Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings

I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my inexpert ramblings this year; I have been surprised and delighted by the huge response to my posts.

The recipes for Chili Jam, Moroccan Chicken and Herman Cake have been extraordinarily popular as have my Blogs on Mushrooms and Foraging, I promise to expand on these next year and to add to the bread posts which have been some of the most requested.

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and all you would wish yourselves for 2013.

My sincere thanks.


Saturday, 22 December 2012


'Despite the falling snow...'

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

It has always amazed me that while we get on with surviving the dark gloominess of winter, whiling away the languorous hours of semi-daylight and assuming that all around us is dormant, "Earth puts out grass and flowers despite the snow, despite the falling snow". Robert Graves may have been equally awed, but his description is much more perspicuous than my maladroit meanderings and certainly more poetic.

Winter is not simply a time of hibernation but is rather a pause, a lull in the frenetic growth of spring and summer, a culmination of the autumnal slowing, a stillness but not a death. It is the hour for gathering strength and while we look around us and see decay and lifelessness, beneath the surface is the concentration and storing of nutrients, and the necessary constituents to provide next year's growth and renewed life.

the attenuated light of Winter....

As we walk through the woods on the shortened days in the attenuated light of winter we still see the signs of life but at a much slower pace than that experienced in the spring of the year. The ability to almost see the bracken uncurling, the leaves unfolding and stretching cat like from their buds, the grass becoming a lusher green and the daffodils bursting from their bulbs in the spring, is replaced with a latency, an unseen but still perceived strength hidden beneath the detritus of the passed year. Everything is suppressed beneath the leaf induced sussuration of our footsteps along the wayside paths, the tessellated pattern of sunlit leaves throwing splashes of colour at the eyes and the longer, brighter shadows add length to our following forms.

....even hailstorms in April.....

Yet immediately after the Christmas celebrations are over the daylight hours are lengthening too. Imperceptible at first, but gradually even the most  inward of us notices the lighter mornings, the opening out of the evening gloom into a brighter walk home, the streetlamps not quite so harsh, their glow lessened by the available natural light and the cold, biting winds seem to dissipate as the additional daylight reduces their impact to freeze our bones. Optimism for the coming spring inures us against the vagaries of the weather and we anticipate the warming sun long before it's advent. Naturally, we can be caught out; a late frost killing buds on trees, snow showers in March, or, as in April 2012, a severe hailstorm leaving the very pavements panting as the temperature dropped 6 or 7 degrees in seconds depositing in its wake a heavy mist of cold breath upon the woodland floor. But these are only brief barriers along the road to spring, the inevitability of whose arrival can only be forestalled fleetingly and the temperatures rise, the world turns - the summer solstice hastens towards us like a mother  rushing towards her long lost child....

Winter is a beautiful time too.....

In the meantime, we too should make the most of the longer evenings, the colder daytimes and the chance to recoup our energies for the long, hot months ahead....well, winter is a time to dream too....

A heavy mist of cold breath upon the woodland floor

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Schnitzels and Childhood

When I was a child I lived in Germany; my father was in the British Forces and we lived in Minden and Hanover until I was about 12. Winters were cold and snowy, summers were dry and hot and being of that age some of my most formative memories belong to those years.

I remember catching crayfish by hand in the local streams, starting my own paper round for the estate on which we lived, my red bike with only one brake - the other was a kick brake, implemented by back peddling - visits to the NAAFI, a dreadful dentist who always left me with a mouthful of pain and a nausea from the gas he used...and I remember schnitzels!

I had forgotten all about our  visits to the restaurant in town to pick up a big dish of kartofell salat and schnitzels for the family back then, until I revisited Germany in 1991 and discovered them all over again in the centre of Bonne. It was a momentary, extremely odd feeling of déjà vu combined with euphoric bliss and a sublime confusion as to whence the apparent knowledge of such a dish had come. But a second or so later in a rush of nostalgia it all came back like a wave of warm soapy water covering me in warmth and comfort. I often think that nostalgia can be tasted and smelled. Every time I listen to Wish You Were Here or Shine On You Crazy Diamond, I can smell the vinyl, the black plastic wrapper the album came in and almost taste the atmosphere of my Mam's kitchen back in 1975. It's like a tangible entity - something that can be touched and if you could just reach you hand far enough into the past you would feel it, taste it, smell it...Oh and God Bless Syd and Rick....I can always get off to sleep late at night by listening to Pink Floyd, it's as if my cares  and worries are carried away by the wistful memory of how simple life was in my teens...

