3.50/100g. This despite the fact they have travelled only 30 miles (not 30,000) and none of them air. According to the irrepressibly cheeky boy in the fishmongers, this is because someone had to sit and shell every one of them.  Fair enough, one thinks and shells out £5.60 for 150g.**

However, the good news is that 150g does three people very comfortably indeed. And the recipe is EASY. Easy peezy.

So, commit to the following ingredients and don’t worry about the fat content. It isn’t necessary to eat anything else that evening, provided you make enough toast to go with it.

200g unsalted butter
150g brown Morecambe Bay shrimps
1/4tsp mace
1/4tsp white pepper
1/2tsp fish sauce (the brownish Thai stuff in a bottle – nam pla)
1/4tsp lemon juice.

1. Melt the butter until it splits. Don’t bother waiting for the flecks of buttermilk to turn golden; it’s too risky, just wait for it to drop to the bottom of the melty goodness.

2. Pour off the clear (i.e. clarified) butter and ditch the buttermilk.

3. Pour two thirds of the clarified butter back into the pan and add all the ingredients except the shrimps. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes.

4. Pack the shrimps into three ramekins and pour over the spicy butter. Bang them in the freezer for no more than 10 minutes – 5 are probably enough.

5. When the butter is hardened, warm the remaining clarified stuff and pour that over the top. Back in the freezer for another 5.

5. Serve with warm, non-buttered toast and a minor side salad if you must. I had to put my shrimps back in the oven for 30 seconds to encourage them to come out of their vessels.

Result? Tasted just like the delights you can get in a restaurant, but more of it!

No picture – we blatantly ate the lot.

*this is not scientific fact, just the part of my head that feels wonderful when I eat really nice olives, or potted shrimps.
**actually ‘fair enough’ wasn’t the thought. “Oh my god” was prevalent, followed by, “is there a discount if you get more than 100g?”

Not Mini Minestrone

It’s true; I admit it. I got the recipe off the back of a can. The ingredients section on a can of Heinz Minestrone. Maybe not the best place to start, but in the middle of an inadequately stocked supermarket, it was the only place. I had a minor idea of what was needed for minestrone soup and a small amount of fabulous roast pork shoulder left from a meal on Friday night, so there wasn’t the need to complicate things with a fancy recipe.

The smug frugality I felt, chopping up ageing carrots and onions, was sheer satisfaction. It’s that feeling you get when you clear out your cupboards, clean a room and throw things out. There’s a happy new epoch just around the corner and it’s time to use everything up and chuck the rest out.

In lieu of a photo (I’ve eaten my photograph), a description is required: a rich-smelling, orange-coloured cocktail with texture in every spoonful. Peas smash softly on your tongue, pasta gives a little bite and every piece of veg has shape. The many experiences become the one.

Minestrone, Sakina Style.

Boil the kettle.
Circumcise as many fresh tomatoes as you have lying around and pour boiling water on them so their skins drop off. (12 in my case, and they were super vines my mum gave me, but use tinned if that’s what there is).
Boil the kettle again. Make stock with the proceeds.
Boil the kettle again and pour over a couple of handfuls of frozen broad beans. (This because in the supermarket I thought I already had a can-a-canellini). Boil for a minute past boiling point and drain.

Chop up leeks, onion, garlic, carrot, celery and potato and fry in EVOO until softish.
Scop a couple of heaped teaspoons of paprika over the edge of the cauldron and a few teaspoons of tomato puree.
Roughly chop the tomatoes if you’re not using tinned and throw them in the pot. Who lives long enough to shove tomatoes through a sieve?

Pour the stock on top and give it a twirl.

Skin the broad beans *sigh*. Better still, use a can-a-canellini. Don’t put them in yet.

Slice up any beautiful, tender roast pork you might happen to have in the fridge. In it goes.

Break up spaghetti/linguine/any long pasta and watch them sink beneath the surface. Stir it some more, season bravely (I used Maldon, black pepper and oregano) and leave it to simmer for 20-30 minutes, lid on.

Close to the end of cooking, add the broad beans and a few handfuls of peas.

Serve with grana padano grated onto the surface.

Dishus Spreads on Savoury Wafers

It’s official. I’ve eaten so much that the scales are refusing to weigh me. They didn’t even wait for me to get on them; took one terrified look at me and displayed Lo on the screen*. Too many fried cheese sandwiches and Heinz soup, methinks.

So, taking advantage of Himself’s sudden silaging frenzy (and therefore, erstwhile absence), this week’s evenings have stirred little of the usual soul hunger**. Until tonight.

