A Spoonie’s Day, Cooking…

Apologies if you find any discontinuities in what follows. Even though it’s only a little over 1,000 words it’s taken me almost 4 days to finish – an indicator of just how crappy things are right now.

When I write about cooking I’m often moved to include a disclaimer, pointing out that this is the exception, rather than the rule, and that most days cooking is way beyond me. So, on the occasional days when I am able to cook, I make stews and casseroles, which can be frozen against the times – most days – when I’m unable to do more than reheat something.

As this is the 7th anniversary of my blog it seemed an apposite time to show why this is.

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A normal cook will belly up to the workspace, sharpen his/her knives, get stuck in, and leave when the prep’s finished and the dish is cooking, at which point it can often be left more or less to its own devices.

For Spoonies – this Spoonie, at any rate – things are very different.

My workspace always has a restaurant-standard mise en place setup – all ingredients and utensils needed are assembled in and around the workspace prior to starting, as it’s the sensible way to go – it means I barely have to move from the spot once I start. Except, of course, when I need to rest.

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The spoonie-sapping Sainsbury’s saga…

Sitting here, surrounded by the wonderful smell of brisket, simmering in an amazingly tasty and aromatic stock, it seems churlish to grouch but, hey, what the hell? I feel like shit so I might as well vent!

I mentioned on Twitter, earlier today (for those that don’t yet know, on Twitter I’m @rantsfromron, as @ronsrants was already taken), that my local Sainsbury’s – Upton, Wirral – really, really, sucks. There’s a reason for that – quite simply, it’s badly run,** I don’t know what the overnight restocking team does, but it’s not restocking, and it almost never has the items that Sainsbury’s website says it should have which, as it’s designated a superstore, which I find infuriating.

** I once overheard two oiks arguing with a guy who was clearly their line manager, about Continue reading

Christmas is coming, and coming, and coming…

I just love this – the Movement for the Containment of Christmas has vandalised three charity shops for selling Christmas cards in the middle of what, this year, passes for summer.

The Movement, which may well be just one guy, superglued the shops’ locks in protest. Now, I realise charity shops have to make money when they can but, really, isn’t selling Christmas cards in August just a tad absurd? Hell, when this was mentioned on the radio yesterday, a listener phoned in with a report of a pub that already had its Christmas decorations up – it’s insane.

When I was a kid Continue reading

Christmas for one…

Note: for some reason, when I first posted this, all my formatting was trashed, presenting the reader with a solid slab of text, and I’ve only just noticed. Sorry about that – it’s a WordPress problem, and outside my control. I just hope it doesn’t recur.

As I’ve observed elsewhere, at this time of year I’m often assailed by the spirit of humbuggery. Not because I’m a curmudgeonly old sod, but because I don’t really do Christmas (though there was a time when I’d single-handedly cook a traditional Christmas lunch for a dozen people). Let me explain…

About 1987, I was in Chester, with my wife, Christmas shopping (this was in the days when the trains could actually be depended upon and we could go there knowing we could get home again – that’s no longer the case). Chester is a very nice place for a spot of Christmas retail therapy – it’s even better when, as we did, shopping is combined with lunch and a bit of a pub crawl. Anyway, leaving the city centre to head back to the station – a tedious walk of unrelieved dreariness these days, but in those days it was punctuated, at about the half-way point, by a nice little canal-side pub – The Jolly Miller, if memory serves.

Early in the evening, the place was pretty empty, except for an old bloke and his dog. We exchanged pleasantries, patted the dog, got our booze and retired to a table. About 15 minutes later the old guy got up, collected his dog, which had been mooching crisps from us, and headed for the door. “Merry Christmas,” said my wife as he passed. “Christmas”, he snarled, “When you’re on your own it’s the same as any other bloody day!” And off he stomped, out into the frosty darkness. Miserable old bugger, we thought, and thought no more about it.

