Daily life is where life happens. (Jack Shoemaker, in MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating, 1937, xxii)
Raw gold, deep amber, sparkling ruby, emerald, bronze. The colours of precious jewels. Autumn in Wales.
I know the seasons are often compared to the flow of life, with autumn a time of winding down and the prelude to winter, the last of the year. For me, autumn, in its ravishing vibrancy, no matter what the weather, is a lavish celebration of life in all it richness, and its juxtapositions. This has been a roller coaster time -of unexpected deep emotions, from momentary and intense anger (watch out anyone in my path!) to profound sadness, to joy and wonder and an absolute commitment to appreciating every moment of life. In fact, I’ve agreed to run the Race for Life this coming spring. Lina, my trainer says I am her oldest running experiment!
More than ever, I am aware of juxtapositions. A three- hour delay and then one ‘standing room only’ train from Birmingham to London after ‘an incident on the track’. Yet, two extraordinarily generous people gave up their seats for my husband and I as ‘they weren’t travelling so far’. After being robbed by a street gang in front of the Louvre in Paris at 10:00 in the morning, the privilege of witnessing with my daughter and granddaughter, a luminescent moon as it emerged from behind the glowing steeples of St. Clotilde Basilica (some of you have seen my account on my Instagram at amrbul69). The gentleman who spontaneously picked up my suitcase as I stood at the foot of a staircase at St. Pancras Station. The touch on my hand from our local pharmacist, who said: ‘we all lose it sometimes’, after I had a small ‘melt down in the pharmacy. The absolute healing peace, freshness of air, space, softness, normalcy of rural Wales after the wildness of traffic, noise, congestion in that glorious city Paris.
I’ve just read an article in the Guardian about the perils of the ‘clean eating movement’ and it strikes me that what seems to be missing from their equation is balance and perhaps juxtaposition is another way of looking at, of finding-balance. As some of you know, over the last year and a half, I’ve written a cookbook and a homage to life in rural Wales, based partly on these blogs. The idea of balance is at the very heart of the book: Badly Chopped Carrots: Cooking My Way to Sanity. However, as my Tai Chi teacher once said, there is no perfect balance. Finding balance is always a process of moving in one direction, then another. As you know, badly chopped carrots is a metaphor for the tendency to focus on the negative, the ‘not perfect.’ It is also a beacon of hope because what can emerge from imperfections and quirkiness, are new revelations, creativity, edge. The book explores balance through contrasts-of colours, textures, ingredients both in the surrounding countryside and in food. So rather than just offer recipes, the book has taken the form of menus and recipes for each season that reflect the seasons. You have already seen a few of the recipes in this blog over the past year and a half. It is now in the hands of the publisher Graffeg, who create the most gloriously evocative treasures. They are ‘considering the project and their response to me.’ I’ll keep you posted!
Cooking is my form of positive action, of nurturing, of creating beauty, of experimentation, and although you may have your own preferred ‘positive actions’, we all have to eat, so why not make cooking a joy. You can check out a whole range of positive actions that may surprise you on the website of my friend, former colleague and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell at: www.positran.eu.
The Positive Action Cards have been selling like hot cakes around the world!
For now, I’ve been busy painting. Not finished-of course!
I’ve been ‘bringing the outside in’, harvesting the last of the rosehips and lighting those so evocative, scented candles. Here are a couple of my favourites-in combination. Why go half way!
Meanwhile, I have to find a way to do justice to those 25 pounds of perfect apples that our generous friends harvested from their trees in Milton Keynes to give to us. So come and join me for a quintessential autumnal dinner. It involves apples of course!
Beef Cottage Pie
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad
Apple Frangipane Tart
BEEF COTTAGE PIE
A Tribute to Mary Berry’s Venison Cottage Pie
• 2 tbsp oil, for frying
• 6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large carrot, finely chopped
• 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
• 600g/1lb 5oz lean beef steak mince
• 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
• 300ml/10fl oz red wine
• 500ml/18fl oz beef stock (I use a capsule of enriched beef stock putting it right into the mixture with no water)
• Six large brown mushrooms sliced quite thinly (my addition)
• A jar of chestnuts marinated first in beef stock and red wine (my addition)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping
• 1kg/2lb 4oz potatoes, chopped into 2cm/¾in cubes
• knob of butter
• splash milk
• glug of truffle oil never hurts
1. Heat the oil in a large deep, lidded casserole or a heavy-based saucepan set over a high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp. Remove and set aside.