One stick blender, two packs of basil leaves, 1 clove of garlic, half a jar of sundried tomatoes, one marinated grilled pepper, way too much expensive Grana Padano cheese, a large handful of cashew nuts, 100ml milk, 100g mature cheddar, 5 aging mushrooms, a pudding spoon of cream cheese and a few glugs of EVOO. This makes Pesto, Sundried Tomato Paste, 70s style Cheese Spread*** and Roast Mushroom Pate.

Strong flavours to fool the belly into thinking it is fuller than it is and only good things in there.

These go onto wholemeal bread wafers, out of the same 1982 cookbook as the cheese spread: the ubiqitious Better Breakfasts by Rachael Holme.

Very straightforward set of spreads.

1. Heat oven to 170deg C.
2. Swirl the mushrooms round a baking dish which has been lavishly coated with EVOO and a touch of salt. Condem to the oven.
3. Mix 140ml boiling water and 1 oz melted butter with 4 oz wholemeal flour and a pinch of salt. Knead for a minute, roll on a bed of flour to a thickness of brown paper (good luck with that) and cut out circles with a glass. Make holes in them with a fork – this is essential. They need about 10-15mins in the oven.
4. Grate 100g cheddar, tip into a jug, bring the milk to almost boiling (not quite – hard to achieve on a halogen hob) and pour on top of the cheese. Pulse gently with the stick blender, hardly at all, and see if you can do it without it separating. Pour into a nice wide-lipped bowl and stick it in the fridge when it has cooled. It sets really well.
5. Drop 50g basil leaves and a quarter garlic clove into the same, rinsed out jug, again, pulse gently with the stick blender. (Naturally I blitzed mine, but it is the first pesto I’ve made). Add cashew nuts (gave in, bought cashew nuts instead of pine nuts. A sad, sad day involving compromise) and blitz pulse some more. STIR IN (no processing) 2 tblsps of grated Grana Padana later and a few glugs of oil and we’ve got some pesto. Export into pretty cutglass crystal jug.
6. Whizz up the sundried tomatoes and grilled pepper (we’re talking large peps, not pepperdew) and stir in another quarter of grated garlic. Another nice dish to dish it out.
7. Finally, whip the wizened mushies out of the oven, tip into the jug with the rest of the grated garlic and pulse. (I’d definitely got the hang of ‘pulse’ by then). It wants to be choppy, not sludge. Fold in a heaped pudding spoon of cream cheese and grate in plenty of nutmeg. Roast Mushroom Pate.

The result is below, but the image was so desperately blurred, I opted for the “tights across the lens” look, an old trick used to make aging filmstars appear younger, which is why the picture is fuzzy. Or one of the reasons it’s fuzzy.








*The plan: to tempt the scales with a Brand New Battery and see if its mood improves.
**Lunch is not a petite affair. Believe me.
***Strong, mature cheddar flavour with half the fat. Well, kind of.


Gypsy Week!

In the month run up to the Fair, roads for 20 miles around Appleby are decorated with wooden posts and Police signs, similar to this one. This particular sight of a horse flagrantly ignoring The Law is not a rare one.

The grass verges and laybys of East Cumbria are additionally strewn with granite and limestone rocks, about the size of a car engine, as a further welcome to the travellers that come with the Fair. It’s fascinating that nobody seems to drag them away with their transit vans and horses. . If travellers and gypsies are as bad as everyone says, you would have thought they wouldn’t be bothered by signs and rocks. These measures might be a pain in the neck, but they’re not really stopping anyone from camping, or not literally, anyway. I theorise that it’s more of a psychological deterrent. What those posts and rocks are really saying is,

“We’re the Police. We know this layby/field entrance, grass verge is here. We’ve been here (you can tell by the posts and signs) and if we come here again and find you here, we’re going to make trouble for you while on holiday.”

If my theory’s correct, it’s a smart measure. Who wants to put up with the police while on holiday?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The best bits for me were:

the staggering through ankle deep mud, ever in danger of slipping and bringing each other down! It’s funny and everyone’s in the same boat, whatever fancy gear they’re wearing/driving.

and the trotting as they race up and down the lane running across Fairhill. I utterly failed to capture the feeling of excitement as collision looms … then is averted by underwhelmed, skilled drivers.

There’s a juxtaposition of ‘traditional’ with ‘modern’ gypsy culture; modernity tapping into its past for financial benefit:
Girls in scant clothing with beautiful tanned bodies (and some less so) revving up their little sports model Corsas and CV1’s past rows of beautifully decorated bowtop caravans;

Young blokes dressed in chavvy Nike training pants or jeans, riding bareback on ‘coloured’ horses.”GenuineRepro” bowtops, trotting harnesses, black cooking pots, flashy costume jewellery and horse tack.

