Plate licking good food

I like my food. Make that I love my food. There’s a television series at the moment with Jamie Oliver making vegetarian and vegan food without compromising on flavour.
The words in italics aren’t mine, they are used in the trailer by an anonymous voice. They are enough to stop me watching what may be a good programme with great recipes. The implied message is that vegetarian and vegan food is tasteless. What nonsense. They also suggest that these programmes are aimed at meat eaters. Wouldn’t it be nice if us vegetarians and vegans had a cookery programme aimed just at us, presented by reputable vegetarian and vegan chefs who don’t deal in analogue (fake) meats. One day.

Last Monday I went with my neighbour Helena to Broadway market where she was investigating a shop, normally a butcher’s, that was holding a vegan meat day. At the door a very nice woman offered me a vegan chicken nugget. Um, I said, I don’t eat chicken. Don’t worry, it’s vegan, she said. I tried it. It had a meaty texture and I wouldn’t want it again, but the dip was nice. Do you think it tastes like chicken? she asked. Um,again. I haven’t eaten meat for fifty years. I really couldn’t say. We had a chat. I explained that for me fake meat is an anathema. I can understand its purpose for people who struggle to give up meat, but that’s not me. Why on earth would I want to eat a fake version of something I didn’t like and don’t miss in the first place? She saw my point.

As autumn has tipped from being very Keatsian into something cooler, greyer and wetter, so my menus have undergone subtle changes. It’s still the season of mellow fruitfulness with a wonderful cornucopia of fresh produce to choose from, and quinoa salad has yet to pack its bags and settle under the duvet for winter, but soups, risottos and so on are suddenly more attractive.
I’ve been tucking into lentil and celeriac shepherd’s pie with lots of kale and leeks. Crumble (apple, blackberry, rhubarb) has become the pudding of choice. The other night I had said shepherd’s pie with kale, roast beetroot and onion gravy. It was heaven. I made my first celeriac risotto with a lemon oil and sage leaves. Delicious. I’ll be making that again. I have eaten quantities of noodles with green veg, tomatoes, mushrooms, spring onions and tofu. Fresh figs make the perfect snack.

Finger-licking good? How meagre, how half-hearted. This food is plate-licking good.

What’s the beef?

That was a long post last night, so I am aiming for something shorter tonight, if only so that I have some time to read my book, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, before I go to sleep.

Despite the dangers to my mental health when politicians totally lacking in probity repeat nonsense like a religious mantra, I continue, most days, to watch Channel 4 News. I missed the start of the piece about climate crisis and a new report that urges us to move to a plant based diet and away from meat. I joined in as Cathy Newman interviewed George Monbiot and a beef farmer called Stuart. I didn’t get his last name. Stauart was big and smiled a lot. He smiled most when George spoke and shook his head a lot as he smiled. It’s a way of dismissing someone else’s cogent arguments by suggesting they are talking nonsense without actually having the means to refute them.

Stuart said if we in the UK stopped producing beef we would be simply exporting the problem as we would import it from elsewhere with lower standards. That is about all he said, but he said it over and over again, as though it was such a self evident fact that nothing else needed to be said. I got frustrated with George and Cathy for failing to point out to him that the idea is we all reduce our meat intake, and that should mean not importing meat. Maybe I had missed a vital exchange at the start of the interview that might have explained the lack of this point being made.

George remained remarkably calm and polite as he explained the impact of beef farming on the environment and Stuart continued smiling and shaking his head, and then repeating what he had said earlier. I had to admire George’s good humour and patience. In his place I should have wanted to slap Stuart. I suppose George has been banging the environmental drum for long enough to realise that the drip drip effect may work better than violence.

