We spent a couple of days in North Yorkshire, and took a walk up Whernside – one of the county’s ‘three peaks’. With its limestone pavement, familiar moorland flora and Victorian infrastructure, this is a landscape of which I’m very fond, and in which I love to walk. The Ribblehead Viaduct is such a spectacular piece of engineering, and we particularly enjoyed seeing the little aquaducts around which, higher up the moor, water had been diverted to accommodate the direction of the Settle-Carlisle railway line. After 8 miles and a very blustery summit, we treated ourselves to a hearty ploughman’s lunch in the always-welcoming Station Inn . . . this lunch inspired some discussion between Tom and I about the constituency and origin of the ‘traditional’ ploughman’s. Google revealed the intriguing, but perhaps unsurprising information that this ‘traditional’ pub fayre was in fact a 1956 invention of the Cheese Bureau, the same folk behind the 1970s cheese recipe books that I have on my bookshelf, and the coiner of immortal advertising slogans such as “great minds think cheese.”
Meanwhile, wedding preparations, such as they are, continue. Tom has made the cake, we have our rings, and I have knitted my thing (it is a cardigan, and I am very pleased with it)! I cast on a pair of kilt hose for Tom and am now steadily working away on those. The cardigan and the hose are particularly lovely and exciting to me as they are being knitted in our wool. That is to say that yes – we are making yarn. The yarn is 100% wool: it has been raised in Scotland, and has been expertly processed in Yorkshire (one of the reasons why we have been visiting that county so often of late). And the first things knitted from the yarn will be worn on our wedding day! I have been keeping the wool plans under wraps for many months and soon, at last, I will be able to say more about them. But for now I’d better get back to knitting those hose. . .
Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about a delicious and intriguing object: the POTATO.
Also known as “tattie” or “spud”, and, often (for some mystifying reason) prefixed with the adjective “humble”, the POTATO is one of my all-time favourite foods. Together with other wondrous food-objects (for example, CHICKEN, SAUSAGES and HAM), POTATOES are sadly not something I am able to consume on a daily basis. I find this extremely disappointing. Instead of a tasty varied diet of tubers cooked in several different ways (roast POTATOES being a particular delicacy), twice a day I am offered what in this house is designated dog food, viz, a sort of arid, brown space-biscuit. Though I am told the space-biscuits provide me with fully-balanced canine nutrition, I find them frustrating in many respects. . . perhaps particularly the miniscule amounts in which they are dispensed. I have frequently tried to suggest to Kate and Tom that POTATOES would be much preferred to space biscuits by this hungry labrador, but as they are foolish humans, who do not speak DOG, they fail to understand my chagrin. But here is a top-tip, dog friends: if you too exist on a bland space-biscuit diet, you may be able to supplement it with the delicious food your humans prepare for themselves by presenting them with the face known as “GIVE ME A POTATO”.
Sometimes the GIVE ME A POTATO face is literally all that is required to make a POTATO materialise. How well I remember the day I made this face at our next door neighbour, Mairi, and was rewarded with two entire baked POTATOES. How delicious! How fluffy! How utterly POTATOE-Y those POTATOES were! This event was truly the stuff of canine dreams – indeed every time I’ve encountered Mairi since, I’ve presented her with the expectant face of one who anticipates its recurrence. But I digress.
If, after making the GIVE ME A POTATO face you get lucky, and a POTATO actually appears, you may find yourself having to work for your reward. Humans refer to such matters as training, and your successful response to their commands is a simple way of compounding their mistaken belief that they have the upper hand. We dogs know better. And let me tell you, friends, that while some foolish canines regard such tricks as demeaning, there is nothing at all demeaning in the tasty joy of a POTATO. My philosophy is: if you want the POTATO, you’ve got to throw the shapes.