It makes a good show whatever the provenance; gives you gypsies, horse clobber, half naked girls in mud and harness trotting. And foals. And a kid got run over by a harness buggy. And an old man was thrown from another harness when one of the five standing ponies tethered to it decided to shag one of the others. Hopefully both people were fine.

It isn’t posh.

Stand by for Appleby Fair!

Yep, Himself and myself are on our way for a day out at an unconventional event; Appleby Horse Fair! The below image shows just one of the fields on Fairhill which are covered in caravans and horse wagons. Check out the line of bowtop caravans at the top of the image! We went up on Thursday night to see what was going on; there is a general feeling of lawlessness; shrieking from groups of tweens, pushing and shoving each other; a child trying to ride a Shetland pony, flicking it with a riding switch until it shook him off; police walking about in groups of four and hanging around conspicuously in unmarked police cars outside crowded pubs in the town.

Appleby-in-Westmorland is a well to do, pretty little town. It used to be the County town and is the ‘capital’ of a Royal Borough due to its history. It has the unusual feeling in Cumbria, of being a walled town, although it isn’t technically one. Appleby has a very old stone building structure and a castle. And right now it has about 6000 gypsies, travellers, horse people and salesmen.

The people who live in the town get a feeling of being unsafe at this time, not without foundation. However, in recent years, there has been efforts made by both the police and the travelling community to make things a little less terrifying. My friend, Jane, tells me tales of being hustled by gypsies from when she was a teenager, to justify her irritation at the Fair (she tells the same tales every year!), but this is the oldest and biggest horse fair in Europe. It has been going since around the middle of the 1600s. Why shouldn’t it still keep going? Gypsies and travellers have never been welcome on a wide scale. It’s never stopped them.

So, safe on the arm of a very big man, I am going to watch the races and the carnage and walk through the mud and try not to get run over by brand new little cars filled with gorgeous teenagers.

But first: an English fry up of the finest dimensions. Watch this space!

Image C/O: Slippy

We’ve Got Geeses! (Year 2)

Right, just a couple of cogitations and then the Real Post.

Cogit 1: I was musing recently that Soulsubsistence has lost its way a little … not quite food, not quite farming, not quite … you get it, I know. But it occurs to me that it hasn’t. Not one bit. I help to farm (okay, I’m not quite an Actual Farmer) because I believe in meat that has been treated well in life. It also helps that I prefer animals to people. So that’s what the obsession with lambs and geese is about. I love to eat and talk about food, and that’s the driver of both blog and farming (to an extent, anyway; there is always more than one reason for doing anything). This is what my soul subsists upon. It is the background to my life.

Cogit 2: The mighty Tammy Maas scolded me the other day, in her laid back, Southern Belle way, for worrying too much. She’s right! What a misery I have become. So I decided to explain how we got the geeses this time.

(By the way, Tammy happens to have written a book with an excellent story of love, betrayal and the depths to which people can descend, A Complicated Life in a Small Town).

The Halifax Trip

Rooting through the Farmer’s Guardian classifieds is a regular (and possibly favourite) activity for Himself. There is always a reason for it. He marks the ads he likes with heavy lines and squares and embellishes important words with spirals on the ends of the underlines.

This weekend, the challenge was geeses. After much blather (and incredulity at the prices some people were asking), and a bit of pleading from me, we settled on half a dozen birds the same age as our goslings. Halifax-based (so we thought).

We went in my little car, to cut the costs and strapped into the back two deep jelly buckets with clean straw. We figured we’d get three goslings in each and they wouldn’t be able to climb out.

And here we have a lesson in satnag use:
We made it to the house of a great friend after nearly two and a half hours of driving. Pride was me. No satnag. I haven’t been there in years and never by that route; I couldn’t be more smug.
It turned out the gentleman’s location was outside Halifax itself. Oh, the satnag got us there fine, no problem. We just didn’t feel that steep, narrow streets with double hairpins were necessarily the route we would have chosen if we’d known the area better.

Our seller was a lovely man, who kindly dropped the price unexpectedly. And his goslings were huge. We slung the hysterical birds into the buckets (gently) and I strapped their buckets into the back seat of the car.

As we set off in the wrong direction, one goose made a dash for the other bucket, heaving itself over the edge, head first. We pulled over, Himself got out and told the goslings off and then announced that they could stay like that. We spent the rest of the journey with four gosling voices presumably complaining that they were too squashed and screaming whenever we went round a bend. The other two had so much room they went to sleep.

We picked up mum’s two little gozzers on the way back. When my dad asked how we would transport them, Himself replied with glee, “we’ll just chuck ’em in the back with the others, drive at 110mph up to Grayrigg, shake ’em around a bit …” My mum covered her eyes. I’d forgotten that the different birds we got from Chorley seemed to bond during transit. It worked this time, too.

I don’t think the car will ever smell the same again.