Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I came, I saw, I ate virtually everything in sight...

I write this from one of my favourite places in the world; the little members’ room at the Tate Britain.
Yes, I have made it back to my beloved London – faded with jetlag, but otherwise intact and already feeling better for exposure to the brisk cold air and pale sky.
Since I last updated, I have been through three continents – Australia, of course, and Asia and now Europe. The Boy Next Door met me at Heathrow and his loving ministrations have ensured that my return home has been both immediate and seam-free. It is the tag-end of Winter now, and while it’s still dark in the morning and all too quickly in the afternoon, as well as very cold at night, it’s fantastic weather for cooking, reading and snuggling up at home with cushions and blankets, recipes and spells.
I celebrated Lammas/Lughnasa in Australia – the correct seasonal ritual for the Southern Hemisphere (it was Imbolc/Oimelc/Candlemas up here) by making a corn doll out of rosemary and sitting it on my desk. Wherever (and whenever) you celebrate it, Lammas is a ritual for the end of summerand a celebration of the harvest; I used rosemary for the doll because a.) I find the smell invigorating and b.) it grows and grows in the garden at my mother’s house – as small as that garden is – and was therefore in easy and plentiful supply. I learned today from the fabulous Element Encyclopaedia of 5000 Spells that rosemary is a herb traditionally sacred to women, and growing it in the kitchen garden ensures matriarchal control over the household attached. I must say that in the example of my mother and her rosemary bushes, this theory carries much, much weight.
A corn doll is just a construction of herb leaves and twigs fashioned into a humanoid shape – a loop in the twigs creates a head and legs, and a cross-bar of twigs makes arms. The idea of the doll is to display it to yourself at your place of work; at harvest-time, the doll-of-twigs is a reminder that the hard (agrarian) work of the year is rewarded with growth, harvest, prosperity. Also for Lammas, I dressed in green (is this a reminder of the summer’s last green gasp on the trees before deciduous leaves turn for autumn?) and ate a big meal of rice. In this last case, I think the idea is to start feasting on carbs to fatten yourself up for winter, so you can live off carb-lard while the plants wither and dwindle with the cold.
I wonder, of course, if all this jetting across the world is healthy at all – and whether a lot more goes screwy with the human body than just the obvious problems with jetlag that occur with disturbances in sleeping patterns. I actually had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, ha ha ha) the first time I came to Britain, and while I was soon cured of horrible, black-and-listless depression with oily fish, abstinence from alcohol and compulsory daylight walks, seasonal adjustment confusions are an interest I may yet revisit. Hmm.
To London, now, and my programme of eating seasonally. Serendipitously, as I unpacked my London life from the boxes and bags stored in the Boy Next Door’s apartment next door (I am not making this up), a forgotten, unread recipe book* (bought in a £1 sale at the Borders liquidation) fell on the floor and broke open with a STUPENDOUSLY CONVENIENT guide to seasonal British eating.
From this handy little volume, I have learned that these are the foods that are suitable for year-round consumption:
  • FISH: brill, cod, cockles, crabs, dogfish, eels, halibut, herrings, lobster, periwinkles, plaice, rainbow trout, saithe, shrimp, sole, turbot and whelks. 
  • FRUIT: Bramley apples and avocado pears [and, if imported: bananas, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, melons, oranges, peaches, pears and pineapples].
  • MEAT: Scotch beef.
  • POULTRY: capons, boiling/broiling chickens, ducks, ducklings, pigeons, rabbits, rooks and turkeys.
  • VEGETABLES: artichoke, beetroot, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, cucumbers, leeks, lettuces, mushrooms, mustard, cress, parsley, potatoes, spinach, turnips and watercress [and, if imported: globe artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, chicory, courgettes, French beans (and dried pulses), haricot beans, Spanish onions, sweet peppers and tomatoes].