May it thinner if you need to...

Schnitzels are so easy to prepare and cook and you can use turkey, chicken, pork or veal. Just ensure your escalopes are thin enough to cook quickly - you can make them thinner by using a rolling pin - and coat them in seasoned flour, dip them in beaten egg and then roll them in freshly prepared breadcrumbs - don't buy breadcrumbs, never buy breadcrumbs. You're just adding to the coffers of the corporate conglomerates who think British people can't cook anything for themselves. And never buy "Wonder" bread....Oh, I mustn't start...

Bread, then egg, then breadcrumbs

Anyway, then you can fry them off in a shallow pan until they are a golden brown colour on both sides, pop them in the oven to keep warm on a low heat for a few minutes while you prepare whatever you fancy to accompany it.....and enjoy...

Quick, tasty and nostalgic...for me anyway...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Patatas Bravas - Mikey Stylee....

A great main dish, starter or accompaniment but as with the Cha Cha Cha chicken it needs pimenton pepper - available from all good food outlets.

The ingredients are pictured:

Boiled potatoes of choice
Pimenton (I use dulce - sweet)
Garlic chopped
Tinned tomatoes ( I blitz mine until smooth)
Tomato ketchup
Rosemary chopped
Thyme Chopped
Cumin seeds
Chilli (not too much it's a small dish, but it's your choice!)

Fry off the garlic and chilli in a deep pan until they are soft but not too coloured. Add the potatoes, cumin seeds and half the chopped herbs and continue to cook until some colour is given to the potatoes then add the blended tinned tomato, tomato ketchup and pimenton.
You can also add water if it dries out too much.

Cook until the potatoes have used up the liquid and are taking on more colour.


Cha cha cha chicken...

A lot of garlic, one hot chili and Pimenton

My wife devised the appellation for this dish, it's based on a Spanish favourite. I love one pot cooking so much and this is one of the most wonderfully flavoursome in my repertoire of chicken dishes. The chicken always ends up so tender it melts in the mouth, the chorizo adds depth, sweetness and a peppery hit, the chilli gives heat, but the pimenton is really the ingredient of note. It turns the dish into a deep, richly robust prize of a meal with notes of roasted peeper and molasses.

Here are the ingredients I used, but as always you can substitute:

Chicken (any cut you like)
Chorizo sausage (I used 'forte' - hot)
Tin of tomatoes blitzed
Tomato Ketchup - a dollop
Tomato puree - the same
chopped thyme
dried oregano or rosemary
2 heaped teaspoons of dulce pimenton
Chili (amount of choice) Chopped
Chopped red onion
Chopped garlic (I used 5 cloves)
a dash of balsamic vinegar
Chicken or vegetable stock if needed

Ok, I fry of the cubed chicken after coating it in plain flour seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, when it has browned i remove it from the pan and clean the dish if necessary, add more oil and gently sweat the chopped onions for 5 minutes or so. They should be soft not browned. Add the chopped garlic and chili and put the lid back on to sweat for a few more minutes.

The paramount ingredient
Add the tin of blitzed tomatoes with a touch of sugar, the pimenton, dried herbs and chopped thyme, the ketchup, puree and stir well for a few minutes before adding the chorizo and sealed chicken cubes. Check the seasoning.

I then simmer on the hob for 10 minutes or so before checking how much sauce is left and if necessary add some stock - the meat should be covered - and remember, the flour in which the chicken was cooked will thicken the sauce nicely. Then put the dish in the oven and cook slowly for 45 minutes or so (my fan oven at 140-150) The chicken should be soft enough to cut with a spoon when it's done...

Served with Patatas Bravas and home made seeded loaf

This could be served with my Patatas Bravas dish, bread or even rice, I think you'll enjoy it. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Perching....and Rain

We really wanted to catch something bigger.....

There's something about constant rain that is vitiating, it saps the energy, and leaves you unable to undertake even the most simple of tasks. It seeps into your neck, your sleeves, your socks and into your very soul. Rain soaks, it bleeds, it oozes, it exudes - and it leeches endurance and fortitude as it does so; rain is the very kidnapper of  animation and enterprise, the purloiner of pizzaz and the the poacher of purpose.

Today, yet again, it rained.

