Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Pretty good the night, innit?

Crystal clear and chilly. Moon like an orange segment. Owl making tentative hoots from an awfully close old tree. The longer we look the more the sky seems to fill with stars. Suddenly it's silly with them.

Have some of those lonesome thoughts about the vast foreverness of our universe. Feel small, and as usual, very vulnerable about my shoulders.

Have a little shudder. Come in. Shut door.

Will go to bed, feel safe, and with the duvet wrapped tight watch the moon rise through an open window - and please, please, please let there be the music of owls as I drift towards sleep..

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rabbit in Mustard Sauce masterclass

Another recipe from the Trelystan cookbook -following a little too quickly on the heels of Crab Apple Jelly perhaps. Don't worry, this isn't turning into a foodie blog - its more that the opportunity presented itself. Here in the small mountain kingdom we are having a fortnight of Not Buying Food/Eating Stuff from the Freezer. An icy parcel of meat turned out to be a rabbit when defrosted....

Oop north, on one of Stockport's mean streets lives DLB who's expressed a wish to cook rabbit in mustard sauce - presumably as his mother makes it. DLB - this one's for you.

First up, acquire your rabbit. No, no, no - not from that hutch in the neighbour's garden or 'pets at home. Try a decent butcher's or fishmonger's - Evans in Didsbury, the one on the Brow in Stockport or the fish market in the Arndale in Manchester. I've seen them for sale still in the fur in Ludlow - it's that sort of foodie place - but I'm not sure if rabbit skinning photographs would attract the right sort of reader. I suppose a rabbit will feed 3 hungry people - cook two and there will be some to heat up tomorrow....

Joint your rabbit. 2 x back legs, 2 x front legs. 1 bit in the middle - the saddle. Kidneys and heart are OK too. In an ovenproof casserole (I'm using the ancient and ancestral Le Creuset) sweat a chopped onion in a generous chunk of butter,  25 - 50gms. Mix a teaspoonful of English mustard with the best part of a jar of Dijon mustard. Dust your rabbit portions with seasoned flour. Pour two glasses of white wine.
Add the floured rabbit to the pan with the onions and brown gently.
Add the mustard mixture and a glass of wine - I'm adding about a tumbler full here. I'm drinking the other glass myself. It's a reasonable Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
Mix well. Add a bundle of herbs - parsley and thyme are good.
And put the lid on....
Leave to cook gently, barely bubbling for about 1¼ hours. I kept ours on the hob but you could put it in the oven at 170 degrees. Keep your eye on it - sometimes it sticks on the bottom and we don't want a sticky bottom do we? When it's about cooked add some double cream - about a wine glassful (70 - 100cl). If you like your sauce thicker take some of your seasoned flour - not much, about a dessert spoonful and mix with some of the cream to make a thin-ish paste. (Add cream to flour not the other way round). Stir this into the hot rabbit and keep stirring in with the rest of the cream to make a smooth sauce. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Garnish with chopped parsley. Good with boiled potatoes, rice or crusty bread, green salad or a green veg.

Best of luck DLB.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More food for free

Last Sunday we parked the truck in Tuffins car park and I pointed out the crab apple tree a couple of spaces away to the Glam.Ass. Absolutely laden. What gorgeous autumnal bounty.

I was back there yesterday - buying some of the drink for the Grand Opening of Marton's new Village Hall. There must have been some pretty wild weather between my two visits because the crab apples which were on the tree were now mostly on the ground.

What's a gal to do? Well, find a carrier bag that's what and start picking them up. I felt a bit conspicuous at first - grubbing around in the margins of the car park - but my inner exhibitionist took over I and thought 'what the heck - these are credit crunched times and this is food for free. I'm damned if the squirrels are getting it.'

I returned home with 8lbs of fruit, a bit of grit and gravel and a few old leaves - nothing that a quick wash and a good rolling boil wasn't going to sort out. Into the pan with just enough water to cover the fruit and a slow simmer until the apples 'fell'. Knackered, gnarly, nobbly fruits but ah! Such promise. Their fragrance fills the room.