And while I am on the subject, it is worth bearing in mind that cooked POTATOES are always to be preferred to those that come straight out of the ground, or sit in the bathroom performing the mysterious process known as “chitting.” I myself have little idea what this “chitting” involves, but I do know that at this time of year the bathroom becomes a sort of POTATO nursery, a space in which I show much interest but out of which I am frequently shooed. Kate spends a lot of time in the POTATO nursery, and it has to be said that in spring she seems, if possible, even more excited about POTATOES than I: continually fussing and muttering about the correct timing of “getting the POTATOES in”. But the fussing seems to pay off, as by late Summer we find ourselves with a glut of tubers, and as she often reminds me, the best POTATOES are those that are home grown.
Well, enough chit-chat, already. May I eat my POTATO now, please?
See you soon, love Bruce xx
Kate adds: there is indeed much potato anticipation here as my spring planting has been held up by shed-construction and associated landscaping. Hopefully the work will be completed soon and I can get the potatoes out of the bathroom and into the ground!
Neither Tom or I are fond of food shopping, yet for some unknown reason we have never ordered our supplies online using one of the many delivery services now available. I finally tried this the other day, and of course made the mistake of failing to adjust the default units under which some items are measured. This rookie error resulted in the delivery of a kilo of taleggio cheese. I required just 100g to make a tart, and was now in possession of 10 times more than the recipe required. . . . Tom had a good laugh, and Bruce kindly offered to help out by devouring the excess, but, I reminded him (as I often have to) that dogs don’t eat cheese.
Unfortunately, taleggio is a substance with limited uses, and not really the sort of cheese you can just chow down on wholesale — it is quite strong and salty and very squashy. What to do?
Well, I just made taleggio scones for lunch, and they turned out so well that I thought I’d share the recipe!
There are a few key things to remember when making these:
1) stick the taleggio in the freezer for half an hour so that it hardens up
2) cut the taleggio into small pieces
3) do not work the scone dough in any way. Just bring it together and plonk it down on your floured surface.
Thyme and Taleggio Scones
(Makes 6 or 7 large scones)
6oz / 170g self raising flour
2oz / 56 g butter
3.5 oz / 100g taleggio
ground black pepper
sprig of thyme
5floz / 150 ml buttermilk
Put taleggio in freezer for 30 mins
Preheat oven to 180c / 350f / gas mark 4.
Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the thyme leaves and the ground black pepper.
Take the taleggio out of the freezer and cut into small cubes. Using your hand, mix it lightly into the breadcrumb mixture.
Add the buttermilk, and, using a butter knife, stir the mixture gently until it starts to come together.
Bring the mixture together carefully with your hands into a rough dough. DO NOT KNEAD, OR OTHERWISE WORK THE DOUGH!
Place dough on floured surface and lightly press to 1.5 in thick.
Cut out scones with pastry cutter.
Place on floured baking tray and bake at centre of oven for 15 mins, or until golden.
Well, that’s 100g of taleggio down, only 900g to go . . . .
A pretty Cumbrian village . . .
. . . festive windows . . .
. . . and doors.
Ben, the friendly cat . . .
A fine local food market . . .
And a wonderful birthday meal.
In case you are wondering, the food at L’Enclume was just as amazing as you might imagine. We didn’t look at the menu, and really enjoyed the delicious surprises that all (ahem) seventeen courses of the tasting menu afforded. This was incredible food, impeccably presented, but I never felt that its theatre was pointless. In fact, in general L’Enclume struck us as being refreshingly grounded — from its use of local ingredients and suppliers, to the warmth and complete lack of stuffiness of its staff. As our holidays and meals are usually done on the cheap, camper-van style, the whole experience was a real treat for us and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Like me, my friends in Ireland like their TEA. The two most popular Irish brands are Lyons and Barry’s – and loyalties are hotly divided over the two brands. Certainly, everyone in Ireland I’ve spoken to about tea knows which they prefer. I am a person of strong opinion where tea is concerned, so Eimear recently sent me both brands so that I could make up my mind . . .
So, on the left, we have a pyramid-shaped Lyons teabag, and on the right, a more traditional rectangular Barry’s teabag . . .