Out to lunch

I can see that if I am to keep my posts up to date on this holiday I shall have to work a bit harder. Today has been grey but still warm. We are promised rain tonight and tomorrow. So Cousin and I took the dogs out for a walk around five after I got home from a day of social activity. Good dogs both, walking well on their respective leads, allowed to stop and sniff, but not to eat any finds in the verges. As so often in the countryside some of the locals are unappreciative of the beauty of their surroundings. Meals from fast food joints are discarded, probably from car windows, and litter the verges and hedgerows. There are empty cans, polystyrene boxes, greasy paper bags. Hideous to you and me, but to Poppy a positive cornucopia of gourmet possibility. She is, after all, a Labrador, a breed not known for persnickety appetites. One of these mornings I mean to time how long it takes her to eat her meal. I would put it at something less than thirty seconds.
Poppy and Cousin stopped at the fungi, and Westie Boy and I continued up the last and steepest hill. Our goal, before we turned round was Angela’s blue hydrangea bush, but as passed along the road a volley of barks came from a white dog on the doorstep. The dog looked very much like Angela’s daughter’s Akita. The daughter lives next door to Angela, and every time we pass without this dog throwing itself against the door snarling and baring its teeth against the glass is a welcome moment. Maybe it wasn’t the Akita. Westie Boy and I didn’t stay around to find out. We quietly turned round and made our way back whence we had come. When the barking ceased and there was no sound of dog claws on the road behind us, I breathed easily once more.
We caught up with Cousin and Poppy near Cousin’s son’s house. The moment Westie Boy spotted her on the road ahead of us his ears pricked up and he increased his pace so the distance between us and Cousin narrowed in a trice. Continue reading

Dandelion Days

I’m watching the news where we keep switching back to the Commons chamber where a series of votes are taking place. So far the House has voted against a No Deal Brexit, which is fine, but if the EU, understandably frustrated by the situation, decides it does not want to engage with this pantomime anymore we shall leave with a no deal.
I don’t want to leave at all.
However, it is all too likely that a month from now I shall be living in a country unmoored. Prices will go up but income will go down. We are warned of empty shelves in the shops. I can buy lentils and so on, but what of green veg? Well, the answer maybe dandelion leaves. I was doing a spot of weeding on Monday, and as I dug out some dandelion plants I noted their young green leaves. So I separated them from the other weeds, chopped off their roots, brought them indoors, washed them and popped them in the fridge. Continue reading

Eat vegan, eat tasty

I really should have known better, but sometimes a bargain seems a bargain, even though as I put it in my basket I calculate how many meals I could make from scratch for the same price. So when I visited a branch of Tesco hoping to buy some spring greens I should have looked at the vegan macaroni cheese Reduced in p[rice), noted that it exists, and left it on the shelf. Maybe had I found those spring greens I might have done. I can buy spring greens in my local branch of Morrison’s, but the ones Tesco and Sainsbury’s sell are much greener, fresher, younger. But there were no spring greens and I was curious, I admit it, about the vegan macaroni cheese, or mac and cheese as it is increasingly called in supermarkets. (I was confused by this name for some time, wrongly assuming it was something to do with the hamburger chain, but it seems a passing fad to sex up a old, familiar, and much loved supper standby).
Well, I shan’t be buying it again. There’s bland, and then several degrees down the scale is Tesco’s vegan macaroni cheese. Fortunately I had some whole grain mustard at the ready and a tasty (home assembled) salad of watercress, spinach, pomegranate seeds, tomatoes, black olives, spring onion and avocado. Continue reading