Fast-forward 22 years – we’re divorced, we had no kids, I have no family and I live alone. And you know what? The old bloke was absolutely right. Mind you, he could have just said good night – surly old git!

I’m an atheist, too, so Christmas has no religious significance for me, and never has had since I was a small child. So, as I said, I don’t do Christmas.

While I don’t celebrate Christmas, I do usually try to cook something a little out of the ordinary – back when I was a vegetarian, I’d sometimes make a hand-raised, hot-water crust pie with a very tasty veggie filling, for example –  or, as I’ve done this year, create a new recipe.

This Christmas, then, I’m going to lightly fry off half a dozen Toulouse sausages, just to firm them up, and poach them slowly, with smoked bacon, chopped dried apricots, Agen prunes, fresh thyme, roasted shallots, roasted carrots** and lots of roasted garlic, all in a thick and winey onion gravy. (Note: browning the veg in the fat the bacon was fried in is just as good as roasting, and much easier – as I’ve just found out, making a test batch. All the flavour stays in the pan, and there’s one less dish to wash)

** There’s a newish carrot called Sweet Spear, which is long and fairly thin. It’s tasty, and has a high sugar content – it should be brilliant cut into chunks and roasted in butter and olive oil, when the sugar will caramelise nicely.

The previous day I’ll have made a fresh loaf, replacing some of the flour with a small packet of sage and onion stuffing mix. I’ll serve the sausages on a thick, buttery, toasted, slice of that, accompanied by red cabbage, braised in a little olive oil and apple juice, with juniper berries, and a splash of cider vinegar, so it’ll retain its colour.

I may not do Christmas, but I sure as hell do good food…

Update: Yesterday, I made this, to see if my untried recipe worked out in reality and, indeed, it does. It’s brilliant.

Note for those in the UK – Sainsbury’s do a decent Toulouse sausage in their Taste the Difference range (That usually means Taste the Difference – god, that’s awful! But not in this case.), and they stock Sweet Spear carrots. I’m still looking for Agen prunes, but I’ve just discovered that they’re favoured by Dreadful Delia Smith, so it’s no wonder I can’t find any!

Merry Christmas?

Here in Britain you can tell Christmas is upon us – the news is full of surveys and research, and lots of plain old bitching and whining, about us all drinking too much!

We have, today, been exhorted by some bunch of losers, with only the slenderest grip on reality, that we really shouldn’t start drinking if we think there’s a risk we may drink too much! In a country where binge drinking is defined as consuming more than two pints, this probably means we’re allowed a couple of halves of shandy, before we’re ejected from the pub for our own good, and not allowed back until the New Year.

The thing is, I drink beer because I like beer – getting shit-faced is an unfortunate side-effect – I doubt many adults drink with the intention of getting drunk (though for anyone under 30, getting blitzed is usually the main reason for drinking), but it’s pretty much unavoidable unless you’re boringly abstemious. (Do you know, by the way, that the permitted units of alcohol per day figures were more or less picked out of the air, because the real figures were deemed too generous?)

So, at some point in the next few days, I shall go off to the pub, and treat myself to a festive gallon of beer (or it’s equivalent in rum – the sheer volume of beer is getting harder to handle these days – must be getting old!). The thing is that this sort of behaviour is getting very close to being considered criminal in the increasingly puritanical UK, yet I shall drink my beer, get pleasantly blurred around the edges but still remain coherent and capable of holding an intelligent conversation (well, more or less!), and wander home again – possibly picking up an ill-advised takeaway en route.

What I won’t do is puke all over someone’s car, then stab the owner when he complains, mug old ladies, vandalise property or fall down in the street and have to be dragged off to hospital, at great expense to the NHS.

However, because a certain segment of society does do these things, and more, when bladdered (and frequently when not, too), pretty much everyone who enjoys a pint, or several, is tarred with the same anti-social brush and I, for one, am getting totally hacked off with it.

