Thursday, 12 December 2013

December 12th - Karate cows and Lament for a bespoke kitchen

Dear Nigel,

You could say the kitchen here is of a 'bespoke' nature. Over the eighteen months that we have been here it has been customised to fit and tailored to our own specifications. That the dishwasher is but a distant memory and now lives in a shed due to size of kitchen is neither here nor there. Nor the lovely cream Aga which resides in my ex's house due to lack of gas in the village and the pennies to run it. The new cooker, a slimline electric thing (too busy painting its nails), and I, hate each other. I think it lies about temperature and it thinks I can't cook. Most probably it is right.

I am contemplating a subtle embellishment to the finish of the kitchen cupboards - sticking back the laminate with sellotape so that I can get into them without having to fight with them every time. There are baking tins in the bookcase and glass storage jars under the tele. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. As long as you know where that is of course.

This week a marvellous stroke of luck came our way. James and I had been discussing the Christmas arrangements.
'I hope you're not going to do what you did last year,' he said, 'and save all the good stuff for when Chris gets here.'
Honestly, sibling rivalry for you. There is far too much expected of Christmas. For some reason they have taken it into their heads that Christmas lasts about three weeks and every day has to have special food attached to it.

Anyway, clutching the 'golden ticket' as it were, in the school raffle, I managed to avoid the dodgy spa prize and won instead a voucher for some of Barney's Dad's rare breed meat. Driving over the moors towards Big Fernyford farm, I began to realise why Neil and Dorota had decided to concentrate on rare breed sheep and cattle. The mist had come down and it was thick like cream. Turning into the lane of this upland stock farm I passed several fields marked SSSI. Neil rents the farm from the Peak District National Park Authority and runs Swaledale sheep and Belted Galloway cattle up here.

Peeping out at me from under a mop of tufted gelled up hair, was a tiny little black calf with a huge white belt round its middle keeping its trousers up. All around it were larger versions all dressed in the same uniform with tousled hair and white belts, like a group of delinquent beginners at a Karate club (white being the beginners belt). They had that air that teenagers sometimes have when they grow their hair so that they can watch you from underneath it with 'attitude' written all over their faces, as they chewed unblinkingly in my direction.

I have noticed these cattle experiencing a surge of popularity these last few years. Bred to thrive outdoors in any climate they suit upland farms with wide sweeping moors like this. The animals are slow to mature which means the meat has a special flavour and texture, which I was keen to try for myself. They also live a long time, often well into their twenties, which means they produce more calves and reduce replacement costs; which all helps the farmer. The joint of beef now, of course, will have to wait until Hannah arrives on the 27th. Since she is missing Christmas and the free range Turkey from the farm up the road, she will no doubt be expecting something equally wonderful when she finally deigns to drop in on us.

Back home I am struggling to find work surfaces to roll out dozens of pastry straws for the 'Yoga babes' Christmas party tomorrow; including ninety one year old Olive, still doing the splits and putting most of us to shame. I am making spinach, smoked garlic and chilli straws and they are so moreish that any that break are being eaten on the spot and there is a danger that I will arrive with an empty box tomorrow.

You have found something which 'pops (your) cork' - a robust recipe for 'Roast pork belly with pomegranate molasses' (page 490). You have had 'a sudden attack of deep carnivorous lust' and are looking for a piece of meat to hack at. The cheap pork roast is 'as deeply caramelised as it can be without being actually charred.' Perhaps it is the genetic pull of wiling away the dark winter days around the campfire gnawing at bones with the other cave men that festers. It is not a recipe for the faint-hearted cook.

But you are also making recipes that draw me in when I'm in need of inspiration at a time like this. I am taken by your novel way of dressing cooked vegetables for a change. The cabbage family are given butter and lemon juice, root vegetables are attired in walnut oil and herbs; but the one that interests me most is the roast artichokes with walnut oil and red wine vinegar. I love the earthy taste of those nubbly little Jerusalem artichokes which look on one hand so unappealing yet on the other so 'home-grown' and wonderfully irregular, that they defy any supermarket grading system, and often much washing also.

So I'll leave you sitting round your campfire hacking away at great lumps of meat with your dagger and considering the starlit sky above.


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