High and Dry

High and Dry

We got by relatively lightly here in the south west during the recent dramatic snow falls, though we did have a temporary water ‘emergency’. The water pump was frozen and took a few days to thaw before it had to be replaced.  Such events are always a reminder of just how dependent our lives are on the basic services of water and electricity which we take for granted most of the time. The snow was soft and dry, a joy for neighbouring children to craft snowmen and igloos. It was a fascinating exercise to see just what volume of snow is required to melt and make a pan of water.The white landscape looked magical from the top of the hill.

snowtrackweb

It ishowever our peculiar behaviour, when the roads get blocked with the same powdery snow and the supermarkets announce early closure, that attracts the media’s attention.Perhaps the scariest image on the national news was that of a writhing group of panic buyers outside the closed doors of a well- known retailer. What is it that throws us into a frenzied scramble for sliced pans?

Ian Robertson, Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, had an interesting conversation with Sean O’Rourke (RTE Radio1, March 5, 2018) on the subject of panic buying. He talks about how a reported shortage in one place can quickly trigger a reaction across the country. There is a perceived “common threat” that unites us in fear. The white pan, he declares, is a symbol of safety and comfort. This perception is also what prompts us to exhibit neighbourly solidarity in the face of adversity which is at least a more heartening reaction.

Emma, the storm, and The Beast from the East caused havoc for many people who had to be out in it.It could also be said that many of us were tripped up by the jerk of panic the moment our routine had been interrupted or stalled, even though we had at least a whole week of advanced warning. Seeing the images of empty shelves, which sent crowds into a spin of hysteria, one might wonder if we haven’t totally lost our sense of reality. We may need to review the popular saying “you are what you eat” to “you are what is in your kitchen cupboard”. A practical dry store cupboard is vital to any home and will ensure a decent bite to eat when the weather closes in. Various tins of beans, chick peas, or lentils are quick and easy to transform if you haven’t the patience to cook from scratch. Rice, pasta or noodles will always provide the carbs to make a tasty meal around. Dried mushrooms are a great source of flavour to use in a stock. One or two anchovies from a jar or tin can transform a tin of tomatoes with an onion and some dried herbs into a delicious pasta sauce. Other important staples, to provide a variety of options, include soy/shoyu sauce, miso, vinegars, peanut butter,tahini, honey or maple syrup. At least one type of flour (there are so many now available) to make bread, pastry or pancakes. Beyond that, a good selection of dried herbs and spices will provide for your personal taste. Some dried fruit and seeds like sunflower, sesame or pumpkin are good to have for snacks.  Even if your fridge is low in fresh produce there is a wealth of ideas in a good range of dry stock; these are only a sample and should of course include some form of chocolate! The challenge to create something different is the upside of having our routine broken by inclement weather or an unforeseen closure of shopping malls.

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While we weren’t cut off for more than a day here on the farm it was good to know that the trusty ducks would supply us with fresh delicious eggs if all else failed. Their rich yolks are perfect in a vegetable quiche which can be filled with all manner of vegetables and/or cheese.

duckeggsweb2

Mushrooms, peppers, leeks, onions, cauliflower, spinach, chard….whatever is to hand. If the pastry is blind baked and sealed with egg wash it will hold the filling and prevent any soggy bottoms. If using mushrooms or spinach it is important to sauté them first ; squeeze out the liquid from the spinach and allow the mushrooms to drain through a sieve. Whisk some ricotta cheese into the egg mixture or simply crumble some feta, cheddar or other hard cheese over the vegetables before adding the whisked egg.This one was filled with red pepper, onion, spinach, mushrooms and feta.

quichefillingweb

The Basic Short Crust Pastry Case (makes 2 x 9cm)

6 oz plain flour ( white, brown or 50/50 mix)

3 oz cold diced butter

1 tbsp. sesame seeds

Enough cold water to bind

Egg to glaze

Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips (or pulse in a processor)until it has the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the sesame seeds and stir in just enough water to bind the dough ( 2 or 3 tbsp). Don’t make it too wet; the high proportion of butter should make it come together with minimum handling.

Form the dough into a ball and chill for 20 min.

Roll out the pastry and lay it carefully into the baking tin. Trim the edges and line the base with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or rice to blind bake.

