I opened my fridge today and realized it represented all my plans and resolutions for 2020.
There is fresh cooked chicken joints with a rich jelly for our cats. Tired of uneaten tins of cat food and mountains of rubbish created from pouched food, we decided from now on we are making our own cat food. Five corn fed chicken joints were browned in our huge cast iron casserole dish with a few carrots and pasta pieces and after a slow cook, a delicious falling off the bone stew could be served. The cats scoffed the lot down in seconds and spent the rest of the day requesting cuddles so they could purr contentedly in our ears!
Caramelized onion relish and very hot mustard from Fortnums. My dearest and oldest friend from back in England surprised us with a hamper for Christmas. I have known her since high school and we have shared some anxious times together. In 2018 her family helped me deal with my mother’s passing and the house sale and even though we hadn’t seen each other for sometime, we have kept in touch throughout 2019 and will continue to do so. We realized that old friends are really important to your well being. They share a special place in your heart and help you through life’s ups and downs. I am glad we have found each other again.
And I love Fortnums. I love Harrods, Selfridges, London’s Oxford Street. I am homesick for my city of London. It’s where my family come from, Bayswater and Cockney Stepney. I realized that although I adore the countryside with all its quiet and stillness, I need my city fix. I worked in London often, first as a banker in Canon Street in the heady drinking days of the 80’s when Yuppies existed and the property bubble bust spectacularly in negative equity; then in interior design near Wandsworth and Abbey Road of Beetles fame at The Curtain Exchange run by Jackie Horseford. I juggled learning interior design on evenings and weekends but missed some huge opportunities to stay in that profession. One of my great regrets. My job offer as a poorly paid but priceless experienced Runner for Elizabeth Eaton was squashed due to being newly married to a husband who had little vision and short term goals. It took almost 25 years for me to leave that marriage and stop regretting.
And finally as an accountant in Lambeth and Peckham. From 1996 to just this last month I practised corporate tax and company restructuring and costing, working for large household names and from 2001 in my own practise, contracting as a trouble shooter to trace black holes in financial reports and revalue dodgy budgets. In 2012 Tony and I moved to London and with everything online, I could still work with little commuting. After a day of spreadsheets and reporting to HMRC, how lovely to take a brisk walk along the Thames to Westminster and The South Bank. As a child I visited the dinosaurs at the Natural History museum often. It was free then as were most museums. The thrill of these large boned creatures never bored me and my Christmas wish list always included dinosaur books and models. London is in my DNA and I have therefore decided to visit often and fulfill a very long term resolution I have had this coming January too. The regrets I had need to be exorcized.
I always wanted to be an artist. Somehow the opportunities faded and I gave up on the idea many years ago. I even destroyed all my paintings. Stupid but sometimes you need to clear out what hurts. In my twenties my career was on a different trajectory. Art was a lost cause. My parents didn’t support the idea of art college either. I became that financial banker person instead. But now life has changed. I have an Attelier where I can paint, an amazing space with a mezzanine and huge windows where the morning sunshine pours through. And I have a husband who wants me to go back to school. So in January I am off to St Martin’s for a course on nature drawing, exploring colour rendition and techniques and apparently a few methods to get the creative juices flowing. Count me in, mine have stagnated! There are courses on floral painting, printing and storybook illustration that I am looking at too. I am thrilled, nervous, unsure of my abilities but above all determined to fulfill my dream this time. I will post my efforts in a few weeks.
Vegetable pie. We grow less fond of meat to the point now where we really can’t tackle anything more than a few sausages from our lovely local pork farm or a couple of home made meatballs each week, mostly made of veggies with a little meat for texture. Learning more about animal welfare this past couple of years and supporting my favorite poultry and piggie charities has certainly changed my eating habits. I have always been a sparse meat eater and often opted for vegatarian. In 2020 we are exploring the wide variety of vegetables we can possibly grow and push our cooking skills to be more adventurous with herbs, spices, nuts and pulses. This week I made my vegetable pie with a buckwheat and flaxseed pastry. Delicious! I blind bake my pie bases first to avoid them being mushy and we use gas to get a moist and even cook. Since using gas, baking has been successful. Electric was very hit n miss and often too slow. Yorkshire puds need umph to rise and gas turns out some real giants! Plus we can go bottled gas. No stressful utility company bills or standing charges. We pay for what we use.
A bowl of fresh chicken and duck eggs. Lovely brown eggs, white eggs and a few slightly speckled. My girls are still laying probably due to a good diet and calcium. They should slow in the winter now the days are shorter and less daylight, but most are still popping one out daily. They queue impatiently each morning, almost extruding themselves through the wire mesh on their coop door, waiting for me to arrive with treats. In the new year we are building a huge barn like structure and converting the existing two buildings into a coop and chicken head quarters for me, complete with sick bay, kitchen to cook peck block treats and deal with any future babies. My georgeous Pekin Penquin is laying one egg per day at 10am precisely. If I arrive too early her mate Heff gets flustered and starts to pace up and down like a father in a maternity hospital! These big golden yolked eggs are fantastic for baking. Here is her nest. To me it’s perfect. Such care to hold those eggs.
