May 12th 2013 – Ding dong bell, pussy’s not at all well

Last week I spoke about battles, albeit of a horticultural nature.  Sadly this last week has reminded me that violence in all forms is never far away, even in Nethen, a peaceful and verdant place.  This was in our letter box (the flyer, that is)

Crossbow Cat

The cat survived and is recovering.  So far, even in our village where everyone knows everyone, the owner of the crossbow has not been located.  It is unlikely to be someone from outside so almost Midsommerish, dark secrets walk side-by-side with familiarity.  We don’t know if it was intentional but even if not, firing a crossbow in daylight, on a street where kids play and adults stop and chat is a moronic act.  There are certainly crossbows about in this area, as in many others.  There are  ‘sociétés d’arbalétriers’, one of which was at the Fête de St. Georges a couple of weeks ago.  This arrow or bolt is however of a lighter calibre than fired by the old engines owned by the reputable crossbow societies.

It is not difficult to buy them.  Here is the legal position in Belgium: http://justice.belgium.be/fr/themes_et_dossiers/securite_et_criminalite/armes/categories/en_vente_libre/

Despite the clear legal position: ‘Les armes en vente libre, tout comme les armes soumises à autorisation, ne peuvent être vendues ou proposées à la vente à distance (commande par la poste, Internet, …).’, just try typing arbalete into, say, ebay.be .  Yes, I can see that all the ‘bolts’ shown have rubber suckers on them, but I don’t think that converting something into what we see above would be problematic.  Not that buying the piercing bolts is tricky or expensive.  Neither am I saying that the crossbow in question was bought from ebay.

I suppose that such events being so rare should be comforting, in which case I glad I live here, not the other side of the channel.  After all, apparently guns don’t kill, just the people who use them.

Anyway, this week’s recipe has nothing to do with the curious cat incident.  I’ll resist any brochette-based recipe and offer a dish from Recipes and Ramblings by the food columnist Elisabeth Luard.  We have all heard of Welsh Rarebit but I never knew there was an English Rarebit, particularly with any claim to antiquity.  This was published in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy from 1747.

English Rarebit

1 thickish slice brown bread, 2 oz mature Cheddar cheese, finely slivered, 2 tablespoons red wine.

Toast the bread on both sides, pour the wine on it and let it soak in for a moment.  Lay the cheese over the bread and put it under the grill until bubbly and brown.

The recipe doesn’t mention Worcester Sauce, but a shot of it over the cheese before the final grilling is rather good.  Don’t toast the bread too much in the first phase or you could have some burnt bits.  Oh well.

Now that that’s what I call a Cheese and Wine Party!

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be

May 5th 2013 – Slugs and snails and a Jack Russell’s tail

The weather was fine for the Fête de St. Georges, the dragon was slain, good triumphed over evil.  Now I’m not sure how much I can read into this but certainly there are a few battles in the garden which I fight every year and some I just can’t.

We have two natural ponds and these, despite the best efforts of the Gendarme, as the heron is known, there is a lot of noise.  It keeps Marie-Rose awake at night and every year we symbolically devour a plate of Cuisses de grenouilles.  I can take it or leave it, but for Marie-Rose it is revenge, pure and simple.  Not that the frogs we eat come from the pond.  We can’t win the battle and quite frankly, there should be no battle to be fought.  Peaceful coexistence is called for, even if the frogs have a different view on ‘peace’.  Besides, they are useful.

Other battles include the one against bindweed.  I confess.  I do spray it from time to time, using a little plastic cone to stop the chemical being blown around on reaching other plants or even the soil.  This is not so much a battle but a campaign of attrition.  Each year there is less but I must be vigilant.

There is the fight against slugs too.  This year has seen their numbers reduced and I thank the chickens who gladly eat the larva when exposed by the clearing the grass etc at the foot of my raised beds.  I’m sure that the frogs eat some but I can accept that I am kidding myself here.  What they, and the pipistrelle do, is to hoover up mosquitos and their larvae, to such an extent that we hardly ever see them in the house.

I have also been hand-pollinating my apple trees.  I bought a new one this year, a Belgian variety called Reinette de Waleffe, as one of my trees was in flower much before the others in the area.  There seem very few pollinators about at the moment so I must do it myself.  The shape of things to come I guess.