Bake for about 25 min. in a moderate oven. Remove the blind lining and brush with whisked egg to seal. Bake for a further 5 min.

The base can be made in advance and filled with any of the above suggestions. It is a versatile way to use up various vegetables. Spinach and nutmeg work well or cauliflower florets with turmeric. The eggy filling can be mixed with ricotta cheese, crème fresh or cream, depending on your preference. Use two or three eggs per case, depending on size.

Take the time to make one of the best things since sliced bread.

Ita.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Out

Breaking out

Everyone is eager to be outdoors in this lovely weather to feel the energising warmth of the sun. It is a joy to see the blossoms and ferns unfurl, like ourselves, with thanks to the heat and light. Young plants of runner beans and brassicas have moved out from their propagating nests to the open air ridges. Potatoes, carrots, broad beans and parsnip have also been sown out while seedlings of beetroot, cucumber, courgette and basil are still establishing themselves under cover. Carrots have been sown between rows of already established garlic to hopefully repel the dreaded carrot fly. Prepared beds are filling up nicely with these thriving but still vulnerable plants; attention is needed to defend them from slugs and snails (not to mention rogue donkeys or errant ducks!). Tomatoes, early potatoes, peas, asparagus and some promising strawberries are well on their way in the large tunnels.

Garlic

The shift outdoors which comes with the change of weather brings a welcome change of routine as the days stretch. It is a good time to break old habits, shift gear and move the furniture. I am reminded of the childhood thrill of eating outside as soon as the forecast promised a few warm days. My mother had an early summer ritual of taking the pine kitchen table outside to be scrubbed down in the sun. When it was dried we ate around it and were animated by the simple novelty of dining en plein air. The same table was inevitably returned inside but to a new position; adjacent to the window instead of the range, with a refreshing new perspective. It probably sticks in my memory because it was a rare enough event. It is a delightful treat to bring the indoors out to enjoy the change of habit and habitat.

Last Sundays brunch of poached duck egg and asparagus tasted all the better for being eaten in the warmth of the morning sun with a soundtrack of birdsong instead of my droning radio. Asparagus is growing in a corner of the tunnel but you can also use asparagus kale or the flowering tips of brassicas just before the flowers open. This is a cheap asparagus substitute. The generous ducks who produce the delicious eggs are also basking in their new found release after a spell of restriction imposed by an avian flu scare. If they are let out too early in the morning, before they have laid (and they are very impatient) there is a danger they will lay ‘out’ under a tempting canopy of nettles or blackberry bushes.

Poached Duck Egg with Asparagus and Spelt Soda Bread

This is a super easy bread recipe. The addition of some seeds to the dough will provide extra texture and nutrition and you can vary the proportion of wholemeal/white flour according to your preference. Preheat the oven to 220 centigrade and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

225 g organic  wholemeal spelt flour

225g organic white spelt flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp.baking powder

½ tsp. salt

500ml buttermilk (approx..)

Sieve and mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl (make sure there are no lumps in the baking soda) and make a well in the centre. Add the buttermilk gradually but briskly while stirring with a large spoon. This is quite a wet mixture so add a little more buttermilk if it is too dry. Ensure all the flour has been mixed in as you gently stir the dough. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and sprinkle with sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds. Bake at 220 centigrade for about 10 mins and reduce to 180 centigrade for a further 20 minutes or so. Ovens vary but you can test by tapping the base of the bread; a hollow sound denotes it is ready. Tip onto a cooling rack, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest.

Serve the bread toasted with a poached egg and asparagus which has been steamed or lightly sautéed in butter and oil with some garlic. The asparagus needs just enough cooking to retain its bite. When poaching the egg, crack it into swirling boiled water with a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar. Reduce the heat and allow it to cook gently for a few minutes until the white has set.

Poached egg and asparagus

So I won’t delay with too much rambling and share some of the glorious images of May flowers around the farm and the high hedged tracks flush with frilly ferns. If it gets too hot a stroll beneath the trees gives a cooling flash of bluebell and wild leek. Staying out is a pleasure when the flowers are out; demanding the attention of birds, bees and busy bodies.

tree blossoms

Ferns

Ita.

 

 

 

 

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