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Home made bacon

Home made bacon

Cured in the fridge in an ‘easy cure’ mix, then smoked with Beechwood in the Pro Q Eco cold smoker (in the shed due to the rain!)

So far it’s gone into homemade creamy tomato gnocchi and chicken salad… French toast and syrup to come soon!

Helvellyn, yeah!

Despite my borderline Royalist rant below, I must have been one of the few sober people in the Commonwealth last Friday, as we drove back – four adults crammed into a Toyota Starlet called Janice – from the Lake District. And it was there that I climbed a mountain.

I use the word ‘mountain’ with some trepidation, because in actual fact, Helvellyn was described to me as the second highest ‘peak’ in England. Whatever the terminology, it was bloody hard work. But then what did I expect from a climb about which a famous poem was written, inspired by a man’s death en route? But as is always the way with these things, once the achy muscles have eased and the memories of burning lungs and near-death slips have faded, I have become somewhat complacent; it wasn’t actually that difficult at all and I overtook loads of unsuitably-clad amateurs along the way. Ha! In fact, I practically ran across Striding Edge (above), as nimble as a mountain goat from my native Switzerland, and when I got to the top I could see all the way to Liverpool*.

Of course I know these ‘memories’ are colourful versions of the truth, but it beats the feeble reality, that the only thing that saved me on the way up was regular Jaffa Cake stops, and that the slow, scraggy descent almost killed me. Hardcore.

*not strictly true, but the views were awesome (as you can see right, waving to my colleague as he sat in a Basingstoke office)

Bank holiday kitsch

Oh, come on – you love it, don’t you? Just a little bit – don’t fight it. Ever since the royal couple announced their engagement in November, I have been vehemently struggling against the tide, insisting that it’s not of interest to me and that companies who jump on the band wagon are just ridiculous. I still hold to that latter point a bit, but last week I finally cracked and embraced the kitsch in an all-out manner. Infact, I seem to have gone the complete opposite way and, let me tell you brothers and sisters, it feels good!

For starters, check out the mug that I bought in the spirit of things. Now every tea break is a reminder, not only of one couple’s fight against all the odds en route to true love (!), but also of the upcoming bank holidays and the general feeling of happiness and goodwill that accompanies this time of year – but is magnified in 2010. Come on, you feel less morose than you did a month ago. Just a bit, admit it.

If you want to know how mad I actually went when I finally cracked, here’s the proof.

Winter soul food

I love the many joys of winter: frosted scenery, toasty fires, mulled wine and the sense of panicked camaraderie when it snows and the country descends into chaos.

Seriously though, what’s not to love? Freezing offices and drying air-conditioning aside, I openly admit that I think this time of year is wonderful and I love the fact that it’s OK to wake up on a Sunday, do a bit of ‘proper’ activity and then go home at 3pm to watch a film and drink some wine. It’s almost like nature is urging you to do it; it would be a slight on Daylight Savings if you didn’t.

Not wanting to ruin this opportunity, this is precisely what I did last Sunday and, although I appreciate that most people in England did a similar thing, I very much doubt that they ate the venison casserole of kings at the end of the day. Oh no.

So, after a highly productive afternoon of chores on Saturday, I felt even more entitled to a day of winter bliss when I woke up to a beautiful crisp English morning on Sunday. After a quick dose of Peep Show on iPlayer we trotted along to Pierreponts for a spot of brunch (check out the warmer on my boiled egg and Marmite soldiers!), and then made our way up to The Bell in Aldworth (if you haven’t been, it’s essential for countryside drinking pleasure) and planned to go for a ‘nice long walk’ along the Ridgeway. Well, we managed 45 minutes which, considering the sub-zero temperature and my appalling lack of navigational skills, was actually pretty good going. This was followed by a pint of ale – you must remember to reward yourself, you see.

Anyway, in the words of Mr. T, I’ll quit this jibber-jabber (I have the same birthday as him, incidentally) and get on with the casserole. Now, I would love to take the credit for this masterpiece, but I have to admit that Adam (smiling like a true, relaxed chef, at the top here) should really take the praise as, apart from scrubbing the carrots and potatoes (which was bloody hard work as the tiny blighters came from allotment at work, although they do taste heavenly, are a bugger to clean individually) I did little else of use other than faff around cleaning up after him and chop and stir.

So, with venison bought from the lovely Fielders Farm Shop in Theale, we set to work making what Adam described as ‘the darkest, glossiest ragu ever’. I don’t think he exaggerated.  It involved a whole bottle of wine (’07 Côtes du Rhône, if you’re interested), plenty of love and a little West Indian chocolate. Beautiful.

Five hours later, when we sat down to eat with a glass of the really wonderful, elegant and exceptionally good value 2008 Camins del Priorat from master wine-maker Alvaro Palacios, something happened to me.  I experienced what can only be likened to a rich, savoury embrace from a familiar lover who has just returned from a time away on tropical shores and has now acquired a new air of charm, appeal and spicy exotic fragrance. Intoxicatingly comforting. Well, I suppose there probably are other ways to describe it, but this is how I felt.

So, there you have it, if you were hoping for a recipe I may have let you down but I’m sure I could cobble something together if you are desperate. It was totally exceptional. Roast belly of pork tonight…

European expeditions of late

Would you Adam and Eve it? I almost forgot about this, but recently I have been rather jet-set and embarked on a touch of European traveling (what, what.) In a treacherous move, I only wrote blogs about two of these visits on my company’s blog (which you really ought to check out, as I edit the thing), but I thought that maybe you’d like to read these official versions. To that end, click the links and you can read about my work trip to sample the wines of Piedmont and my holiday to Jerez, where the sole aim was to drink copious amounts of Sherry and eat top-notch tapas. Finally, for your pleasure only, here is a picture of me, full of delicious food, happy and a bit defeated after my sixth or seventh 4-course meal in a row in Italy. A pasta course as well as a meat course? What do you mean it’s rude to say no?

Ode to a grubby friend

Today I face a dilemma.  It’s no life-changing decision, nor will its outcome affect anyone other than myself, but it is playing on my mind greatly nonetheless. It’s to do with my rucksack: do I wash it or not? A trivial question, you may think – “just wash the damn thing, you dirty tramp”. I can see where these thoughts could come from but, you see, my rucksack is my only true travelling companion and the dirt that is ingrained in his seams is all a part of who he is – who I am – and washing it would mean losing a little part of that forever. It’s not like he smells or anything.

From the moment I picked him from the crowd of stupid pink ‘girl’ rucksacks (who incidentally don’t have key clips inside them – why is this? Is it because the man must always carry clinky objects?  I don’t think so, otherwise men’s wallets would have change compartments – which is also a mystery to me) our adventure together began. Not only have we spent many nights  alone (and in company) together, sleeping in tents, rooms, or even under the stars, he has also joined me each day to the dull, grey skies of Basingstoke and beyond, he’s waited for hours for delayed trains, boats, buses, planes – even battered old utes. Our love is no fair-weather bond; he is a loyal friend. Like wrinkles on a well-worn face, the small streaks and dusty patches on his skin tell tales of his life with me – of dusty Savanna plains, of  spice-breeze shores, African wilderness, mighty storms and probably a healthy dose of wine and food. Heck he was even with me when we were chased by Hippos. Also, a small part of me doesn’t want to delve toooo deep inside his many alluring compartments – occasionally he throws up (excuse the expression) a real gem that brings memories flooding back; a map of a path I trekked, a ticket to a museum or, heaven forbid, a note from a boy, long forgotten and living on another continent.  This bag is a constant, comforting reminder of adventure and I love him just the way he is.

So, tell me – do you really have to wash a rucksack?