Friday, 1 February 2013

February 1st - The smell of burning rubber and Cerebrum for soup

Dear Nigel,

My landlord was busy setting fire to the road this afternoon. Not altogether quite sure what he was doing but it seemed to be some kind of a road repair with bits of tarmac, this being either an unadopted road or at the most a fairly uncared for and forgotten one. It was quite surreal to have to drive through a line of fire to get out. John was smiling pleasantly and I had visions something of a cross between 'the Wicker man' and a dream I have of being part of a circus act. I just hoped that the tread on my tires wouldn't start to melt as I crossed his line of flames.

As you seem to have taken a break for a couple of days - and I think it can be allowed once in a while, we don't want the creative juices to run thin - I look back to see what Imissed. January 1st, I was probably nursing a crashing hangover whilst you were virtuously making bread and soup. No prizes for who gets the most brownie points for a head start with all those New Year's resolutions.

 The soup is a wonderfully hearty bacon and celeriac (page 7) with a little seasoning of thyme, mustard and parsley. Celeriac is the most wonderful of substantial vegetables. Like Butternut Squash it lends a velvety, almost creamy texture when blended in a soup, and a milder taste than celery itself (but without all those horrible stringy things). It does have the unfortunate habit of looking like a prop from 'Silence of the Lambs', but that won't deter the most adventurous of cooks (....although slivers gently fried in olive oil might give you that certain sense of Deja vu...).

I made a soup the other day, and I want to share it with you - not because it was the most wonderful tasting soup - but precisely because it wasn't. It was Pak choi and Chilli (not one of yours, I hasten to add ) and it was, well, OK. I made it. We ate it. We thought 'this is doing us good, all these vitamins, minerals, fibre'. It took me back to certain wholefood cafes in the 70's and early 80's who specialised in worthy, enriching, brown-rice-and-lentil stuff. When, like the Emperor's New Clothes, we would nod our heads and say 'this is good'. It was certainly doing us good, but taste-wise? So we want better these days, and a poor tasting soup will not make the grade.

 It got me thinking, though. I wonder if anyone ever does any research into what recipes are actually made in all these cookery books, and which recipes are left by the wayside.(Obviously there are exceptions, Nigel!) Perhaps it is less-diligent testing and retesting of recipes; but I would guess that any kind of analysis would uncover a similar pattern, overall favourites, and others that should really have been left out altogether.

The accompanying cider loaf seems a good choice. I have made bread with beer in, with milk, yoghurt, and apple juice, but I'm not sure I have made a cider loaf before. As someone who likes to think of themselves as a cider connoisseur (when she gets time to think of herself at all), I am keen to give it a go. Your recipe contains 250ml of dry cider - lucky as that's all I've got in: some Duchy Originals vintage Herefordshire cider (2011) and some Waitrose vintage Herefordshire cider (2011). A blind tasting might possibly tell me that these are the same with different labels on? Anyway, a nice crisp dry cider (although absolutely nothing beats Dunkertons Black Fox).

 You are using fresh yeast, which even the supermarkets seem to be selling these days, which is good. There is a very old-fashioned take-me-back-to-childhood smell about fresh yeast which is completely overwhelming and all-encompassing. Usually I am time-pressed and less organised and resort to those little sachets of easy-blend yeast for convenience, but fresh yeast, when available is part of true 'Bread meditation'. I can understand why this is part of your ritual for bringing in the New Year. You say ' there has been a decade of New Year's loaves in this house.....kneading is a good way to start the year. Tactile, peaceful, creative, there is something grounding about baking a loaf on New Year's Day.'

So, bread and soup it is - a man after my own heart.



  1. In our house we describe the good for you but indigestible stuff as 'tastes like **** but you could live on it' which is a bit of a misquote from Crocodile Dundee. Love the blog. I am one the new followers who found you after Nigel's wonderful tweet. Such a gentle, wonderful man, you really reflect that in the tone and mood of your writing.

    1. Thank you, it's exactly the way i want to reflect him in my letters. The blog is as much about him and the way he sees life as about me and mine. I try to get some kind of balance between the two.