Octavia is my Lab Rat

As someone who loves, and I mean loves, fairy lights the sheer range available in the pound shop in December was severe temptation. I was almost salivating. I had to get myself out and away before considerable damage was done to my pocket.
Now, in the cool light of January,my decorations down, cards undisplayed, but fairy lights still twinkling as they do here all winter, I found myself thinking of those lights again. I returned to the shop, imagining I might, in a more restrained, less Christmassy frame of mind, be able to choose wisely from the selection.
All gone.
We have moved onto St Valentine’s Day. So I could have bought heart shaped candles, various tacky objects in shades of red. No fairy lights. Perhaps it’s a blessing. But I am thinking that if they have the same wonderful array next year, all the friends to whom I give presents will get at least one string of lights for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Octavia made a fleeting return to the capital and we ate together on Sunday evening. She is my lab rat, or guinea pig if you prefer, when I am trialling new dishes on visitors. Unusually we ate at mine. This was because I was making soup and didn’t fancy carrying it around to her house. The chances of spillage which would have been messy, were too high. My experimental dish was a Freekeh salad. Now I have had Freekeh in a local restaurant but not been able to buy it. Apparently it sells out very quickly. So Lyn very kindly got some for me in Auckland, and then Celia managed to bag a packet which was part of my Christmas gift from her.
So now I am Freekeh rich, but with Brexit looming, I don’t think I’m going to be rich in much else. I am particularly worried about fresh veg as I eat a great deal of it. I might get by on home grown tomatoes in the summer, but there’s no chance of that in April.
Maybe by some miracle the MPs will put a stop to the madness and we can reboot. Brexit’s wounds are going to take a long, long time to heal, whether we leave or stay. The bitterness, the hatred, the anger the referendum threw up will leave scars.
I have just watched Brexit: the Uncivil War, a drama about the campaigns starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It left me thoughtful, and more than a tad depressed. I had seen part of it being filmed in 2018 and been told by one of the crew it was to air the night we left the EU. In that case, I hope I never see it, I replied. But we are still in the EU, and it has aired. Watching it on catch up I didn’t get the full complement of ads in the breaks (it was a Channel 4 production for anyone looking to find it) but I did get that it had been sponsored by Lexus, so presumably that was the type of buying power the anticipated audience was expected to have. Not I. Among the more ridiculous accusations levelled at remainers is the one that we are the metropolitan elite. Some of the poorest parts of London voted solidly to remain. My own neighbourhood among them. Apparently, and especially as I read the Guardian, I am also a member of the chattering classes, which perhaps I am, though not alas with any influence. The term was coined by Auberon Waugh whose politics were more than a bit extreme.
We are seeing the unedifying spectacle of MPs, journalists and others being racially abused; women having misogynistic comments hurled at them by a group of vociferous pro Leave protesters who gather outside the Palace of Westminster. How anyone hearing them could embrace a future where their views dominate is a mystery.
I don’t agree with Owen Jones about much, but when he says the right wing press and the language of hate and prejudice that adorn its front pages has much to answer for, he’s right. He didn’t mention the lies the Mail and the Express serve up on an almost daily basis. According to them, climate crisis is a lie, we are overrun with malign foreigners, the NHS is being bled dry by health tourists. All these stories have been shown to be false, but still they keep peddling them. It worries me that the newspaper proprietors push this trash, it worries me even more that people buy these newspapers and want to believe them. That is self-deception on a frightening scale.
But I can only take a little of Brexit at a time. It looks horribly like I shall be living in an ex EU country very soon. Any problems will be blamed on the EU which has become some sort of whipping boy for the right and far right. Any success, any minor survival, will be hailed as victory. And as I don’t want to see my country go down the pan, I and my fellow remainers will be doing our darnedest to make something positive out of this disaster, and not relying as the leavers seem to do on fairies at the bottom of the garden.
So expect recipes, pictures of MasterB, poetry, anything that distracts and keeps me sane while this lemming like race to destruction continues. Meanwhile, beneath the surface my legs will be paddling like billyoh.

Soup Season

What is it about the end of the year and the start January which suggests soup? It’s not just me; my neighbour Jolita has also got the soup bug. At a guess, it goes back to childhood and Mother making meals from festive leftovers. To be fair, I don’t remember any soup, but I do remember a nut bread she made based on a recipe in a copy of Family Circle someone had passed to us. Is Family Circle still going? We weren’t a magazine taking family, though the Radio Times was taken weekly, and I was a big fan of the Dandy before I reached double figures, then it was Jackie and Fab208 as often as I could get them, with very occasional forages into Rave before I graduated to Honey. Nowadays it’s the Guardian and magazines from various organisations I belong to or charities I support. Favour, the magazine for supporters Hearing dogs of the Deaf doesn’t feature many soup recipes. But then neither did the Dandy.