The packaging of both brands is actually weirdly similar . . .
I took a good slurp of both and decided that the winner is most definitely . . .
I found the taste of the Lyons strangely familiar – the shape of the tea-bag, and the fact that it is distributed by UniLever leads me to wonder whether it is, in fact, essentially the same tea as PG Tips?
I do not know whether Barry’s has a UK brand equivalent – it did not taste familiar, and I have tasted many, many teas. To me it seemed a good afternoon tea – “brisk”, as it says on the packaging – and I’m definitely looking forward to drinking my way through the rest of the box. Mmmmm. . . tea . . .
You will note that was nothing objective at all about this experiment: a blind tasting is pretty much impossible to conduct solo; there was no control; I had my suspicions that the pyramid-shaped bag contained PG Tips before I tasted it; and perhaps, too, I am drawn to Barry’s because I find the name vaguely amusing (Barry (as in Barry-The-Tramp) is the shorthand in this house for a stubbly face that needs a shave). Anyway, I hope I’ve not offended any Irish readers in the Lyons camp!
And while we are on the subject of experiments, I want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to Tom, aka Barry, whose important new work on B-cells and MS is currently climbing up the immunology charts as the “most read” paper in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. WHOOT!
There is no getting away from the fact that I’ve had a rough few days. Please try not to have a stroke, people: the long term health implications of it are really bloody annoying. Sometimes the process of recovery itself can add further problems to the myriad medical issues that follow a brain injury, and this has certainly been the case for me. This particular issue concerns the instability of my pelvis, and my general (in)ability to get about, and as well as being in quite a bit of pain this week I’ve been feeling rather angry and frustrated. Will this shit never leave me alone? Unfortunately, it probably won’t. The only thing for me to do is to properly face up to the fact that a stroke is, in effect, a chronic condition with which I am now living: however determined I am, my mobility is now going to be seriously compromised for the rest of my life, and I have to deal with that. Easier said than done, sometimes. I often find myself thinking of Patricia Neal and her hip replacements.
I’m not keen on myself when I’m maudlin, and I’m quite sure no one else is either, so I find myself with not too much to say today. Here are a couple of cheering things.
I love this so much I can’t stop knitting it. The yarn is the stuff I showed you recently and it is just. so. bloody. tasty. I am making some things from it which will be out in pattern form next month, so I will be able to show you the right side reasonably soon.
Tom baked hazelnut shortbread. When baking anything containing nutz, it is, of course, obligatory to sing several verses of the old Louis Jordan song, Nuts to You. At least it is round here:
“We’ve got walnuts, chestnuts – all the best nuts –
Every kind but donuts
Brazil nuts, peanuts, we will see nuts
Till we really go nuts.”
Where was I? Oh yes, Tom’s hazelnut shortbread. It is very good.
You will find the recipe on p. 948 of Nigel Slater’s Tender, vol 2, or below in an abbreviated variation, rendered without Nigel’s linguistic excesses (“large, unruly balls” being a notable feature of his original).
golden caster sugar 100g
skinned hazelnuts 60g
ground almonds 40g
plain flour 200g
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 160c.
Cream butter and sugar together till fluffy.
Toast hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until golden, then pound with mixer or pestle & mortar until coarse.
Add the nuts & flour to the butter & sugar and stir until the mixture comes together.
Take a teaspoon, and divide mixture into twelve blobs.
Place on non-stick baking sheet and bake for about 25 mins, or until the biscuits have risen and begun to colour.
Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes, before lifting from the baking sheet and dusting with icing sugar.
Enjoy while still slightly warm, with a nice cup of tea.
Bruce got to splash about in all sorts of wet stuff with complete impunity.
Almost as good as a long walk in the rain is coming in and drying off from a long walk in the rain . . . with a giant cup of tea . . .
. . .and a scone (bizarrely, my biscuit disaster seems to have kindled a baking phase).
Have a nice weekend, everyone!