Naturally, constant rain also means that all the tackle, the bags, the electronics and the very clothes in which you are attempting to stay dry, end up a soggy, heavy, waterlogged mess that takes longer to dry out than it did to get wet in the first place and then leaves the car, the house and the laundry room damp too. Also every time you venture out from under the brolly the rain somehow lashes down harder and splashes onto your seat so that eventually even ones bottom becomes cold and wet.

....a lot bigger....

Poor old Harry - he's been fishing 3 out of the last 4 Tuesdays and it's hammered down on all three - he must be really damp...

Anyway, the plan was to fish a local carp water that also has a good head of perch, some of which are over the three pound mark - we managed to ascertain that half of that supposition was correct  - we caught plenty of perch! That was after an initial mix up about venues which yours truly managed to completely screw up...

Unfortunately all the perch were all small and the only thing that was immune from their hungry attack on anything that was remotely wormy, maggoty or prawny, was a livebait - these went untouched for the whole day. 

We couldn't even dodge the rain when we packed up - the showers were incessant - and by the time I got home the Land Rover was completely misted up and almost wetter inside than out.

It didn't rain at all the following day....

Monday, 26 November 2012


For how long will we be this busy....?

I suppose it was inescapable that a show which each year was so well attended, so manically busy and so looked forward to by all for twelve months, should eventually be split regionally in the hope that even more interest and attendance could be squeezed from the Cake Decorating Fraternity. Naturally, the Exhibition Company will do well, but the losers will inevitably be the Traders and ultimately, the public.

In 2012, the ICHF split the country in two, Birmingham and London, in 2013 it will be split into three, London, Manchester and Birmingham with the added possibility of Scotland and Dublin, Ireland. Also in 2013 the Cake And Bake Show will be in London and Manchester, just days apart from the ICHF shows. Where will it end and how many Traders will pull out their hair attempting to attend all 5 shows next year, to say nothing of Cork, Appeldoorn, Harrogate, Brighton and Boskoop? And of course, just how much money do the public have to spend at these shows? Surely the income will remain pretty constant, while the costs to the Traders and Public will jump astronomically.

My favourite Exhibitionist....!
Naturally, we as Traders have little choice about attending - we have to be where the public are - and we're certainly not complaining about the increase in interest in these shows or in cake decorating generally, but we now have to make some choices about which exhibitions to attend and which ones to miss. This leads to my other concern regarding the smaller regional shows and how attendance at them will be affected by the plethora of larger Exhibitions. Some shows have already suffered and closed as a result of reduced patronage and I would hate to see more of the smaller ones fall by the wayside. I suppose we will have to wait and see what 2013 brings as the number of Larger shows increases....

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Jelly Ear Mushroom (Auricularia judae)

An interesting etymology occurs with this particular fungus. As you can see from its Latin epithet, it is thought to be named after Judas Iscariot who, it is believed, hanged himself from an Elder tree in his remorse. This mushroom is often found clinging to Elder although in the photograph above it was growing on a Mahonia in a garden.

The Common name Judas' Ear, became Jews Ear, probably disparagingly, but is now fortunately more commonly called Jelly Ear. It is widely found throughout the year, all around the UK and its tough robustness makes it ideal for soups, stews and casseroles. It is also used in Chinese Hot and Sour Dishes but more interestingly, it can be dried and re-hydrated often ending up larger than its original size. 

Cook it for a long time in a casserole and it will add a mild, delicate flavour and a jelly like texture. For this latter reason I would prefer to use it in soups that can be blitzed into a smooth texture at the end of the cooking process.

As always, please take care when cooking and eating mushrooms....

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The very best lure in my opinion..Kuusamo's Professor

One of my favourites...and the pike's...

When you catch so few fish, it's important to photograph all of them...

Naturally, we have our friendly rivalries Harry and I, our differences of opinion, our own views on what constitutes a good breakfast or lunch, whether deadbaiting is a better method of catching fish than lure fishing, the efficacies of trolling - but we both agree that spoons are highly effective and efficient lures. In fact, I would lose little sleep if I could only use spoons to lure fish from now on. They are simple, practical and cheap; they can be trolled cranked or worked; they come in a huge variety of colours, weights, lengths and shape but they are all powerfully proficient and potent fish catchers.

Today's spoon of the moment...

