Monday, October 30

A Stern Warning

One of the highlights of the few days off work I had last week was a walk with my other half over Hampstead Heath and through Kenwood.

One of the things that was most noticeable was the russet shades of the autumn leaves. There weren't any. Everything was still green.

The mild weather we have had recently had even fooled the spring crocuses into weak and leggy premature flowering.

Adding to the confusion, the female holly bushes on the fringes of Kenwood were heavy with berries. Very early, and, traditionally, a pre-cursor of a heavy winter to come.

The weather we are having at the moment is certainly eccentric. Can we afford to assume that it isn't global warming?

Saturday, October 28

Mightier Than The Sword

In the ‘seventies I used to wear a badge that said

“Well meaning Guardian readers against the bomb”.

(in fact I may still have it.)

Nowadays Guardian readers are more associated with knitting muesli and driving electric cars (thank you Mr Clarkson.)

The food writing in that esteemed organ has always been first class. (They have Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall as their Weekend food writer at the moment; in the past they have had Colin Spencer, Mathew Fort, and my personal favourite, Richard Ehrlich). One of their less well known writers is Dan Lepard.

In honour of the English apple season, I direct your attention to his apple cake recipe. It is simple to make, and a delight to eat.

Wednesday, October 25

Taking Stock

No, not a recipe this time…

It’s half term in the college library. Normally this would be when we would have a good tidy, do some book prep, and recharge our batteries.

Not this time. After the catalogue of IT disasters we are still behind. One of the summer jobs is the annual stocktake. This didn’t happen for various reasons.

First the hand-held scanners we had bought the year before were found to be dead as doornails. (The manufacturers gently pointed out that they had to be kept charged up between uses. Thanks for telling us AFTER they died).

Replacements were purchased, at further expense. Then the finest brains in our IT section couldn’t get the software and the hardware to communicate.

So, for the last two days we have been taking books off the shelves, scanning the barcodes, then putting them back. Yesterday I scanned the entire 500’s section in Dewey. Nearly 2000 books. I was practically seeing barcodes in my sleep last night

I have the rest of this week off. Well earned I say.

Mind you, the bookcase in our living room could do with a tidy….

Friday, October 20

Core Values

Around the country at the moment events are being held to celebrate the start of the English apple season. It is about time.

Apple growing in England is declining; orchards are being grubbed-up daily in favour of planting subsidised crops that benefit no-one except the farmers grabbing the subsidies. The government plans for the expansion of the area around the Eurotunnel at Ashford are hitting at the heart of the English apple growing area.

Worse than this, pressure (from the supermarket buyers) for uniformity of size and shape, and long shelf life, has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of varieties of apple grown in this country.

When I was at primary school I remember the local fruit and veg shop giving away promotional packs of playing cards. Each card had a picture of a different variety of apple on it. Fifty-two different varieties, plus the joker. Now the Greengrocers is a block of flats and you are lucky to find more than about six varieties on sale at your “local” supermarket. Most of what you can find will be from New Zealand or France, even in the middle of the English apple season.

So, if you feel like helping to support a part of a great English tradition, buy a few home-grown apples this weekend. From a greengrocer. If you can find one.

Saturday, October 14

Something Furry in the Veg Box

Just to give you an idea of the size of the box we get...

Mr T. is modelling the re-usable waxed cardboard Medium Veg Box...

Friday, October 13

Thinking Outside the (Veg) Box

There is already quite a community building up around the Riverford Veg Boxes. I recommend that interested readers drop in to Veg Box Diaries where Gastropunk and Maths Chick have ideas and inspiration for all matters vegetal.

Thursday, October 12

The Green Spiky Thing...

It was handsome. Architectural. Somehow it reminded me of Thailand, pagodas and temples. Fractal images growing on a screen saver. It was in last Friday's Veg box...

Ladeez and gennlmen, I give you the mighty, undefeated Romanesco!!!

Such a lovely looking vegetable, a variety of late summer cauliflower, deserved to be cooked whole. It was duly washed, trimmed and popped in a steamer for twenty-five minutes or so.

It became part of a veg box extravaganza, served with cooked red chard, roast potatoes and roasted red squash.

The grilled Gilt-head Bream only just made it onto the plate!

It was lovely, nuttier than a normal cauli, and less watery.

Tomorrow we get another box. Not knowing what you will get is half the fun!

Wednesday, October 11

It's Not Easy Being Green, But it Can Be.

For ages the Phantomette and I have been saying “we really ought to eat more vegetables”, looking at each other, and then going and opening a tin of beans. (Or Farrows Marrowfat Peas, one of my childhood comfort foods, green (too green) , plump and floury.)

Our vegetable consumption declined still further when our local greengrocer closed after a period of decline involving increasingly manky vegetables and decreasing customers.

A few months ago we decided that the best way of eating more vegetables was by having the veg delivered to us. We had seen Abel and Cole vans around our area quite frequently, butI didn’t fancy going with them. They looked quite pricy. Also I had heard that they air-freight quite a bit of foreign produce, and they also have a liking for plastic packaging.

Fate is a strange thing though. The good lady Phantom has a sister living down in Devon. When we were down there last we discovered an organic food shop attached to Riverford Farm, just down the road from where we were staying. A few months later we were checking them out on the web when we saw that the same family also ran a veg box delivery scheme.

At the time Riverford weren’t delivering in Sunny Islington. They did put us on a waiting list though. By September we got the good news that deliveries were starting in our area. We haven’t looked back!

There is a real sense of anticipation on Thursday night, wondering what new and interesting produce will be delivered the next day. I love discovering the different flavours and textures. The veg box also helps keep us in touch with the seasons, the golden sweetcorn of late summer giving way to the rich reds of the autumn squashes.

We are certainly eating more vegetables. Tomorrow I will tell of what Mrs P described as “A Green, Spiky Thing”. And no, it wasn’t a globe artichoke. Or even a kohl rabi!

Wednesday, October 4

Blooming Lovely!

Mrs Phantom works for the local Social Services Department. As I have mentioned before, the job is often thankless and unrewarding.

Sometimes though, a little "Thank You" comes along and makes it all worthwhile. A couple of days ago, (with a lot of help from her daughter), one of Mrs P.'s clients picked some rosebuds from her garden.

In the heat of our busy kitchen they have bloomed beautifully. They really are appreciated too.

Tuesday, October 3

Getting in a Bit of a Pickle

As the nights are drawing in fast I can’t help looking forward to Christmas. One of the joys of Autumn is gathering goodies to transform into edible presents. A trip to the local greengrocers last week yielded tiny silverskin onions. While they are divine just plainly pickled in cider vinegar and a few mustard seeds, they really come into their own as an ingredient in piccalilli.

The Ingredients Before...

This has got to be one of the great pickles, sweet, crunchy, mildly mustardy with just the right amount of moisture to set off a hunk of mature Cheddar and some homemade wholemeal bread, or slices of cold roast pork or chicken.

Unlike chutney, piccalilli is relatively quick to make. The ingredients are cheap at this time of year and the glow of the full jars almost lights up the larder. The most difficult bit is waiting three months for the pickle to mature.

...And After...

Actually, the most difficult bit is writing the labels for the jars. I never seem to spell piccalilli the same way twice!

I always follow Delia Smith’s old recipe, from her original Cookery Course book. You can find it here, (it’s the first one given). If you search Delia’s own website you will find a revised version which I haven’t made yet.

Pickle Now, Enjoy Later!!