rural life & human spirit

 

Welsh Smorgasbord
Lamb Shank with Jones’  Surprise
Seafood Hotfood
Vegetarian Welsh Hash with Poached Egg
Pear Tart

It is St David’s day this Friday, Wales’ National Day. But on Thursday Oren’s bookclub is gathering to discuss ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man  who climbed out of the window and disappeared’ by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Thus this week’s menu ended up as a fusion between Nordic & Welsh cuisine.

Quite fashionable, something Nordic. It’s clear, crystalline esthetics are conquering the world. The world’s best restaurant, according to in-the-know-critics, is Noma in Kopenhagen, where you are fed whole ecosystems  on a plate. Best crime fiction seems to come from Scandinavia and after being glued to the television for ‘The Killing’, Sarah Lund’s Nordic knitted christmas jumpers were on everybody’s wish list. And it might not be easy to construct, but the simplicity of Ikea furniture has made it to homes all over the world.

My last holiday (3 years ago,sigh) was to Sweden, this time of the year. The sky seemed blue-er then anywhere in the world, providing a clear & crisp light. Dense forests and heavy clean snow & ice gave me the feeling that something exuberant of life was hidden in it.  Nordic freshness with a heavy beating heart is part of the Scandinavian succes story, I think.

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I enjoyed ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man….’. It fits into a tradition of Swedish literature which has produced some of my all time favourite books.  Jonasson’s book is combination of world history and comic road trip, and made me think of Selma Lagerloff’s ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. That is the best road trip book ever, published in 1906, about a boy travelling on geese, having adventures in all the provinces of Sweden. The book paints a beautiful picture of regional folklore & life in rural Sweden at the beginnning of the 20th century.

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The simplicity of pre-industrial agricultural Sweden forms the backdrop to one of my all time favourites as well, ‘The six Bullerby children’ by Astrid Lindgren. Just the story of day to day life of 7 children on 3 remote farms. A life led by the seasons, which seems so far from these modern times. It might look now that those children were living in a small world, but with their imagination their world might be bigger than that of some children nowadays.

Astrid Lindgren is also responsible for one of my childhood heroes, Pippi Longstocking.  Despite all the technical shortcomings I can see now, I still like to watch the televesion series I was addicted to as a 4-7 year old boy. In honour of this girl of extraordinary fysical strength & human spirit, who showed me as a child the farcical complexity of adult life, a recipe for Swedish Princes Cake.

pippi

http://makeandbakeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html#!/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html

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food of my father

This week I spent some days back in the Netherlands again, to catch up with my mother, who at, 85 is still cooking strong. I never realised till I was a chef myself how good her food was. One of my strongest assets, my palette, I have definitely got from her. My family is a bunch of ‘good eaters’. My mum and I agreed that when my dad only had 2 (Dutch style big) pancakes instead of his usual 4, it was a sign that with his appetite he lost his lust for life. And indeed, he died just before Christmas.
Being able to shop in the Netherlands I thought this week’s menu would be for him. In spirit he will join us and share the dishes he loved with my customers.

bartje
Starting with Brown Bean Soup, using an early dry bean variety originating from Holland. Has a smooth texture with a tasty, nutty flavour. Famous in the Netherlands because a classic figure in Dutch literature, the poor farmer’s boy Bartje, didn’t want to pray at the start of a main meal of just brown beans.
My dried brown beans (pinto would be a good substitute) are soaking now. I will cook them tomorrow together with some pork ribs (tip from my mum), onion, carrot, leeks, celery leaves, white pepper, savoury & nutmeg. Certainly for about 2 hours or more, they should be mushy but not completely break up. A bit of sweet soy sauce in it does wonders, as some thinly sliced smoked sausage.
In our household this was served on a winter Saturday, the day my mother departed from the traditional meat-veg-potato meal and cooked one-pot-wonders. After my student sister brought a recipe for chilli con carne home in the 70’s, brown beans found their way to our plates in another dish on Saturdays as well.
My dad loved fish. We grew strawberries commercially when I was a child and in the abundance of summer they were swapped with buckets of undersized fish of people from the nearby fishing village Urk. Little super fresh whole but headless plaice were gently floured and then deep fried whole. Lemon sole was best pan fried in butter. No messing with sauces – it was about the pure taste of the fish.
There will be lovely fresh plaice on the menu but I could easily have done something with smoked mackerel, battered cod & salted herring still were top of my father’s menu, even when his appetite got less in the last year of his life.