The government is about to announce measures to tackle the plague of pissed and violent youngsters that infest this country, and about time too, but what are the prospects that everyone will be penalised for the actions of a minority? Pretty high I should think – have a merry Christmas, while you still can!

Bah, humbug – maybe!

I had a lie in this morning, something I very rarely do, dreaming about camping and women – unsure which I miss most, it being about 9 months since my last relationship fizzled, and a couple of years since I was able to head for the hills.

Am I, by the way, the only person with ME who finds it hard to get a relationship off the ground, or even meet suitable people? “Normal” people are active in the evenings while I’m at my peak (and I use that work extremely loosely), in the late morning-early afternoon (no, I’m not ruling out other people with disabilities – I just don’t meet any).

Anyway, I digress – back to the script. I don’t like Christmas – I don’t dislike it, it just doesn’t do anything for me. It’s a time for families and/or children, as available, and I have neither. Also, as an atheist, the religious component is lost on me (as, indeed, it is on many Christians, in this season of conspicuous consumption!). It’s also the time of year when my local pub is usurped by people who hardly ever darken its doorstep for the rest of the year, except for New Year’s Eve, so the regulars are marginalised. Nevertheless, there’s a restless feeling that I should do something and, this morning, I had a flash of inspiration.

Next year – it’s way too late for this year – I’ll save up for a couple of nights B&B in a favourite location during the run-up to Christmas, probably somewhere in the Peak District, spend a convivial evening evening in a local pub (roaring fire essential, smelly old dog mooching crisps optional), and tuck in to a really good dinner. If, by next year, there’s a person of the female persuasion to share it with, it’d be very nice, if not, sod it, I’ll go on my own!

This may, of course, require some research, after all, I don’t want to pitch up somewhere with poor beer – that would never do. Mind you, if I waive the roaring fire requirement, the Ladybower Inn, at Bamford, in the Peak District has excellent beer and food – plus accommodation. Sounds good to me.

It’ll have to be in November (as the run-up to Christmas starts in early September, this counts!), I suppose as, in many pubs in December, festive lunches must be pre-booked (if you just drop in for a normal lunch, you face a hell of a wait), and I don’t know whether that extends to dinners too. Booking, of course, due to the exigencies of ME, is just not possible, but in November, getting a room at very short notice, especially midweek, shouldn’t be too difficult.

The main reason, by the way, that I won’t actually be doing this over Christmas, is one of cost. A decent pub dinner or lunch can be had for under £20 (a lot under, in many cases), and B&B for about £40 per person per night in November – over the two days of Christmas you can double or triple that (Christmas Day lunch in my local, for example, where if it’s not deep fried, it’s microwaved, will be £44!!), plus the fact that every hostelry in the land will be packed to the rafters with people I’d normally cross the road to avoid. So, November it is.

Mind you, back in the mid nineties I decided on a camping trip at Christmas, to Ashford-in-the-Water, in the Peak District. This was something I’d tried 15 years earlier, to the Cotswolds, with great success – but I didn’t have ME then.

After the stress of the horrendous Christmas Eve train journey, followed by putting up my tent in a downpour that would have shamed a monsoon, I collapsed into my very damp sleeping bag completely wiped out, to wake next morning to a raging blizzard and and tent in which everything that had been damp had frozen solid!

I thought Sod it! and decamped to the local hotel, where I ended up staying for three weeks until I felt well enough to go home, and very enjoyable it was, even if it did do severe damage to my credit card. I did get my first – and, so far, only – white Christmas, though, which made it all worthwhile.

Back to the present, and one difficulty, when going away for a few days, is the problem of stairs – stairs and I don’t get on, so I try to avoid them, and this may rule out the Ladybower. However, not far away is the village of Castleton, which is amply supplied with good pubs with fires/dogs/good beer and food and, if memory serves, a pretty decent B&B which caters for disabled customers with a downstairs bedroom. That’s probably better. It involves a little more walking, which could be difficult, but that may be preferable to stairs – it needs thinking about.

Come November next year, watch this space…