Romanian cheese, honey and sausages. My husband is from Transylvania and although he left his country many years ago, we try to celebrate Christmas and New Year with traditional food he loves and his family used to make. His Mum is a good cook and the food is hearty and comforting. In 2020 we hope to visit and I may get to see Dracula’s hideout, Bran Castle. Transylvania is in the Carpathian mountain region and due to the great climate and bio diverse flora, the raw honey here is amazing. You can taste the flowers, the forests and even the change of season in their honey. No joking, we have almost 200 jars in our cellar – wildflower, honeydew, Linden Tree, Acacia, with propolis, to name a few. Honey should have no acidic edge in your throat upon tasting. Truly raw will be heady and you’ll almost feel drunk if your bottling it. I was overwhelmed after an hour of decanting the rich liquid into jars. No wonder bees get feisty around their hives or in a frenzy when they find a thistle head to drink on.
Biscuits. That’s it we are baking not buying. Sick of packaging and dodgy ingredients that seem to need a paragraph at least, it’s back to greasing baking trays, folding parchment and using my lovely fresh eggs to create whatever biscuits or cakes we want. Why spend a morning sitting in traffic and queuing in a shop when you can sit in your cosy kitchen, with a hot cuppa, watching your cookies brown in the oven? We raided the local Brocante for baking ware, spatulars and two huge rolling pins; all well used, bit battered but homey and traditional. The rubbing in of fat to flour and oats was therapeutic, restful and I raided my cupboard for dates, ginger and seeds to give a little sweet and crispness. Twenty minutes on gas mark two and they were done. When you break them no crumbs but as you bite, you get soft, a little crunch and then chewy. So rewarding.
Carrot and Tomato juice. We recycle everything. Bottles, plastics, tins. Many we keep for the big canning time in autumn. Last year we had a bumper crop of tomatoes and next year we are going big and converting a third of a hectare into a self sufficient vegetable garden. Armed with a few favorite gardening books, we are going raised bed, organic, no dig and “lasagne” based layered composting. The deep dig methods just destroy the delicate top soil particles and nutriments for short rooted plants. Long tap root veg will reach out where it needs and in the process decompacts the soil, like potatoes break up a clay clod soil. We need lettace for the geese, tomatoes for the chickens and the ducks absolutely demand peas! Buying this is costing a fortune and we know growers use pesticides and force the plants to grow quick. We can grow better and healthier. The lettace especially works well. The geese love it seeded and the roots too so we can plant many and pick over a long period even if they have shot to over a foot tall! With our tractor we can plough up a large area if cow pasture and layout rotational beds. With four sections we can leave one fallow or with a green manure crop like mustard that you dig in before it flowers to provide organic matter and nutriments and three beds to plant out. Crops like tomatoes can stay for upto four years in the same plot and you benefit from free fallout seeds to reproduce next year. Horseradish needs its own seperate bed as it spreads. Evasive and almost parasitic, its best kept well away from your more friendly fruit and veg. We have already set up two compost piles and planning our water supply via a lake to be dug next year. Like cooking, we can be adventurous and grow what we want and with the long summers here we can grow right into November. My Dad adored gardening. Wish he could have seen what we have now. I somehow don’t think he would have comprehended it. Everything back in Southern England is expensive. To have two hectares would have been unobtainable. I still pinch myself.
Cheddar Cheese. My favorite. I know everyone says French cheese is amazing but to me it’s all very much the same. Fatty, bland and smells terrible in no time. Apologies to French cheese lovers, but when you have choice you can delve into other countries offerings and explore. when only French and very littke Dutch cheese is all thats being offered, it grows tiresome. https://judicastille.com/2018/02/08/cheeses-of-paris/
The abundance of creamy cheeses are really a butter alternative for the French to eat with their quotidian of bread. The French make a conscious effort not to even try English cheeses. They defend their own. It’s a shame as they are missing out. A mature cheddar is devine and no other cheese is so versatile in cooking. We have to order ours from a French cheese importer affiliated to the famous Jermyn Street cheese shop, Paxton and Whitfield in London. I took a course on cheesemaking two years ago. An eccentric soul who taught us the intracies of brie, camembert, feta and mozzarella. English cheese production is an altogether more involved process but next year I want to attempt to make my own. With a cellar under our kitchen, we have the perfect storage to keep the cheeses at a happy 15 degrees.
I was also asked to contribute to a cheese blog. I worked for a cheese importer a few years ago and went through a huge cheese learning curve to understand the whole process from milk to saran wrap and display on the shelf. I had to financially cost every cheese as the almost one hundred year old firm was being swallowed (asset stripped) whole by Arla Foods, the dairy firm. It was a sad loss as the range of cheeses available to supermarkets reduced, especially the excellent shep milk Spanish cheeses due to their long journey via Naples port.
But back to blogging – I couldn’t find the time to write but maybe I can work this into my future schedule. I many months looking into food photography, even contacting William Reavell who worked with Jamie Oliver for some sound advice on specifically photographing cheese and practised a lot for our own product…pine syrup. With all the cream and beige shades and variation in shape and texture limited to moulds and cutting angles, cheeses can be awkward models if you want to avoid the messy, cooking with props route and hands round the table shots! These are first my attempts. I enjoyed it immensely and my link above takes you to my other efforts.
With countdown to a new year upon us, what’s in your fridge? And did you sneak a midnight treat to celebrate? We had mince pies!