peren
Dutch Pork Roll with Poached Pears is not as much on the menu because of the meat but of the pears. They are of a Dutch variety – Gieser Wildeman -, which is inedible uncooked. Rock hard. But they turn silken smooth and velvety red when cooked in some red wine and cinnamon.
This menu could be never ending. As I said – I come from a family of ‘good eaters’. Roast chicken, apple sauce, the Dutch soft drink Rivella (a dairy sideproduct!), bami goreng (fried noodles), schnitzels as big as your plate, sautéed potatoes, a hard boiled egg, traditional Twentse Krentenwegge (currant tea loaf) and pap made with buttermilk are a few of my dad’s other favourite things.
For dessert? We’ll do special oliebollen – the Dutch doughnuts I wrote about in the first blog of the year – A New Beginning.(see January archive).  For a recipe: http://www.typicaldutchstuff.com/oliebol.shtml
Baker Mick especially made a bread with sauerkraut for this menu – following an ancient recipe I found him  (typed with a typewriter!): http://www.partisanbaker.com

Initiative with Pancakes

So I am sitting in the chair by the fire in my kitchen, ready to bake some pancakes. The recipe for the batter I got from a cookbook my mother got for a wedding anniversary, 50 years ago.

250 gr flour, 1 or 2 eggs, 5-6 dl milk, teaspoon salt, 125 gr butter or lard

Make a well in the middle of flour, break the eggs in it, add the milk in small parts, and mix till smooth. Add the salt. Bake from this batter not to thick pancakes in the butter or lard in a frying pan, which are cooked and on both sides golden brown.

Oh dear. How much butter in the pan? How many pancakes will this make? How long do they need to bake on each side? On what heat? How will you turn them over?

It shows that 50 years ago they only needed some bare instructions on how to cook. Nowadays we’ve forgotten basic skills and have to search for a step by step recipe with not too many ingredients on the internet. Or buy ready-made pancake batter in the supermarket. Is that a sign of progress our society has made?

pannekoek

Really, I urge you to make some pancakes today using the above recipe. It’s not too difficult, and if the recipe is a bit vague, what is wrong with a bit of self initiative? It is so satisfying to have made your own hearty, tasty pancakes.

Bacon pancakes with syrup is a symbol of the luxury we can indulge ourselves carefree in today, before the more contemplative, spartan 6 weeks of Lent start tomorrow.

For the more adventurous a recipe for speck pancakes with yeast, from the same cookery book. Use streaky bacon as a substitute for the speck.

200 gr flour, 200 gr buckwheat flour, 20 gr fresh yeast, ¾ l milk, 2 teasp salt, 200 g streaky bacon, lard or oil

Make a yeast batter from the flours, yeast & milk & let it rise. In a frying pan melt the lard or oil and fry bacon lightly. If the fat is hot enough, add the batter and bake the pancakes till they’re done and brown on both sides.

Ok, I’ll help you. A yeast batter is made by dissolving the yeast in lukewarm milk, the mixing it with the flours, leaving it in a damp warm place, covered by a teatowel, till it is doubled in size.

In keeping with the fasting traditional for Lent a Vegetarian Valentines Meal on Thursday, and lots of vegetarian food on an Indian Kerala Buffet for the weekend.

The Art of Travel

surprise Hungarian menu

Of course, blogging is part of arm chair tourism.  With modern technology, we can communicate with anybody anywhere who can tell us everything about anything. We can travel the whole world without lifting our ever growing behinds from our seats. We don’t need to go to China, we just read about it on the internet. We don’t need to taste exotic food, we just buy a whole world of cookery books without ever using them.  I wonder how many people will, after reading a recipe in a blog, actually cook it?

As the world is getting smaller, it is getting more & more difficult to submerge yourself into the unknown.  We don’t want to let go of the control we have over our environment.  Instead of stepping into the world, we let the world come to us, through our mobile phones & computers, with more & more apps as new control mechanisms.

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But I like to be surprised. I just love wandering aimlessly in big cities, never knowing what is around the corner. Maybe it is all Budapest’s fault.

In the summer of 1989 I embarked on my first solo travel, a month touring (then still communist) Hungary.  At the eve of the revolution, Budapest was a very vibrant city. There were concerts all over town every night, and because they were so cheap they were attended by people from all different classes. I saw my first Opera. Daytimes I picnicked in parks, discovered a massive variety of little shops  – one specialised in bow ties  – and had cakes & coffee in all the  classic cafés. Ah, Dobos Torte in Café Gerbaud!

It’s funny how food plays such an important role in my memories of that holiday, even though I wasn’t a chef back then. The cold cherry soup I had in scorching summer heat is still ranked among the best things I’ve ever tasted. But Tokaj and Eger Bulls Blood wines, Gundel pancakes and Chicken Paprikas could easily be added to that list.

English wasn’t widely spoken – the older generation spoke a bit of German. So ordering something from an Hungarian menu was a bit of an adventure. But you soon learn the words for soup, chicken & some cooking techniques. And you can’t go wrong with Goulash.

I fancied making Goulash this week. But the rest of the menu will be a surprise. Because I like cooking for people who are willing to take a risk. It adds to the spice of life.  Eating at Oren is rising from your armchair, let go, and go on a culinary travel where you never know what is around the corner.