Thursday, 13 August 2009

Mixed and Muddled Messages (and Sarah Palin)

It would be laudable to write a blog with a single theme, one coherent message, a dedication to a sole subject, but my life never seems to be that simple. Instead I am multi-tasking and I feel like some Earth Warrior Mother, a many-armed Durga with spade, ladle, watering can, basket and magic wand in hands. And, of course, because I have no time for myself, I’m waking each morning inspired with ideas, imaginative goals and creative projects so numerous, that if I don’t find a few minutes at least to write these down I’m going to have trouble even remembering them, never mind fulfilling them. I want to make collage, paint, photograph, read, explore but instead I must gather, preserve, dig, cut and cook. I start one job, only to be distracted by another and so on all day long until by bedtime (or more correctly blog-time) I’m surrounded by a maze of half completed tasks to unravel. And my mind is similarly tattered, hence rambling subjects here tonight. August for a self-sufficient dreamer is Hell!
There is an expression in English, “to carry coals to Newcastle” this city being the main supplier in the 19th Century. In other words, a redundant enterprise and quite pointless. So blogging today’s lunch recipe of green fried tomatoes for my audience of mainly Americans would be the equivalent. Anyway, the Internet is fully loaded in this regard, or else, find the recipe at the back of Fannie Flagg’s book. But for anyone who hasn’t tried this Southern treat, I recommend it. Better than chips or French fries, but in that ballpark (to keep the analogy Stateside), certainly no diet food and better, just occasionally, for that. Is there anything more rewarding than upturning a barrel of new potatoes with it’s secret hoards spilling out into the previously concealed sunlight? I don’t think so. And then there’s the taste, heavenly. These are the moments for which one gives up all those painterly pursuits.
See, there is another subject; Sage Elixia, see above in bottle, it will have to wait, another time.

I’m so pleased that the British (and friends) have at last joined the debate to counteract the appalling propaganda by the American right on the National Health Service on Twitter #welovethenhs. At last, some truth from the people who have first hand knowledge. I can’t express the disgust that has been prevalent this side of the pond in what has been argued by people like Sarah Palin and the others with axes to grind and vested interests to protect. This type of mis-information is closer to Stalin's reign of terror than a modern democracy. (as I speak #welovethenhs is under attack from the right, spamming and swamping, they have a bot in charge, one would like to think that a robot was all they could find to support the case, these people are really running scared!)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

We Don’t Like Cricket, We Love It.

It’s high cricket season in England. BBC Radio’s Test Match Special is heard at every turn when out and about, there are at least five radios tuned-in just in this house, in case we feel the urge to go from room to room, not one second will be lost on turning a switch or knob! With it’s the usual mix of ball-by-ball commentary, descriptions of pigeons on the pitch, cakes received and devoured, gigging and slurping, the effervescing Jonathan Agnew, or Aggers, whiles away the hours with humour and antidote between bouts of action for the duration of the five-day Test.
It’s culturally difficult to explain, but it has always been the theme tune to an English summer.
Tonight, BBC’s Newsnight featured an article and a film from New York about how the police department there are using cricket to help improve relations with the city's ethnic minorities. Of course, the ‘public’ was asked what they knew of the game with the typical comments on the length of the game and the possibility of there being no result at the end. I guess it does take a deeper understanding to realise a draw IS sometimes a result (especially for England at Headingley this week, one fears!)
Much is made of the differences between baseball and cricket and how the American audience likes fast-paced games. I enjoy watching baseball and would love to attend a subway series, the closest thing to a Test match in endurance and I think the Yanks could learn to love cricket. The 20/20 game perhaps? After all, baseball is all statistics, nuances of pitch as in fast balls and sliders, telepathic fielding skills etc, so add into the mix, condition of ball (new ball is only offered after 80 overs and the crowd always returns it from the out field, no souvenirs here), how it turns under different cloud cover and humidity, how the pitch differs from ground to ground and during the match and don’t get me started on bowling, the permutations are almost endless. The Leg Spinner, the Yorker, the Flipper, the disguised Googly and I'm only just breaking the surface here. See More. The truth is that the whole game has so many angles that five days is too short a time to witness them all. A lifetime is required! Surely you have to love any game that stops for tea and cucumber sandwiches?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Major Marshall’s Chutney: (Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning)

Each day this week we’ve hit the ground running, no early morning chats putting the world to rights over a leisurely cup of tea in bed, no checking over-night e.mails and responding, no singing in shower, just straight to work on the harvest. The last Early River’s plum chutney is made and it’s my personal favourite, Major Marshall’s Chutney. Slightly more Indian than Anglo-Indian, a touch of the Raj brought home, one imagines, by an officer suffering sub-continent gastronomic withdrawal, but with only English summer garden produce to hand and perhaps a campaign chest of spices.

Major Marshall’s Chutney

6-8 lbs Plums stoned and halved
Pickling Spice (see below)
2 lbs red onions
2 lbs red tomatoes –skinned (green are good too –un-skinned)
1 ½ pints of red wine vinegar
2 lbs tart apples
1 lb dried apricots
1 lb golden syrup (one 450gms tin)
1½ lbs Demerara sugar
1-2 tablespoon tomato puree
6 tablespoons pickling salt

Picking Spice
½ teaspoon anise seeds (optional)
10 allspice berries
1 teaspoon of dried garlic (or four or five whole fresh cloves)
6 thin slices of fresh fat ginger
6 bay leaves
8 green cardamoms roughly crushed
6 dried chillies or 2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 two inch lengths of rolled cinnamon
6 cloves
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons dried methi (fenugreek leaves) optional but good
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 whole mace blades
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
15-20 mixed peppercorns
Muslin to wrap all the spices and tie in a bundle (faggot or bouquet garnis)

Mince the onions, tomatoes and apples in blender to rough chop. Mince the apricots to fine chop. Add all the fruit to very large pickling pot or kettle and add rest of ingredients. Add spices in muslin faggot. Cook on moderate heat until well-reduced and makes a furrow on the surface with a wooden spoon. You may need to check spicing for heat and strength and remove faggot when personal taste has been acheived. Bottle in sterilised jars. Ready immediately if you, like me, can’t resist, but will age nicely for months to come and only get better. Good with everything!
I’m afraid the rest of the story is in pictures only until I have time to write with poise, I leave you caught red handed!

Enough to start my own shop?

Plum Jam on the go.

Plum Wine starting to ferment.

Early Transparent Gages - next on the list!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Plum-full of Plums

Another day at the plum-face, the kids returned and were immediately sent down the mines, where they picked, shoveled and carted the red gold, working alongside the nearby bees and butterflies harvesting their own winter fuel. Many hands made littler work and by nightfall we had 60lbs weighed up, halved, mashed and ready to ferment. Unfortunately, this seems not to have made the smallest dent on the quantity still available on the tree. Is this some sort of endless ‘Jack and Beanstalk’ trick? The kids have a gig tomorrow night, so sadly, no more child (-ish) labour available, a shame we had a laugh, helped along by last year's plum wine laced with brandy, wild stories and dirty jokes. I’m fast running out of plumy ideas and recipes. May have to advertise for takers.

Escaped the conveyor belt production line and came up for air just long enough to cook beautiful borlotti beans and pasta feast for the comrade workers.