I learned also, from this wonderful book, what I should SPECIFICALLY be cooking in February alongside the above.
It told me:
  • FISH: carp, catfish, chub, coalfish, cod’s roe, grayling, gurnard, haddock, John Dory, lemon sole, ling, mackerel, megrim, mullet (grey), mussels, oysters, perch, pike, roker, salmon, scallops, skate, smelts, sprats, whitebait, whiting and witch.
  • FRUIT: Cox’s orange pippin apples, pears and rhubarb [and, if imported: apricots, peaches, plums, granadillas, grapes, grapefruit, lychees, mangoes, nectarines, ortaniques, prunes, Seville oranges, strawberries and uglis]
  • POULTRY: Aylesbury duck, curlews, geese, goslings, hare, leverets, plover, quail, snipe, wild duck, wild geese, and woodcock,
  • VEGETABLES: Jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celeriac, celery, curly kale, seakale, mint, parsnips, radishes, spring onions, spring greens and Swedes [and, if imported: endives, fennel, new potatoes and salsify].
Wow. What a list. I don’t know if I’m yet to eat saithe, capons, rooks (I take it these are not the chess-pieces, but are they actually crows?), chub, coalfish, grayling, gurnard, megrim, roker, smelts, witch (!), granadillas, ortaniques, uglis, curlew, leverets, plover, snipe, woodcock or salsify… but by the end of the month I’m going to give it a red-hot go (a visit to the Food Hall at Harrods may be in order – whoohoo!)
The Boy Next Door, who works hard and is often very tired, is more than happy, except when his pro-feminist sensibilities kick in, for me to play chef - and being an environmentally responsible person is supportive of my domestic seasonal-eating campaign. So for dinner (for two) I whipped up:
  • Tasty haricot beans: Empty entire contents of 1 tin of haricot beans into saucepan. Add 1 whole piece of bacon. Cook on hob for 4-4.5 minutes. Season to taste. Serve.
  • Brussel sprouts in cream sauce: Steam 500gs whole Brussels sprouts in a bamboo steamer. While sprouts steam, chop 1 Spanish onion and add to half a cup of sour cream and mix. Heat cream/onion in a saucepan on the hob until warmed through, season to taste and spoon over steamed Brussels sprouts on the plate.
  • Hard boiled eggs: 1 egg per person. Cut into quarters, sprinkled with paprika.
  • Brown bread was served on the side.
All of which was insanely easy, but ALSO – wonderfully – VERY cheap… because, obviously when these things are IN SEASON they are in plentiful supply, easily sourced and actually overflowing the shelves at the local supermarket.
All of this we washed down with:
  • Moroccan mint tea: Put 4 stalks of mint into a teapot, with 1 tablespoon (or two teabags) of jasmine green tea. Pour 500mls boiling water into teapot. Steep for 10 mins. Stir 1 teaspoon of white sugar into teapot. Cool to taste. Pour into glasses garnished with fresh mint leaves to serve.
Those concerned about the red onion’s potential to douse the smoochability of one’s dining partner should take note that the Moroccan mint tea is marvellous on the breath.
I should point out that even if you had’ve asked me six months ago if I was chowing down on haricot beans and Brussels sprouts my response would have been a clear no. I hated them when I was a kid and I presumed into adulthood that I’d still hate them – but six months of crappy health and lack of energy has forcibly opened my mind. And guess what? My tastes have changed; I was actually bummed when the Boy Next Door helped himself to the last of the beans. I got the sprouts, but that’s not the point.
So the immediate effect of seasonal eating?
  1. Kindness on my wallet
  2. Ease of getting the ingredients (Sainsbury’s as a 1-stop shop)
  3. I woke up in a really good mood for the first time in ages.

Hmm… I think our pagan cousins may be onto something…

* The wondrous cookbook that has done so much for my menu plan as well as my culinary vocabulary? Wait for it… The Len Deighton Action Cookbook. Yes, the guy who wrote The Ipcress File. No, I am not joking. Take knowledge where you find it. And it’s got George Lazenby on the cover getting felt up by a pretty girl.


Early Days said...

The Len Deighton Cook Book?! A man of many talents definitely.

Van Badham said...

AND he did all the illustrations. No foolin'.