When I fish with spoons I work the bait with the rod tip allowing slack line for the spoon to flutter enticingly. If you experiment with a spoon, let it drop on slack line in front of you and watch it as it dances away from the rod tip, flashing in sparkles of iridescent colours as it sinks down. Often takes will come on the drop, so it is important to maintain some contact with the spoon as it sinks to the depth at which you wish to fish it, but as you draw it back jerk the rod tip then give a second or two for the lure to flash before another short sweep of the rod. Many jerk bait enthusiasts employ this method of working the rod tip to impart movement to the lure, it also helps if you try to think like an unwell baitfish if you can.....

Stupid hat day...

 Anyway, we were back at Bewl for a pike only day and as always the fish were few and far between. As the Autumn Colours fell from the trees like russet snow we trolled and drifted our way around a few of the marks we have noted over the years and we both managed a small fish each. Harry employed "Percy" a plug of dubious origin but the effectiveness of which cannot be denied, Percy often produces the goods when other lures fail and he certainly pulled one out of the bag this time..

My fish was caught around lunchtime on the red spoon pictured above and on the drop, as is often the case when moving into a new area. The rod kicked even though the lure was sinking, but this is the effect of the spoon dropping back from the rod, it keeps the line relatively tight and takes on the drop are communicated to the angler most of the time. The fish was a fat jack and maybe the redness of the lure enticed him or maybe it was the flash.

Coffee time - see, men can multi-task...

 It was nice to be out just 5 weeks away from Christmas and with a cold wind corrugating the surface of the reservoir, but with a warm layer of clothing and a flask of hot coffee it wasn't too bad a day. Unfortunately I couldn't stir in the sugar - I didn't have a spoon.....!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Daily Dahl

Red lentils....

If you haven't read A Thousand Splendid Suns or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, then you have missed two novels of extreme power and strength shedding a deep insight into Afghanistan life in its recent history. I have given away as many copies as I could find in charity shops to as many people as I could convince to read them, if you want a copy of either book - well go find one - you certainly won't regret it.

That aside, I discovered a recipe in both books and after research, that I have come to love and that I probably prepare on average once every fortnight or so in the winter. It is easy to prepare and it lasts a couple of meals and  improves in flavour each day.

It is a lentil dish that is widely eaten across the globe but that can be adapted pretty much to your taste, your store cupboard and your budget. It could be a main meal, a starter or a side dish and it can be served with meat, fish or entirely on its own.

The main constituent is red split pea lentils, the rest is up to you.....

OK, I'll detail my recipe, but first it's helpful to wash lentils thoroughly whenever you cook with them. they get incredibly dusty and dirty as you will notice when you first rinse it through, the water is absolutely filthy!

Here's a simple version of what I normally do:

Put the washed lentils into a pan (50- 75 grams per person) with enough water to cover them easily and a teaspoonful of turmeric and boil until the lentils are softish. You may need to add more water and you WILL need to stir it often.  

Fry off some onions in a pan with oil and butter. After a couple of minutes add some finely chopped/grated or crushed garlic and gently sweat for a couple more minutes.

Meanwhile in a blender/food processor put in some oil, chopped chili (as much as you want) chopped ginger, a teaspoon of each of the following: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamon seeds (the inside), fenugreek seeds together with some herbs of your choice, I use coriander. Blitz well..

When the onion and garlic is translucent add the contents of the blender to the pan and stir in and fry off for a couple more minutes. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a little sugar and some salt and pepper.

Add the drained, cooked lentils to this and mix well. Cook for 30 - 45 minutes or until the mixture is creamy. Again keep checking that the dish doesn't need more water as the lentils will soak up the liquid. Near the end add one or two boiled eggs per person, stir in to warm through and serve with mango chutney, chopped bananas, apple and fresh tomatoes.

Now. You could also add a tin of coconut milk as well as or instead of the tin of chopped tomatoes. To make it quicker you can use a spoonful or two of an Indian paste of your choice from a jar instead of blitzing and frying off your own mix.We think the Dahl is great with boiled eggs, but it's also wonderful with home made Nan, chapattis or crusty loaf and of course rice.

It's such a great recipe that gathers taste and flavour as it matures, so if you can make enough for the next day, it is worth it.

