P E R T E L O T E

Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Friday 29th April

Cake

Very quickly catching up on the last Bank Holiday Baking before it comes around again. This was my Easter cake, cooked straight from Nigel's recipe for choc-chip almond cake without messing about. Seriously recommended: not too anything, just moist and tasty, long lasting, vaguely seasonal, the perfect accompaniment to that delicious cup of tea drunk outside after a good afternoon's weeding. I could get quite used to this gardening lark.

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Sunday 23rd April

What's for pud logo

Where would we be without Sam? She's done it again: to celebrate St George's Day (the world's least appropriate national festival) she and Monkey Gland have teamed up to encourage bloggers to make English puddings in a meme they're calling What's For Pud?. I should admit up front that I have no particularly nostalgic and certainly no nationalistic love of English puds - at least not beyond Christmas Pudding, which I do rather love, to the lasting horror of a certain frenchman. On the other hand I'm not going to miss out on an opportunity to play with the cool kids (and I had a Scot round for lunch yesterday - I may not have a patriotic bone in my body but what better way to tease a friend? Deep fried creme eggs indeed!) We therefore present the archetype of the puritanical, that's-not-going-to-waste, whaddyamean fresh ingredients? No fruit grows in this climate mate, English pudding. Bread ice cream. Brown bread ice cream.

Brown Bread Ice Cream

To be fair, it's good stuff. The brown bread crumbs are toasted with brown sugar and they retain that caramelly crunch when folded into the lovely creamy custard. This was one of the earliest popular flavours as far back as the 18th century - in fact as early as ice cream was a realistic option for cooks. There's a recipe by a Mary Smith dating from 1772. It's an obvious development, as stale bread has always been used up in desserts: bread and butter pudding, summer pudding, etc. Some of these sound a little dubious now ('wet nellie', anyone? That's stale bread with suet) but brown bread ice cream has a close modern relation in cookies and cream, which perhaps overshadows it undeservedly. I think a revival is called for, perhaps with a name change to improve the image: brown bread still has connotations for many of something healthy, worthy, a little hippyish even. Toast, on the other hand, sings to me of comfort, familiarity, a hot fire and a cup of tea. Toast-and-honey ice cream could yet take the world by storm.

Tagged with: and

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Friday 21st April

borough market

So, the Project is over and to prove it I've shopped in three supermarkets in three days. So what have we learnt?

  1. that if you want Saturday mornings, you need supermarkets. There doesn't seem to be any way round this: markets and Nice Little Shops aren't open in the evenings, so if you depend on them you have to get out of bed on Saturday every week regardless of weather, company or other obstacles, and take yourself to market.
  2. that the people selling food are just as nice as you'd hope, and as knowledgeable. Butchers will bone your joint, fishmongers will tell you what came in that morning, bakers will choose you the crustiest loaf, cheese people will offer you a slice and write down the name, grocers will give unsolicited cooking advice. Jamie Oliver's recipes on shiny leaflets can't compare, really.
  3. that on the other hand, the most convenient alternative to the supermarket is, in London at least, usually a dingy shop selling a bit of everything - everything with a shelf life over a week, that is: no fruit, no salad. In a village where this was the only shop in competition with an out of town superstore, there would be some virtue in shopping there - in London, where I pass at least half a dozen of these between my home and the station, there really isn't. They're not cheap, the food's not good, they're not providing a social service, nor an environmental one.
  4. that the pleasantness of Borough Market is inversely proportional to the pleasantness of the weather.
  5. that even if you care enough about food to make the effort to shop in Nice Little Shops, no principle is worth the hassle of trying to find your preferred brand of washing powder/cling film/bin liners anywhere but supermarkets.
  6. that supermarkets are really much better at taking money off you, and that this is an advantage. I've never spent so long looking for and queuing for ATMs. Every shop that wants happy customers - and in my ideal world that would include market stalls - needs to be set up for plastic, PIN, and cashback.
So, a slightly grumpy conclusion, I'm afraid. I haven't really found an alternative I can live with, and have returned to the mind-numbing familiarity of the supermarket with a sigh of relief. On a very unscientific scan of the bank account, I've spent a little more than average, as I expected. Still, I've probably eaten better during the Project: I've used leftovers better, made my own muesli, and found Planet Organic. Having less choice has led me to buy things I wouldn't usually, and so over a longer period I think it would paradoxically give our diet more variety. I'd do it again, if someone could persuade me that losing a fortnight's worth of my custom would made an iota of difference; but I won't be making it a permanent change.

