Wednesday, 16 January 2013

January 16th - Whiter than your persiled Y-fronts and a Siege mentality

Dear Nigel,

What a difference a day makes - or even a few days in this case. The world is whiter than your persiled Y-fronts and getting out of the back door has been a bit of an ordeal. Children were sent home on Monday and the bus refused to venture into the village at all. We all traipsed up the road to the top of the moor to collect  our smiling offspring who were gagging for a few days of enforced sledging, snowball fights and snowmen making.

 Every radiator is covered in mountains of waterproof clothing and more hats and gloves than we actually appear to own. The sledging run goes directly outside my window so I can sit and drink coffee and wave occasionally at the ruddy-faced children who refuse to come in even after several hours. In a few days this enthusiasm will begin to wane so I'll let them have their fun.

Over in the fridge department there are gaps starting to appear and a weak, ineffective light that hasn't been visible for weeks due to Christmas. The freezer is getting lower and I have to prevent myself falling in each time I reach to the bottom for the last of the sausages and some unidentifiable meat. The cat food is nearly all gone and the one thing I cannot  possibly do without ( - in my case it is a certain kind of plain full fat yoghurt without which I am simply miserable) has been scraped to its last.

This is the first day I have ventured out further than the top of the village. My shopping list reads like an inventory for one of Ranulph Fiennes expeditions, and, given that more snow is forecast in another day or so, there is a high likelihood that we will be holed up again here. I don't mind this, in fact, in a strange way I think I rather enjoy the challenge. What I like most is the brightness of the landscape and the completely soft silence that reverberates from branch to branch. I head out in Archie (newly returned since his last prang when I had to dive into a hedge to avoid a hearse) and keep to the only main and gritted road fifteen miles to the supermarket.

I am now alone with my siege mentality. An acquaintance spots me pocketing twenty four loo rolls and half a trolley of semi-skimmed milk to freeze and grins wryly. There is a convoy of archies in the car park. This, the highest town in England is obviously several degrees warmer than home. I know this because of the scarcity of snow on the ground and the fact that I can now get my key into the door lock of the landrover and so will no longer have to take a chance on leaving it unlocked. I buy a seventeen kilo sack of working dog food for my non-working arctic dog who moons at the back door trying to get back in to her warm bed every two minutes, and a hunk of decent mature cheddar, and head for the till.

You are cooking a good old fashioned ham (pg 16) with a new sauce - artichoke and parsley.The artichokes in question are those knobbly, slightly obscene little specimens -Jerusalem artichokes, which seem to me to have such a deep and comforting flavour just right for this time of year. I am pleased to see that you don't bother to peel them (just scrub and chop) as this has rather put me off in the past, which is a shame. You say of this recipe, that the ham 'can be energised a bit in summer, when it will benefit from a bright-green, olive-oil-and herb-based sauce. But on a day as bone chilling as this, it needs an accompaniment as comforting as a goose-down duvet.' The optional addition of a little double cream to the sauce will have to depend on whether I'm feeling post-seasonally guilty for stuffing my face with chocolate over Christmas, or whether two days healthy eating is making me feel virtuous and therefore in need of a treat for the obvious success that I can  envisage, without having to endure the hard part (namely a good deal more portion control and to realign my taste buds to more healthier fodder). The rest of the artichokes are roasted to accompany the Ham - seasonality at its best.

I am skimming over your ham and cabbage fry-up for, although the recipe appears tasty-enough in itself, I find juniper berries just a little hard to take, so dominating are they in their flavour. I've ruined many a game casserole because of this. You say ' I am probably alone in holding juniper as one of my favourite spices. Its clean, citrus 'n' tobacco scent is both warming and refreshing. Where cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg offer us reassuring earthiness, juniper brings an arctic freshness and tantalising astringency.' It is certainly an acquired taste, although I can see what you are getting at with this recipe, with its roots in sauerkraut.

I turn to January 13th - The cook's knife, and find a friend. There is something comforting in the knowledge that even the best cooks have favourite old knives that have travelled through life beside them. 'Picking up the right knife is like putting on a much-loved pullover. It may well have seen better days but the odd hole only seems to add to its qualities'. My handful of old knives would probably appal the best of cooks but they are MY knives and they do the job with me as their blunt utensil in a quite satisfactory way.

From one picture postcard to another,



  1. This is a most wonderful blog and brilliantly written and I am deeply envious! Nigel must be very flattered (I am a huge fan of the Kitchen Diaries too). Will keep reading with great interest

  2. Thank you, that's a lovely thing to say. I hope i continue to keep you entertained.

  3. I've just discovered your blog via Twitter and I'm so glad I did. what a wonderful writing style you have. I am also a big fan of Nigel. I will definitely visit again soon.

  4. Dear Nicola,

    It was very kind of Nigel to give me such an endorsement on Twitter. He said, 'I cannot tell you how much @hilarykaren's enchanting blog has meant to me over the last year'. Nearly 3000 page views already today....yipee!!