A darker dahl....with mango chutney...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Deep Purple - Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

A wonderfully vivid mushroom of such fairy like character that none of my friends can believe it's edible. Its very appearance seems dangerous and "toadstooly" rather than mushroomy.....But it looks fantastic with saffron rice or in a dish with the mellow yellow sublimity of the chanterelle with which it is often found. It can look great in a salad too and it will definitely impress your friends when they see the stunning colour.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Wonderful Chanterelle Mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius

Frying off the robust Chanterelle

The Photo which opens this blog, at the top of the page at the moment is a Chanterelle. Photographed in the Scottish Highlands this delicious mushroom can be found in abundance if one looks in all the right places! It's a fat, chunky, solid  fungi that feels as good as it tastes. It has sometimes the smell of apricots about it and its robust nature and fine taste make it a superb meal on its own. My wife and I either have them in omelets with a  hint of garlic and a sprinkling of chives or in a risotto where the mushrooms are fried off in garlic, butter and a squeeze of lemon juice and then folded in to the risotto after it has been cooked.

Being a wonderful, delicate shade of mellow yellow may seem to make them easier to find, but in the autumn woodland floors are littered, carpeted and sometimes swathed in acres of yellow leaves! The false chanterelle is similar in shape and size, though it is spindly, more fragile and more orange than yellow, so a careful check will ensure you have the correct fungi, but the false version is not poisonous - just pointless. 

A Scottish find...

If you find a bed of chanterelles, make a note; they will return year after year in the same area faithfully although not necessarily at the same time as their fruiting depends on the weather. Once you have them, keep them! Those below we found about a mile from our cottage in Kent.

Chanterelles and Amethyst Deceiver - a colourful dish.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Kelly's Chili Jelly

It's another easy one....four ingredients, a few minutes to prepare and less than 20 minutes to cook. Now, to be fair, I was put onto this recipe by a special friend of mine, Jan Berry who is a mine of information about jams, jellies and chutneys and she has pinched this one from Nigella Lawson who pinched it from...well, and so it goes on - there isn't much that new around anymore. 

Here are the ingredients:

1 KG of Jam Sugar (sugar with added pectin)
600 mils of Cider Vinegar
150 grams of Sweet Peppers
150 grams of Chilies

I prefer cider vinegar as it has more depth and I don't actually put in 150 grams of chilies because I love this chutney on cheese and half and half can be quite hot! Adapt to your own taste - as long as you have 300 grams in total it's fine. Also use red, yellow or orange peppers and chilies - not green - green chutney just looks weird!

So blitz the peppers and chilies in a food processor until it is finely pureed but still with small flecks in it. I actually de-seed mine first, which is a bit of extra work, but it does stop the conspicuous white seeds from appearing beacon like in the jam.

In a large pan warm the cider vinegar, add the jam sugar and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the processed pepper/chili mix and bring to a rolling, rollicking boil. Time this boil for 8 to 10 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let the mix cool a little and stir well to evenly distribute the flecks of pepper and chili. Pour into clean, steralised jars and seal well. If the flecks still insist in floating upwards, just keep turning the jars over until the jam has cooled enough to suspend the particles evenly.

You can use this jam as a sweet chili sauce for oriental and asian meals, it goes great with cold meats and fish and it is a great compliment to a nicely matured cheddar and other cheeses of your choice.

It's also another great Christmas present!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Stuffed Pumpkins

Ready for the oven...two different pumpkins

At this time of year pumpkins are at their most widely available and as I prefer to eat seasonal food rather than produce which has been shipped half way around the globe to satisfy the British requirement for favourite foods all year round, I thought I'd share a meal I prepared for us both this week after a ;ate return from an Exhibition in East Anglia. It's quick, it's easy and, as always, it uses whatever you have handy in your store cupboard.

Obviously you need a pumpkin or two and in this instance I stuff it with couscous because the its flavour really combines well with the pumpkin. You could use cooked rice, pearl barley or a delicate risotto if you wish.

Cook the couscous (two or three tablespoons full, but this depends on the size of your pumpkin!) by barely covering it in boiling water and allowing it to soak. When it has plumped up  and absorbed all the water, you can add whatever you like. I added chopped sweet pepper from the poly tunnel, garlic, Greek basil, sultanas, salt and pepper. You could add to the couscous anything that you though might combine well, or just leave it plain with seasoning and maybe some chopped parsley or chives.

Carefully slice the top off the pumpkins (you need these as the lids) carve out the pips or seeds and the soft pith and stuff the cavity with the couscous mix. Put the pumpkin lid back on and place it on a hot tray. Cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes or so or until the pumpkin is cooked through.

