Friday, 22 January 2016

Mr Blue Sky

Dear Nigel,

The candidate for Biggin and Hartington is being reprimanded and put on a warning. Sophie, my nine year old, is entering the Area Cubs 'Ready, Steady, Cook' event; and she is practising making pancakes at home. Unfortunately, pancakes take too long to cook it seems and there is something more interesting on the tele in the next room, so she leaves her pancake unattended and slinks off. Hmmm, don't think she'll get too many marks for that one...But, she does serve them beautifully and courteously and waits for our verdict: They taste very good, dripping in a river of maple syrup, and are even in colour (if perhaps a little thick...but then it does save having to make quite so many...)

The sky today is a beautiful Nordic blue; the kind of Winter Sky that refreshes and drives out the gloom. The snow is melting very slowly, caught by the dry chill of the wind which pins back your eye lids and wakes you up with a mallet. We have been hibernating too long. Inertia has set in and it needs a sky like today to set the blood racing beneath your thermals and bring a glow to your cheeks.

I am fed-up opening the Landrover with a kettle of boiling water each morning. The snow has turned to a permanent ice rink on the lane where the two cars have been up and down. I put out fresh bird seed which is devoured as fast as I put it out. That fat pigeon is back again hoovering up underneath where the lazy birds have made a mess and scattered seed everywhere. I heard a woodpecker the other day, busy putting up double-glazing and insulating his loft. Always the industrious kind, the woodpecker.

Today I am making a pie for supper. I still haven't got my head beyond comfort food with this cold weather, and the idea of any kind of meaningful exercise that might loosen the excesses of Christmas seems a very bad idea indeed. I watch a couple of people out running and think only of their poor ankles on black ice. I am getting old. Damn. Or perhaps just old-enough to remember how long it takes to mend a turned ankle; stumbling around with a shackle on your leg. The pie is your 'Peri peri chicken pie' (page10) for those days when 'sometimes, you just want pie.'

Chicken thighs always seem a good, economical meat to use as there is always a lot of meat on them, especially if you are prepared to spend the time taking off the skin, as in this recipe. The homemade peri peri seasoning smells wonderful as it sizzles and coats the onions. It is a mixture of chilli, oregano, garlic, vinegar, oil, Worcestershire sauce, celery seeds and lime juice - quite a combination, and worth the effort. If you have ever tried the mass-catering version, then this seasoning is a revelation, and says everything about why some things are worth making yourself. Using bought frozen puff pastry is a wonderfully quick way to turn anything into a pie, when the urge takes you. It always seems to impress friends and family, though I can never see why since it's little more than a minute's work to roll out and lick the top with a beaten egg.

My Cubs and I were making a totem pole this evening to take to the Centenary camp in the Summer. As I struggled with binding several five foot cardboard tubes together, they discussed whether they should scalp their victims first before tying them to the pole and burning them. I thought that perhaps Health and Safety might have something to say about that. Seems Golding didn't have to look too far at all to find inspiration for his book. I say perhaps Spaghetti Bolognaise would be a better option and probably easier to make.

I have been taking cider vinegar daily to try and alleviate some arthritic pain. I have read good reports about it, although nothing scientific, and I'm giving it a try. I take two tablespoons daily with a little water and a teaspoon or so of maple syrup. I used to use honey but found that maple syrup is full of antioxidants and has sizable amounts of zinc and manganese as well as being lower in calories (not that a teaspoon amounts to a great deal anyway). I also like the taste. The jury is still out as to how much help it is with my arthritis.

Watching programmes about how maple syrup is extracted is both fascinating and really rather beautiful, especially when it is tapped by hand and lands on a carpet of snow. Some of the trees have been tapped for over a hundred years. There are different grades of maple syrup, ranging from gold to amber to dark and very dark. Cananda, where most of the world's maple syrup comes from, has recently changed its grading system so that it is by colour rather than a, b and c grades. One fact that surprised and intrigued me, was that until 1930's, America produced most of the world's maple syrup. In 1990's, Canada made a huge drive and massive growth and today produces more than 80% of the world's maple syrup.

Japan and South Korea also produce maple syrup on a smaller scale, but in South Korea, the maple sap itself is eaten (called gorosoe) instead of being processed into syrup. Maple syrup and maple sugar were used as an alternative to sugar before and during the American Civil war by the abolitionists because cane sugar was produced by Southern slaves. In 1865, slavery was made unconstitutional as a result of this war.

The pie is on the table and ready for eating. I have worked up an appetite and this is what it is all about - cutting into a fine, crust pie with the expectation of a taste memory reclaimed, and the salivary glands already picking up the scent and starting to make the mouth water.

Bon appetit.

Martha x

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