Well, boys and girls, at the risk of tempting providence, after 3 absolutely appalling months during which, some days, I didn’t eat as even the minimal effort of opening a can of soup was beyond me, I seem to be on the mend.
I know I’ve said this a couple of times before, and have very quickly been proven wrong, usually with 24 hours, but this time I think it’s for real. How so? Well, I had a good day Tuesday, and another, exceptionally busy, one yesterday,** and getting two functional days in succession – DWP snoops please note – normally doesn’t happen, so excuse me if I take it as a favourable augury, rather than a fluke. Starting the beta-blocker, Nebivolol, at a low dose and building up, is a far better, and safer, approach than the cardiologist’s.
**Yesterday I did more in a few hours than I’ve been able to do in a day, for months. Heart’s behaving, so all’s well (lungs not so much, legs not at all). I wrote this yesterday (Wednesday), before I finally crashed, which means I now have to edit it so it holds together chronologically, so excuse any minor discontinuities that I miss.
Another, rather more minor miracle, was that on Tuesday, for the first time, Ocado didn’t screw up my order through sloppy picking or inappropriate substitution, which means I have a fridge full of meat which needs cooking, or portioning and packing for the freezer.
Where Ocado excel, when the get it right, is in the quality of their meat and fish, though beware when ordering plaice.
I once ordered a couple of kilos – what can I tell you, I like plaice – only to get almost entirely the scrawny, flabby, white bottom fillets, not the thick, muscular, black-skinned top fillets (the top skin is quite thin and crisps nicely, the white is thicker and wetter, and doesn’t). Surely it doesn’t take a genius to pick equal numbers of each? Asda manage it, so why not the very much more expensive Ocado? (Actually, Asda’s plaice also included a top fillet as big as a small kite, which made an excellent meal with homemade Sauce Tartare.)
Anyway, back to meat. I have a very nice, 1.8kg, piece of brisket, neatly rolled and tied with proper string, not the elastic crap that’s too feeble to control the meat as it cooks (I always re-tie the meat with butchers’ string when that stuff’s used, but it’s nice not to have to bother), a bunch of their Gourmet sausages and a pack of Cumberland, and two nicely meaty lamb shanks.
The shanks are simply going to be frozen for now – later they’ll be cooked with white beans (I prefer cannellini, traditionally they’re bog-standard haricot), veggies, garlic** and rosemary***, a traditional French recipe that I once saw Dreadful Delia, on TV, claim as “my recipe”. It’s no more hers than it is mine – it’s been in the French culinary canon for centuries.
**If you don’t like the intense flavour of garlic, put the peeled cloves in whole, then either remove them at the end, or mash them with a little stock and put them back. Either way will give a much gentler garlic hit.
***A lot of cookery writers profess a dislike/fear of rosemary, for which I blame Elizabeth David, who, in her book “Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen,” said of the herb that it has an “acrid taste (and) the spiky little leaves get stuck between your teeth” which, frankly, is garbage, not least because the leaves aren’t that little, nor are they spiky (the tip is firm, but they’re not sodding thistles!). David might well have revolutionised post-war British cooking, but as she was British she could be as prejudiced as any suburban housewife of her time, as she is here. I suspect she might have been referring to the dried herb, but if she is, she doesn’t say so (trusting my memory, as I can’t find my copy to check).
Rosemary tastes nothing like her description, and is nowhere near as dominant as, say, sage (which, predictably, she also loathed claiming, nonsensically, that it “has musty dried blood scent”), and the allegedly spiky leaves cook to softness, when finely chopped. You can also just put whole sprigs in – rub them between your palms to bruise them, first – and remove them at the end, but that’s mainly for people who don’t like rosemary! The only time I tried that the leave were shed so it was pointless anyway. Doubly so as I like rosemary – a lot.
NB: David’s opinions about scents and tastes need to take into account that her palate was blunted and tainted by heavy smoking. For a few years I smoked a pipe (my wife thought it looked sexy – she was right, but we’ll draw a discrete veil over that!), and I can vouch for the fact that smoking plays hell with your sense of taste, which is why, when I read nonsense like David’s, it would be useful to know if the writer is a smoker.
The brisket will be going in the slow cooker, with a good beef stock, shallots, and carrots, plus a handful of dehydrated veggies (I always have plenty of these in stock as they’re excellent for adding flavour to pretty much anything (I also have a jar of the stuff that I’ve ground to powder, for adding when I don’t want bits of veg in the finished dish).
The sausages, of course, just need repacking in meal-sized portions and freezing.
Now, a little good news for those of you who, like me, are afflicted by spoonie-related clumsiness. As regular readers might know, I use polycarbonate crockery which, no matter how many times you drop it, or bang it on kitchen-sink taps, for all practical purposes, is indestructible.
Last week, having accidentally destroyed one of my few surviving decent glasses, I decided I needed to look at polycarbonate ones. They’re widely available, as they’re popular with the camping and caravanning fraternity, but they can be absurdly expensive. However, it turns out that Lakeland have a small, and affordable, range of them, and my order has just been delivered. They look robust, and the bottoms of the tumblers are quite heavy, which gives them stability, and they look just like glass (they do have a very slightly different refractive index, but I doubt most people would notice, or care). The hi-ball tumbler, at just over half a litre, makes a good beer glass and the 300ml tumbler is a good general-purpose spirits/wine/water glass. They have wine-glasses too, but they look too light and spindly to be stable (I don’t use stemmed glasses anyway – too easily knocked over).
Tumblers, by the way, historically had a rounded bottom, which meant they couldn’t be put down or they’d fall over – hence the name – so you had to keep drinking.
They need care when washing, of course – keep scourers away from them – and they’re not dishwasher-safe (don’t care, haven’t got one), but in normal use they should be as robust as my crockery.
Talking of Lakeland, they have a range of mugs, bearing puns on London place names (Holland Park, god help us, becomes Hollandaise Park, and that’s one of the least laboured examples), and I can’t help wondering if there’s anyone over the age of 12 who actually finds that funny? I have a feeling they’ll be in the sale come the New Year. Actually, the mugs aren’t bad, I ordered a Hollandaise Park one to get free postage (OK, same price so no saving, but what the hell), and they’re not bad quality. Shame about the crap idea.
What else is there? Well, assuming this good spell continues – and while I feel tired, and it’s hard to stand (see below), I don’t feel sick and exhausted as I normally would after yesterday’s level of activity – I’m going to hit the kitchen.
Today I’m pickling a dozen free-range, organic, large, eggs to the new recipe , and hope to make the leek and potato soup that didn’t get made a few days ago (I’ve bought some suitable bags, so I can freeze most of it). I’ve got the brisket to cook – it will fit the pressure cooker after all, so that’ll make life easier.
Friday, the sensible thing would be to have a rest day and not overdo things,** which I have a long history of doing! Then, at the weekend – are you ready for this? – faggots in gravy! Finally… Hopefully!
**Too late! Spent too much time on my feet yesterday so that, by evening, my legs and feet were so swollen and painful I could barely stand.
“Too much time” appears to mean any time at all beyond the minimal norm, right now. All I did was bag up crap, haul it about 6 yards to my powerchair, then trundle it out to the bins, repeated about 5 or 6 times.
Still, other than that I feel reasonably OK, but I will, I suspect, need a little help handling the more baleful aspects of providence – so whatever you have, be it fingers or blue tentacles, keep them crossed for me…