It's a lovely dish, perfect for a cold evening and at this time of year pumpkins are cheap - especially after Hallow'een.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera

A hand basket with the large Parasols dwarfing the Boletus
Every Autumn on the estate on which we live there is an explosion of a mushroom so large and tasty that only one or two are needed at a time to provide a tasty dish or two (or three). This is the parasol mushroom which stands up to twelve inches high and can be seen from a considerable distance even though its dinner plate sized cap and its tall, lean stem are well camouflaged with a snakeskin pattern.

So astonishing is the sight of a stand of these huge fungi that it can be all but impossible to stop oneself from running towards them, foraging basket it hand, reminiscent of Julie Andrews singing 'The Hills Are Alive' to pick them, but it would be well worth the embarrassment, believe me. As if the size alone was an insufficient indicator of this mushroom, it smells very strongly of warmed milk. It is often useful to smell the fungi you pick as many have individual aromas that are helpful clues to their identity

A stand of Parasols
There are some smaller mushrooms that look similar to the Parasol, especially the related and nastily poisonous Dapperlings, but these are much smaller and open their caps far sooner, the Parasol stays closed in its tallness, drumstick like and opens late as can be seen from the picture below. Don't pick any diminutive mushrooms only the large Parasols. Partially opened specimens are at their best and tastiest. The gills are flaky, but if the 'shroom is not completely open it will afford these delicate undersides some protection.

I don't eat the stalks which are quite woody, but they can give an extra depth if added to a stew or a stock. The flavour of the remainder of the mushroom is delicate and nutty, quite distinctive and I think delicious with garlic - in fact Garlic creamed Parasol Mushrooms is a fantastic side dish to many meals. It's robust enough for risottos, pastas and omelets as well as casseroles and stews. 

As always, please be extra careful when eating mushrooms, make sure you have correctly identified your quarry and only pick sufficient for your immediate needs.

I can never think of the word "Parasol" without reminiscing about an old Two Ronnie's sketch from the 70's

"Down in the barn where the candlelight flickers
I lost my shirt and she lost her... parasol..."

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Holland Photographs

A Big Sky

We have just returned from another wonderful few days in Holland, and travelling around with the iPhone is quite fun when you look about you and find some strange, weird and wonderful sights to photograph.

Don't get me wrong, the device on the phone is merely adequate, but the availability of a camera, both still and movie, at all times is a very useful convenience and one I am getting used to having. It certainly means that in these technological times when everybody from the ages of thirteen to sixty have smart phones, iPads, laptops and home PCs, nothing will go unrecorded. George Orwell's Winston Smith would be even more dismayed to discover that everything is on display; all crimes are filmed, all activities photographed, shared and discussed, and there appear to be no taboos, everything is available on the net. 

..well, er...good.

As always, the availability of a camera can be misused as well as utilised  for good and there are many who believe that the advent of total exposure has sinister connotations for Human Rights. Be that as it may it's here to stay and we'll have to get used to seeing everybodys' lives displayed and open for discussion. If you don't want to be talked about or ridiculed, then don't publish it, don't open yourself up to scrutiny. That's why some choose Twitter over Facebook, why others choose neither and why both can be a minefield to the unwary. 

Autumn is here....

I love it because while out on walks I can capture anything that takes my fancy - whether it's scenery, people, a funny shot or a candid one topic for my next blog or a mushroom that's of interest - I can take a photograph with the minimum of fuss, unnoticed and unhampered by a big DSLR which is not easy to hide at the best of times.

Pretty and Still

The shots on this page are a mix of all that I found interesting, funny or picturesque on our recent trip to The Netherlands. The days go by, the seasons change - but I've got it all on my iPhone - ah, but I'm not going to show you all of them am I?


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)

This is an often seen mushroom , yet seldom tasted. It turns rather rapidly to black mush and so should only be eaten when very fresh and young and when cut should be white throughout. It's not poisonous at these later stages, just like most of us as we grow older - it becomes more unpleasant to look at....You can't, therefore keep it until the next day - it has a zero shelf life, but that's ok - fresh is good.

It's mostly found along path and road edges. Like many mushrooms it seems to like broken ground and verges - the annual crop outside our cottage grows in and around a hole that was filled in a couple of years ago. This increases its usefulness as one does not need to look to far nor too hard, being as it is, bright white and shaggy, it's therefore also easy to identify. 

Give it a go, but eat it young....