Now slugs are homeless snails, and when I see the fresh, crisp dandelion leaves all around, I hanker after snail risotto.  The dandelion leaves are free, but I do recommend that you search out the biggest ones.

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Many people are worried about dog wee contamination, so I use one of these:

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I find a big patch of dandelions, off the beaten path, and call Cooper over.  If he doesn’t sniff and wee on them then I’m sure no other dog has either.  It’s not quite like having a truffle hound but hey.

Washed and picked over we get:

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Snail, mushroom and dandelion risotto

Other ingredients you’ll need are:

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The cheese you see is Cornish Yarg wrapped in Wild Garlic leaves.  I always thought Yarg was a real old Cornish word, maybe Cornish for ‘jolly tasty cheese’ or some such.  In fact it is the cheesemaker’s name backwards.  If you don’t have any then use what you like, although garlic is necessary somewhere so add a finely chopped clove to the lardons and mushrooms later.  You’ll also need some hot stock, chicken, veal or vegetable.  A litre should be ample, so long as you haven’t over-estimated the amount of rice.  Which I do.

Firstly ensure that you have nothing else to do for 30 minutes.  Risotto demands your full attention.  So, finely chop the shallot and fry gently in some bacon fat if you have some.  If not, use whatever you prefer and contemplate frying some lardons of bacon to add later.  Add half the butter and enough rice for two.  Continue to fry gently until the rice starts to become opaque – do not let brown.  Add the wine and cook off the alcohol.  Now start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next. Stir as you go.  This is important but don’t be vigorous. In a separate pan fry sliced mushrooms gently in some butter (with the lardons if using) and when ready (10 minutes) add the snails.  Keep warm. When the rice is just right, ie, you are happy to eat it, add the snails and mushrooms and warm through for a moment.  In with the cubed cheese and dandelions:

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Taste, season, add the remaining butter, stir once and serve.  You won’t have forgotten to warm some plates, of course.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be

April 10th 2013 – And the Spring cometh

At school today a friend of mine told me they had seen a couple of swallows not far from me near Wavre.  I’m dead jealous, I’ve been looking out for them over the Dijle for a couple of weeks.

Although not yet a summer, finally there is a different feel to the air.  There was rain, for example.  I’d forgotten what rain was like.  Snow, yes.  Sleet, yes.  Damp muggy fog, yes.  But not rain.  It was like a foreign substance, for a while, and I was moved to take the covers off my potatoes and to start checking each day for signs of Broad Beans.  The Jerusalem Artichokes have also gone in.  It’s been over 10 years since I’ve grown them, the last time was in Spalding.  The tubers I get here are much less knobbly and easier to peel and I hope for a good crop.  They’ve taken the place of the runner beans, providing a living and fruitful screen for the woodstack.  ‘Jerusalem’ apparently is a corruption of girasol (‘turn to sun’ or sunflower in Spanish) and in a long, hot summer (yeh right) they will even flower.

Easter was too early for new season lamb and I wait for not only that but also Jersey Royals and Asparagus.  I’m not a fan of ‘continental’ white asparagus and refuse to eat any from Peru but as with Strawberries, choose to wait for them to come into season here in Northern Europe.  Kentish Asparagus, Jersey Royals and of course, Wepion Strawberries.  These are the signs that Spring is in full swing.

It’s all this anticipation which leaves me a bit flat when thinking about what to eat.  What I want to eat isn’t available, yet.  I need something to carry me over, a bridging meal.  Something which promises warmer weather but will keep me going during the cool evenings.  Something simple.

Onion and Apple Pie (Cornish)

I don’t want to give quantities here, but 3 apples and medium-large onions should be a good start.  Peel, core and thinly slice the apple.  Peel and ring-slice the onions thinly too.  Oven needs to be hot, 200°C.

It’s like a Cornish Dauphinoise, in a pie!

Line a pie-tin with shortcrust pastry.  Put in a layer of apple rings and cover with a layer of onion rings, finely chopped sage, pepper, salt, and a pinch of mixed spice.

Keep alternating until apple and onion are used up.  I like to add some bits of Cornish Yarg (the ‘wrapped in garlic leaves’ one) as I go too.  Put good-sized bits of butter over the top (or clotted cream) and cover with a thin crust.

Bake, brushing with egg first if you like.  Eat hot.  You probably don’t need any accompaniment.  Green salad?  Watercress?  Nah.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be