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Tuesday 18th April

curry

Here's our Easter dinner - well, I couldn't resist. It's rabbit curry, which is almost as appropriate even without Nigella's whimsical name for it: Hot Cross Bunny. The butcher (at Borough, again) jointed a wild rabbit for me, though that left quite a bit of trimming still to do - the offal is often included in casseroles as a thickening and richening ingredient, but I didn't want its strong flavour here. Wild rabbit is just about the leanest meat you can get, so the recipe marinates it in buttermilk (I used yoghurt) and curry paste for a whole day before cooking slowly for an hour and a half. I made the red Thai curry paste from scratch using Alastair Hendy's recipe (fresh and dried chillies, shallots, garlic, coriander seeds and stalks, fish sauce, lime leaves, ginger and lemon grass), but ran into my perennial problem of overestimating the chillies. I'd bought tiny pointy ones which looked fierce, and had nibbled the end of one raw with satisfyingly fiery results, so I only used two and de-seeded them thoroughly. By the time the curry was cooked, though - and it did include plenty of neutralising coconut cream - it was no hotter than warm. Very enjoyable, but not the sinus-clearing blast I'd promised C. A hot, cross bunny indeed: just not a scorchingly furious one. I suppose that for the end product to be truly tingly, the raw paste needs to really hurt?

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Sunday 16th April

lettuce

Isn't that beautiful? I must admit I bought this on purely aesthetic grounds. It wasn't quite as good to eat as to look at, being on the tough side as well as very bitter, which throws doubt on my original identification of it as Variegata di Lusia - of which the internet says firmly, 'thick-leaved without being tough, ... very minimal bitterness'. Bitterness isn't unusual in salads, of course, and now I think of it perhaps there's some relation between colour and bitterness? Off the top of my head, the bitterest leaves are the white and purple ones like chicory and raddichio, and greener lettuces are slightly sweeter. Apparently the more bitter a lettuce, the more soporific it will be: clearly I didn't eat enough of this pretty stuff, as I am no more Flopsy Bunnyish this afternoon than usual...

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Tuesday 11th April

orzotto

On a sunny spring Saturday, Borough is a really lovely place to wander round slowly. Some stalls will let you nibble on samples of their wares; others have ugly or exotic vegetables to ponder over. Most are photogenic. You can even buy hot drinks and snacks to make your progress that bit more leisurely as you attempt to avoid dropping hot bacon on your shoes. Kids, especially those transported in double-width pushchairs, find it equally entrancing. I've been a gastro-tourist myself, so no offence is meant in the slightest... but oh, please, GET OUT OF MY WAY! Yes, the pain is kicking in. I love doing a whole week's shopping in a big, beautiful market with fresh, traceable produce, well-informed stall holders and a lively atmosphere. But it doesn't take long to realise that in giving up supermarkets, you must also sacrifice your Saturday mornings. Small shops and markets just aren't open after work in the week, so come Saturday, no lie-in, no day trips: this little piggy must go to market. Inevitably the rest of the world gets there first, however: hence my slightly grumpy reaction.

Ah well. I have my little granny trolley to get everything home, and after the essentials are stowed there will be room enough and time for a few treats. This week brought the first of the wild garlic: large leaves with a chive-like flavour, which balanced out the sweetness left by the coke used to cook the ham which made the stock for this orzotto. Orzotto - made with pearl barley - takes a little longer than risotto, but doesn't need the constant stirring. The end result is more substantial, a good vehicle for bold flavours as a change from butter and cheese.

Ham and garlic orzotto

Fry up a finely chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. When soft, add 250g pearl barley and toast until sizzling. Add 800ml ham stock, bring to boil and leave to simmer uncovered for an hour. Test - barley should be soft but still chewy, and should have absorbed all the liquid. Add some chopped ham - I had just a couple of spoonfuls left but more would be good, too. Tear up a handful of wild garlic leaves and stir in. Cover and leave for five minutes to allow leaves to wilt.

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Friday 7th April

I feel that the Project is somewhat vindicated by this story. (Link not safe for severe ophidiophobics. Not unlike the animated ad on the side of a site I visited today which featured a life size, MOVING spider. Now I know I need to be able to find the back button with my eyes shut.) Not that market veg is less likely to have wildlife: but it's harder to go round a market with your brain switched off. No offence intended to poor Ms Crosby, as I do exactly the same: the bright lights, the bottled bread smell and, I'm convinced, other hard-to-notice but very deliberate features of the design are intended to send you into a shopping trance, gliding from one shelf to the next without ever really engaging with the products you're throwing into the trolley. Mind you, it must have been a large stalk of broccoli! And a very sleepy snake or a very gently purchasing/packing process... baffling.