Monday, 1 October 2012

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Nutmeg


1 large white onion
1 or 2 sweet potatoes
1 large butternut squash
2 or 3 garlic cloves crushed and sliced
1 nutmeg
1 bayleaf
1 litre of vegetable sock or plain water

Gently fry off the sliced onion in the pan in a good tablespoon or two of nice oil (put the lid on the pan as we are sweating them and don’t want them to burn).

After 5 or 10 minutes, when the onions are transparent but have not gained much colour, add the garlic and continue to gently sweat for another 2 or 3 minutes.

The sweet potato and squash should be roughly chopped into 1 or 2 inch cubes and placed into the pan and stirred into the onion and garlic mixture for a minute or so before adding either the stock or water. This should just cover the chopped vegetables.

At this stage add half the nutmeg, grated into the pan with some freshly grated black pepper and salt, throw in the bay leaf and put the lid on, simmering gently for 10 to 15 minutes or until the squash and potato are soft.

It’s important not to boil away all the goodness, but we are going to use either a stick mixer or a food processor to turn the contents of the pot into a puree (removing the bay leaf first) so it needs to be soft enough to do so easily. If you don't have a stick blender, then pour the contents into a food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy.

I then serve this lovely, tasty and robustly sweet soup with a dollop of yoghurt, more grated nutmeg and a sprinkling of chopped chives or coriander. A side plate of chunky home-made bread is a great accompaniment.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Nadine, Honey - Is That You..?

Having spent the weekend working in The Wirrall, Monday was supposed to be my day off to recuperate and go fishing at Bewl with Harry. Unfortunately, the tattered remnants of Hurricane Nadine chose the weekend to hit the UK  like a steam train, with gale force winds and skies full of rain causing flooding, traffic chaos and general disruption.

This made our journey back from Liverpool incident-filled, long and frustrating. That notwithstanding, Monday dawned warm, misty and oppressive. The rain started again about mid morning leaving winding rivers running down the middle of roads and trees dripping a melody of water music. As that cleared away around lunchtime it was followed by huge gusts of wind that bent reed beds horizontal, shook trees as if they were shrubs and clattered telegraph wires on their poles causing a  disconcerting threnody of rattles and whines like a wheezing old machine of uncertain maintenance.


We went fishing anyway - hardened as we are and inured against the British weather as all serious fishermen must be. Naturally, we started with cake! Having avoided the vast expanses of Bewl we arrived at the Lodge at Brick Farm in time to see the hopeful sun nudging its way through the bullying clouds and in fact we didn't see the rain again that day.

Trout and Ragwort

We caught though - me on a floating line and Harry on the intermediate. The fish seemed to be as wary of the weather as we were and stayed deep coming to goldhead damsels and Scottish hairy wet flies, perhaps resembling drowned daddy longlegs or other wind blown insects. 

And Harry was right - it was good to get out, the wind blew away all the cobwebs of a busy weekend and the fresh air brought sleep in front of the hot wood fire, red wine remaining in the glass as I drowsed in front of the TV....remembering a long forgotten lyric...

Nadine, Honey - is that You?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum)

Birch Bolete

Another tasty mushroom to find, and easily identifiable due to its sponge underparts and obvious colouring, this fungus is micchorizal with the widely found silver birch. This means it co-exists with this type of tree and likes the habitat that the birch offers it. As the birch is common, so too is this fungus and its wide availability and taste make it a favourite in the mushroom hunter’s basket. 

This happy circumstance of great taste and wide availability is not always prevalent in mushroom foraging. Unfortunately many fungi that are desirably delicious are usually rare, drab in colour or both, this particularly applies to the King of Mushrooms – Boletus edulis or the Porchini. Also known as the cep or penny bun it is so porcine in its nature and look that it almost squeaks when it is growing, hence its Italian name of ‘Little Pig’. It is, however, a fantastic mushroom to eat and cook with. Hopefully I will blog more about this fine, fat fellow when I next find one. Actually, it's more likely to be my wife who locates one first - she has eyes finely tuned to the seeking out of delicious fungi.

The robust nature of the Birch Bolete makes it an ideal cooking all-rounder, equally at home in an omlette, risotto or stew. This mushroom can also be found in orange as the Orange Birch Bolete (Boletus malaneum) and is found just as widely and is just as edible.

 Remember to take care when foraging mushrooms, take a book and if you’re unsure do NOT eat it. 

All mushrooms are edible……ONCE.

An orange birch bolete (Leccinum malaneum)