Then it's time to call for assistance - ladler extrodinaire the Glam. Ass. transfers mushy fruit from pan to jelly bag to drip overnight.  Do note how I insist my assistant wears a colour co-ordinated costume. (Oh look! In the picture below the Glam.Ass's pork pie has crept into the picture. What a poser it is!)
Add sugar - a bit too much but we'll gloss over my error - a short boil because these little fruits are high in pectin and are just desperate to set, skim and we have jelly. 14-and-a-bit jars of jewel-like crab apple jelly. Well done me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Michaelmas Fair

We arrived in time for the vehicle parade which kicks off the weekend's festivities. First up the tractors; the weird and wonderful, the remembered from one's childhood and the straight off the farm jobs (muck included).
This is Bishop's Castle, Shropshire staging its annual Michaelmas Fair - an event I would like to think has its roots in antiquity. The feast of Michaelmas has always been an important one, a day of Obligation, a quarter day when rents and accounts were due and a day marking the changing seasons with harvest over and darker days looming ahead. Traditionally goose was eaten at Michaelmas - lore has it to ensure wealth and prosperity in the year year ahead. Today though we grab a burger from a roadside stall. Good outdoor food, which when tucked into a soft bap and accompanied with sweet fried onions and lashings of sauce certainly fills a gap.

We watch the tractors and then vintage cars, tracing the progression from 'just like a stage coach' to 60s minis, Beetles and Campervans.

With the last motorbike -  ridden nostalgically by a helmetless rider - there is a hiatus. The crowd is waiting for more. In the expectant hush a lone woman's voice from up the street cries 'They're coming!' We lean out into the road as one to see that Yes! indeed they are.

The steam engines, those mighty, mighty puffing, panting, roaring machines are in procession. They are coming. They are coming and the excitement is tangible. Dogs and small children are restrained and sometimes comforted in the face of these smoke belching leviathans. No Brasso has been spared - they are polished to perfection; such handsome beasts.

Then just to prove that size isn't everything the parade ends with smaller machines:
All the engines make their way back to the 'Steam Yard' where they park up for the afternoon.
Here there seems to be much beer and tinkering and buffing with oily rags. This little girl though would probably rather be somewhere else. Bless:
My eye is caught by the tractor badges and I spend a happy half hour clicking away at the graphics:

(Apologies in advance for the irritating cartoon critters - the perfectly lovely Slide which I have used for 2 or 3 years has found it neccesary to embed stupidness. Why Slide? Why?*) Click the little cross to get rid. Now.

There was a lot more to the Fair of course than old vehicles  - live music and dance, exhibitions, food from local producers and crafts by local makers. Our £5.00 entry fee will let us in on both Saturday and Sunday - and I bet we would still not have seen everything. However by late afternoon on Friday we needed to get home to let our dogs out - the urgency of this underlined by the Glam Ass not taking up the offer of a ride on a steam engine!

Put it in your diaries for next September folks.

*PS I did ask the Slide people the 'Why?' question and was surprised to get a reply. Apparently the noxious cartoon is what pays for making Slide's photo posting a free service. Pah!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A week away

Holiday feet and holiday lizard
It was so good to get away - and better still to arrive. Teleportation remains a fantastic idea and I hope and pray that some boffin will make it a reality before I have to sit on a Thomas Cook Airbus or set foot in Corfu airport again. If I want Paxiot sunshine and hospitality then both are a necessary evil. Sigh.

We stayed, as we have done many time before, in Loggos. We note small changes; a few more cars and higher prices and some of the older folk do not spend as much time in the village clicking their worry beads and sipping their Metaxa as they did in previous years, but essentially this little island is much the same. The islanders are warm and hospitable and even at the end of a busy season are welcoming as ever.