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Wednesday 5th April

honey

This little beauty was, I think, the first real purchase of the Project. That is, when I did my last supermarket shop for a while, last week, I stood in front of a shelf of Taste the Difference/Organic honey and said to myself: no. No, this honey has all been imported from warmer climes, and for why? Admittedly East London is not over blessed with beehives, but Cambridge is a mere sixty miles up the M11. Tomorrow I will be in Cambridge, and there I can buy Cambridgeshire honey. So that is what I did. It was more expensive, even taking into account my ex-employee discount, but I still feel good about it. It's good stuff, too: not piney or excessively floral. I like honey. I wouldn't ruin a good piece of hot buttered toast with it (please! Just unsalted butter, maybe with a small smear of marmite on one corner), but when it's good, it makes plain yoghurt into a wonderful thing; and - I hesitate to admit this, because I am so scathing about fake science as a rule, but - I quite like the idea that it might alleviate my hayfever. Not that I am likely to encounter any grass or other plants in my daily routine these days (even the graveyard behind our house is bare and gravelly. Is that a Jewish thing?)

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Tuesday 4th April

Well, so far, so good. Several meals taken care of thanks to Saturday morning at Borough. An expensive chicken and a cheap ham shank provided one hearty meal, one litre of stock and two rounds of sandwiches each. To expand on the expensiveness of the chicken for a moment, it was 7.80 for a 1.3kg Label Anglais bird. I've been buying these for a while, and roast chicken is our ritual Saturday night dinner whenever a morning at Borough coincides with an evening in. It is of course a lot of money when you can buy a chicken for 1.50, but then how do you compare the two? Is the L.A. bird five times more delicious? Well, maybe. (Honestly, I do nothing at all to them beyond a lemon up the bum and a wee bit of olive oil, and they come out crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, everytime.) Is it five times less conscience-straining? Certainly.

As for the ham, this was a new trick but a good'un. It was 2.75 for a massive chunk of pig leg from Sillfield Farm, who specialise in rare breed pork and free range boar. Appreciating the irony of buying coca cola for the first time in my life just as I start trying to improve my shopping habits, I plumped for Nigella's deep-south-ish method for gammon (which this wasn't, but close enough). The ham cooked up juicily, with a sugary hit that thoroughly drowned out any subtle secret-ingredient barbeque effect. I also learnt that the part of my brain which quietly but efficiently prevents me putting my hands into boiling water, crocodile-infested rivers and gloopy things, thinks that coke is poisonous. Seriously, not only was I ridiculously reluctant to taste the stuff (bear in mind here that I was cooking dinner with it) I didn't really want to touch it, either. That'd be why I have no fillings, then. Rest assured that once it was cooked (perhaps because it had stopped fizzing? Never had this problem with champagne, believe me) I had no further problems with it. Crazy subconscious, go back to sleep.

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Sunday 2nd April

Borough Market

Right! Pertelote has a project. From now (from yesterday, actually) until Easter, my kitchen is a supermarket-free zone. Lately it seems that everything I read is giving me sly digs about my shopping habits and I've been feeling a little defensive. Yes, I know, it would be nice if all my food came direct from the producers. It would probably be better food, and that's what this is all about, after all. Every cook book I buy these days has strict instructions about buying from butchers, bakers, fishmongers and Brindisa, before I even get to the recipes. I don't pretend to understand the economics of it all (because my heart sinks when I think of reading this when I have this by the bed), but I know where my sympathies lie: farmers, small shopkeepers, third world sweatshop workers, non-drivers who want to shop on the high street not out of town, etc, etc... On the other hand, when? How? I work full time. I don't drive, I don't earn enough to disregard grocery bills, and I don't live in an area sufficiently gentrified to have lovely little delis and specialist shops on every corner - on any corner, in fact. I pop down to Borough Market every second or third Saturday, and I can't pass a food shop without picking up something yummy, but the bulk of my groceries come from Sainsbury's (opposite the station as I come home), Morrison's (fifteen minutes' walk from home) or Tesco's (deliver to home within two hour time slots in the evening). So avoiding them takes an effort. Here's the effort: let's see how it goes.

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