And Breathe…

We cooked Christmas lunch. My sister and I some how managed to cook Christmas lunch for ten without murdering each other with a carrot. Well, nearly. It seems gravy is a contentious issue.

In order to prevent murder most foul we separated the jobs to do about three weeks ahead of time so my sister could write a complex itinerary of timings, a list of ingredients, and establish marshal law in my poor mother’s kitchen. I was doing the meat and she the vegetables. I knew I was cooking a turkey crown and a large piece of beef striploin. My planning extended to turning up with a hangover, finding the meat, and cooking the meat. What we didn’t decide was who’s responsibility the gravy was…

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Needless to say, we had way too much food. The turkey crown was surprisingly tasty (I don’t normally eat turkey) and the beef was divine. We had about seven different vegetables; the best and most popular of which was the brussel sprouts…no really. My sister smothers them in cream and fries them with bacon, it is truly delicious. There was cauliflower and broccoli cheese, tarragon carrots, honey roasted parsnips, roast potatoes, mashed carrot and swede…most people think the meat is the most difficult bit. I got let off lightly. Steph’s veggies really were the stars of the show. We, as a family, have always prided ourselves on our roast dinners. We love to feed people; my father’s present to everyone on Christmas Day is the showstoppingly lavish dinner he provides.

A roast dinner is never just meat, potatoes and a few veg. It is a decadent celebration of all things seasonal. A feast. Each item lovingly prepared to showcase its unique flavours. It is a meal to take your time over. To prepare with love for those you love. Roast dinners are not scary, unless you’re faced with the same boring, soggy vegetables every week. They are an exciting way to explore new and exciting vegetables, delicious meats and different methods of cooking. The ultimate way to appreciate and stay connected to the seasons; once a week you can take the time to assess whats going on in the world around you. A walk while the meat cooks to see how the lengthening days are changing the pattern of the landscape. Duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, hare, mallard, partridge, turkey, venison. Much of the venison produced in the UK is from deer that roam freely, rather than being intensively farmed, resulting in superior meat. Good quality venison is tender, tasty and close textured, which means it’s easy to produce great results using simple recipes. As for vegetables, winter is by no means a boring season if you know what you’re looking for. Beetroot, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chicory, horseradish, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, salsify, shallots, swede, truffles, turnips, and a range of wild mushrooms.

Eating the seasons not only helps to ground a busy life, it is also a nutritionally, financially and ecologically sound way of organising your diet.

Between now and New Year I will add a few recipes that will turn your carrots from soggy reminders of schools dinners to transcendentally delectable nibbles of loveliness, your parsnips from boring sticks of root veg to dragon’s tails and sweet salads. Never cooked Jerusalem artichoke? Never fear. The gratin is here!

 

 

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Why are people afraid of homemade?

On nibbling from the hedgerow…

‘How do you know it’s an elderberry? What if its poisonous?!’

‘I know its an elderberry the same way you know broccoli is broccoli…’

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Yesterday I made beeswax and coconut oil balm and was shocked when a friend of mine turned it down in preference for something he could buy in a shop. Rather than take this personally…it really is rather good…I wondered why he would think that way. Others I have come across are equally perturbed by things I have either made myself and/or foraged.

Why are my friends and family happy to eat home-cooked food but scared of home-cooked health and beauty products? Why will some people happily spend money on blackberries from the supermarket but balk at eating ones foraged from a natural hedgerow?

The balm, for example, is made using a recipe I was taught by an organic soap maker. He uses the very same recipe for the lip and beard balms he makes himself and markets in his online shop and to wholesalers that supply companies such as Neal’s Yard. So its a tried and tested recipe that is sold in shops but because I made it at home in my caravan, suddenly that makes it unappealing. But my homemade bread, baked in the log burner, went down a treat; even if it was slightly burnt with a light coating of ash…

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As for foraged ingredients. I am a chef and enjoy using unusual ingredients in the food I prepare. Like magnolia petals in homemade sushi. The flowers of the magnolia tree are edible, there is a wealth of data online to prove this, and the fact that I’m alive and well certainly proves that at least I find them palatable! They taste faintly of ginger and have a similar texture and juicy crunch to endive, also known as chicory. It is perfect for sushi, in salads or as a scoop-like vehicle for humus, remoulade or any number of delectable dips. But would my friend eat it? No. How do you know its safe? What I’m getting at here is, why are people fine to eat foods packaged in argon gas, wrapped in plastic and covered in chemicals, yet frightened of eating natural, wild, package less flowers. If it were served in a restaurant would you be happy with it? Because I cook there too…Why are people happy to use beard and lip balms that are full of colours, preservatives and stabilizing chemicals but won’t use my two ingredient, organic balm?

I’m not sure of the answer to be honest. But I think a lot of it has to do with how we buy things these days, and how we are educated. People in my Nanny’s generation made their own clothes, made food from scratch and grew vegetables in their gardens. They weren’t afraid of a bit of chicken fluff on an egg, because the egg came out of the chicken’s backside! And they knew that. They weren’t afraid of mud on carrots or potatoes because the mud was a part of their garden. They knew the provenance of that mud in their bones. Now we are told that mud is dirty, that eggs carry disease and that all produce must be peeled – because there are chemicals on the skin if its not been produced organically. And yet, sloe gin, made from wild blackthorn fruit (sloes) is more popular than ever in the supermarkets? Weird.

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But then, it is gin, and who doesn’t like gin?!