 The harbour at Loggos - we stayed in part of the white building in the centre of the picture
We turn our faces to the sun and gently unwind - returning again and again means that there is no need to rush and explore to find new things - we know what is around most corners. I find when I get home that I have taken very few 'touristy' photographs of scenery and the picturesque landscape - my camera downloads a very odd selection of pictures which on reflection represent fleeting moments - the abstract interplay of light and shade, colour and form.

We are beguiled by frosty 'sea-glass' which we seek amongst the pebbles which rattle onto the little beach below our apartment. As once ubiquitous glass gives way to plastic 'sea-glass' becomes harder to find. Catch it while you can.
Wild colour combinations not to be tried at home - colour theory from art school days when art schools still taught colour theory. Somehow the Greek light is sympathetic to this counterpoint.

I play with sunsets:
and shadows:
We weren't the only ones to loll in the sunshine.

 We listened to music too - an unexpected treat. Our stay coincided with the annual Paxos September Music Festival.
More Village Hall than Wigmore Hall perhaps.
It was only a little incongruous sitting in the old school house in Loggos listening to three of Walton's quirky Facade settings; Daphne, Through Gilded Trellises and Old Sir Faulk.  Then Franck and Schubert too - a little more serious in tone. A young and talented string quartet, a pianist and soprano played to a receptive and mostly British audience while outside the Greek night provided symphonies of its own - the laughter and shrieks of youngsters playing football, the barking of a particularly lively mongrel and the waspy-buzzy whine of the scooters favoured by racy young men.

Then all too soon it's time for home again. A day in transit and we are back in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan.  All is well. The grass has grown, courgettes have become marrows and the leaves of the Liquidambar are now more rusty than green. There's definitely and autumnal feel to the air and I am quick to cover my Grecian tan with a warm and fleecy jacket.

That's it for the foreseeable future then. Refreshed? I think so. Just as well when I look at the diary for the next couple of weeks......

Friday, September 03, 2010

In which I revisit The List

We're off on our holidays soon and it occurs to me that whether one goes for a couple of days or a couple of months the amount of preparation is ridiculous, largely petty and has nothing to do with the duration of the stay. We're going for a week. To Paxos. Bring it on.

We have lists of things to do - see above. My list on the left, rambles, while that of the Glam.Ass. on the right is brief, achievable and succinct. You will notice that both 'Bag spuds' and 'fetch suitcases' have been crossed off; he may now loll around and read the newspaper.

Perhaps I should learn to delegate?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Droit de seigneur

Up on the field, in the New-and-Improved-Hen-Pens, my small flock of poultry have settled down well on their new ground; clean land divided into 4 closely mown enclosures and surrounded by an electric fence. At present it is so neat and new it looks like an illustration from a poultry keeping book.

The loss of 5 birds earlier in the summer - and of an old Wynadotte bantam in particular - must have caused ructions in the various pecking orders because there was much sulking and moping until new regimes were established. However, as far as I can see things are now harmonious. There have been no more mysterious fatalities, the mites (touch wood) are in abeyance and egg production is reasonable for the time of year.

The chickens which hatched on June 5th are now 12 weeks old. The cockerels went elsewhere and the six pullets (3 Marrans and 3 Rhode Island Reds) are now living up on the field too. Pretty soon I hope to put them in their breed groups but for the time being they are living a happy chickeny life in their own pen. They are happy little things (if indeed a hen can be a happy little thing....) and so far life is one blissful, innocent adventure. Food, drink, scratching, sunshine. Tra-la!

......Ah, but lurking in the adjacent pen is the Rhode Island Red cockerel. An enormous randy bruiser who today took advantage of an open gate to go visiting and to erm, check out the girls next door.
His own dear wives live in fear and dread of his persistent attentions and I had visions of these chickens being trampled underfoot while he had his wicked way. He strutted his stuff, clucked alluringly, winked a wicked beady come-hither eye at these little virgins and moved in with the finesse of Cassanova.

'Oi!' A shout from me and he was put off his stroke, smoothed his feathers and bustled back home - reluctantly.

The beast.