That said, for me soup generally begins with what I have in the fridge rather than a recipe. And this week I had some celeriac that needed using, lots of tomatoes, and some nice white bread that was past its best. So Monday’s soup was a version of ribollita which worked surprisingly well. Motivated, I moved onto tomato soup, with a pound of tomatoes and some other veg I already had. I found a recipe which became the base for my soup, but to my surprise it didn’t include garlic. Surely some mistake? Easily rectified though, and thus emboldened I added half a tsp of ginger purée instead of the tomato purée I did not have. I love chilli, so after a slight hesitation I added a few flakes. Continue reading

Quite the Party Animal

New Year’s Eve, and all is quiet chez Isobel and Cat. The party goers are either in a different neighbourhood, or haven’t got started yet. I’m not sorry to miss them. It’s been a few years now since I have seen the New Year in. Friends have given up inviting me to join them watching fireworks. I used to like small supper parties that ended shortly after we drained the obligatory glasses of champagne as Big Ben tolled the end of the old year. But even that palled. Maybe one of these years I shall be seized with a longing to be in the midst of a crowd of revellers singing Auld Langs Syne, but not tonight. It’s questionable whether I shall still be awake at midnight, let alone revelling. No, I’m perfectly happy sitting here with the boy, writing a post, and with the promise of the new Kate Atkinson novel to read later.

I was out working today and tonight made a mean bowl of fresh tomato soup, then settled down to catch up with episode one of Les Misérables as adapted by Andrew Davies, the man who put Darcy into a pond and turned Colin Firth into an unlikely sex symbol. Tonight I got a view of Dominic West’s buttocks. Others will have enjoyed that view last night, but I was watching on catch up. I’d read a review in the Guardian online over breakfast. You can read it too if you like, just click here for the link.

The opening shot featured no buttocks at all, but instead Adeel Akthar cheerfully robbing the dead bodies on the battlefield the day after Waterloo.I felt a vicarious thrill of fame, Akthar’s parents-in-law are in our book group. One of the bodies wasn’t dead, he introduced himself as Colonel Pontmercy before once more losing consciousness, and although I have never read Les Mis, seen the film or the musical, I’m willing to bet a fairly hefty sum that the two will meet up again.
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Hold the old photos, we went to Devonport today

Spring weather today, sunshine and warmth, alternating with heavy showers. We took a bus into town and headed for the harbour to catch the ferry to Devonport. It had been on my to see list, but I thought the weather was going to rule it out. Although we travelled there by water, it is attached to the mainland,
Before I came to New Zealand, people told me it was like Tasmania, but until today I hadn’t felt that was true.
But there was something about Devonport that did remind me of Tasmania. I couldn’t tell you what though.
The ferry ride lasts just twelve minutes, so you just have time to enjoy the view before you disembark. A gentle walk along by the sea was a nice introduction. With the sun out, the sea was restored to a blue-turquoise. Dogs were swimming, people too.

Swimming retriever

A walk by the sea, with driftwood

There were benches to sit on to admire the view.

Bench with a view

There were also reminders that things had not always been so tranquil.

Execution site

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Of New Shoes, Public Lavatories, and a Miraculous Lunch

First the shoes. Near the local supermarket is a shop with a few shoes on display. I picked one of them up, a pink Skecher. Cousin swears by Skechers, but I have never had a pair. The shoe was as light as air. I was suddenly, and immediately, seized with the absolute need to acquire a pair. What could be better for sightseeing?
On Monday we went in search. We failed. New stock is coming in, but no Skechers in the right size and style for me. Disappointment ballooned above me. But then the assistant produced a pair of equally lightweight shoes of another make, New Balance. Bingo. I have only removed them to sleep in two days.

So now the toilets. Earlier in the year, Lyn, who as I believe I have mentioned before is the most organised person in the planet, sent me a list of places she thought I might like to visit on our trip to the north end of the North Island. I clicked on the the link to Hundertwasser and was amazed. An Austrian, he came to live in Kawakawa and made this outstanding contribution to the town.

Public convenience


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