2. Add the onion, carrot and rosemary and fry for a few minutes until softened. Add the mince and stir until golden-brown, breaking it up while stirring.
3. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Gradually add the wine, and, stirring all the time, boil for a few minutes until the volume of liquid has reduced by half. Add the stock and the cooked bacon, bring to the boil and season with salt and pepper, stirring for 5 minutes. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender.
4. Preheat the oven 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
5. Spoon the mince into a 3 litre/5 pint ovenproof dish. Set aside to cool.
6. To make the topping, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Add the butter and milk. Season with salt and pepper and mash until smooth.
7. Spoon the mash on top of the cold mince, level the top and mark with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden-brown and bubbling.
BEETROOT AND CELERIAC SALAD
I know that the following salad is technically classified as a ‘summer salad’. But truthfully, the ingredients are readily available throughout the year, and once again, it is fresh, light, yet earthy flavour that juxtaposes so well with the deep, dark, rich cottage pie. And, the mint in my garden is still amazingly prolific.
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad (House and Garden, Autumn 2016)
• 400g beetroot, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 400g celeriac, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon of red onion, finely minced
• A scattering of rocket leaves or other green leaves
For the dressing:
• 4tbsp chopped mint
• 2tbsp lime juice
• 1tbsp Dijon mustard
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/mark 6. Use a 30×40 cm dish or pan. Mix the beetroot, celeriac and olive oil directly in the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste, using your hands to coat everything well. Bake for 20 minutes, or until soft. (I find I like these to cook longer than directions specify, around 35-40 minutes)
2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, put all the ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Whisk the oil in gradually. Once the vegetables are cooked, allow them to cool. Before serving, toss them in the dressing, adding the red onion and leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.
APPLE FRANGIPANE TART
Ok. I admit this is a tad ‘fussy’, but so worth it!
Pastry (Makes 1 9inch/23cm pie crust. This recipe is a variation from a Canadian cookbook called Brown Eggs and Jam Jars. It works. It has a delicate flaky texture and a mellow flavour)
3 tablespoons (45ml) ice cold water
1 egg yolk
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups (325ml) all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup(125ml) butter cut into ½ inch/1cm cubes
To make in a food processor
Pour water into a measuring cup and drop in the egg yolk. Add lemon juice and beat with a fork. Drop in ice cube to chill liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt to combine. Add butter cubes and pulse about 5 times to cut the butter into the flour. Butter should be pea- sized pieces.
Drizzle ice water mixture through feed tube and pulse about 10 times until the liquid is incorporated.
Empty the contents onto a lightly floured board and form a disc of dough 6 inches (15cm) across. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap (cling film) and chill for at least 2 hours or up to two days.
The Frangipane Filling (this is a melange of Mary Berry’s recipe in her Foolproof Cooking Book and a Waitrose recipe found on line from 2005.)
Pre-heat oven to 200C/180Fan/400F
(Remember-you are using a 23 cm pan. First roll out the pastry and fit into the pan. Return to refrigerator until you have made the filling. Then you can take it out and fill it with the following ingredients.)
4 eating apples
1 tablespoon apricot jam
75 G (3 oz) butter, softened)
75 G (3 oz) caster sugar)
100 G ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You can also whiz in food processor. Add eggs one at a time, then add lemon zest and almond extract. Fold in the almonds.
Halve and peel the apples, carefully cutting out the cores. Place flat side down and slice thinly across the width. After you have poured the frangipane filling into the tart, plant the apples on top and spread out the slices slightly. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Bake approximately 35-40 minutes or until frangipane is puffy and golden and the apples are just cooked. Paint apples with apricot jam. Leave to cool 15 minutes and then remove from pan.