Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Great British BBQ

Yeah, that's how you do it. BBQ outside in the pouring rain; guests huddling inside the garage getting drunk.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flopsy and Mopsy

Ahoy there, maties! We haven't yet been flooded out of our homes -- the water meadows of Winchester seem to be doing their bit and keeping us dry -- but it has rained a lot. By beer o'clock this evening, we were desperate to get out for some fresh air, so an expedition to one of our local hostelries was in order. En route, we passed a couple of girls taking the most enormous rabbits out for a walk. Somewhat odd, but also strangely appealing. The Black Boy on Wharf Hill was rather charming; a selection of independent ales on top, several dogs wandering around scrounging crisps, and lots of small rooms crammed full of comfy chairs and old stuff -- bus signs, shower heads, bits of dental equipment, etc. (Scandalously, there are also bookshelves enticingly filled with collections of interesting-looking books, but closer inspection reveals they are sawn in half! Sacrilege!) We spent a pleasant hour ensconced in deep armchairs, reading The Sun and marveling at the pictures of burst river banks and trying to decide which band is more irritating: Travis or Coldplay. Time well spent. We shall return.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Empty nest syndrome

I'm all alone. Friday saw the second fledgling take flight, lured away from the nest by an attractive morsel of slime that his father was holding out to him -- forcing him to fly. He then proceeded to spend the rest of the day hiding out in the lower reaches of the bush, but has now vanished.

On Saturday, PJ took off for LA, E3, and undoubtedly a trip to the Golvin family's favourite Mexican takeout joint. Inspired by this, a punnet of organic tomatoes, and the fortuitious purchase of some chiles at the Winchester farmer's market this morning, I decided to make roasted tomato salsa. It's loosely based on this recipe, but with the addition of a rather attractive Japanese aubergine, also bought this morning. And with PJ away, I've been able to increase the amount of coriander, making up for months of doing without.

It's good stuff. Smoky vegetables, the brightness of the lemon and coriander, and the subtle heat of the chile. I've already eaten some of it on crackers, and will polish off more tonight with some roast potato wedges and sour cream. And maybe I'll have a helping for breakfast with some eggs, a type of huevos rancheros, after my visit to the gym at an ungodly hour on Tuesday. Go for the burn indeed.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

My new favourite word

Snoutcast (n.); one who is exiled from the warmth of the pub in order to smoke. Derived from snout, British prison slang for tobacco.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Two posts? In one day? Don't get your hopes up (or your knives out)

Not only is the constant rain somewhat depressing, but it's also wreaking culinary havoc in my kitchen. Logically, I know that it's summer, the Sainsbury's magazine certainly thought two months ago that it would be summer by now, and my veggie box definitely thinks that it's summer -- the contents are largely dominated by salad ingredients, and yet we're craving warm, soothing, dare I say winter dishes. Tuesday, we had a root vegetable stew: potatoes, fennel, carrots, and onions gently simmered in wine and stock, flavored with rosemary and garlic. Gorgeous -- but hardly what we should be eating in July.

This is what we should be eating. And did, at the weekend. Bugger the rain, I thought, I'm going to make ice cream. Nigel Slater's recipe for Clotted Cream Ice Cream was too good to resist. Just milk, vanilla, sugar, egg yolks, and globs of clotted cream, one of the finest ingredients available. For my esteemed American readers, clotted cream is 60% butterfat; in contrast, heavy cream is about 30% butterfat. Clotted cream spreads like butter, standing stiff in the pot, is heaven on a spoon. And this ice cream was fabulous over a few English strawberries that had survived the torrents of water flooding the land.

Spinach is the other ingredient that's dominated our veggie box. Week after week, bags of the stuff arrive. It's doing what it's supposed to -- pushing me beyond my culinary comfort zone, challenging me to find new dishes. We've had all sorts of Middle Eastern dishes; I've sneaked it into pasta sauces; wrapped filo pastry around it to disguise its metallic sliminess. (Yeah, I don't like spinach, much.) And on Sunday, I made spinach gnocchi and served them on a simple tomato sauce, draped in parmesan. Again, not really what I'd expected to be eating on July 1, but damn fine all the same.

A blog-appropriate joke to close:

Q: Why are the Tories the cream of society?
A: Because they're rich, thick, and full of clots!

Boom boom!

Fledgling drama

A flurry of activity today in the bird's nest out back. Just under two weeks ago, two of the eggs hatched. The parents have been on constant scavenging and feeding duty, their offspring greedily demanding more and more food. In just 10 days, they've changed from scrawny, ugly, featherles freaks into bouncing baby birds. We've been keeping up a near-constant vigil on their development, squeeing like fangirls at every feathery flutter. Today, however, was even more gripping stuff -- drama that approached Rome (Season 2) for intensity. First up, the babies made a break for it, hopping up onto the edge of the nest. One then found his way out through the dense foliage to take his first peek at the big wide world -- and then promptly disappeared. Gone! Vertrekt!

Both the parents and his surrogate mother (i.e., me) were in a state of near-panic, and for the first time in ages I was extremely glad we don't have cats. PJ had to talk me down, while the parents flew around, crying out for their chick. Eventually, we (i.e., the parents and I) located him under the recycling bin. And now he's down the side of the shed. Phew!

Meanwhile, his rather more timid sibling stayed on the edge of the nest, sheltering from the driving July rain.

Soon they'll be gone -- for good. And I'll have to find something else to occupy my time.