To Absent Friends

It is Halloween this weekend. With all the carved pumpkins, witch costumes, zombie face paintings and spooky sweets, it is hard to get back to the essence of this feast of the start of winter. To honour the dead. To create light in darkness. To be reminded that life goes on with our children.

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The ritual of children carrying a lantern, going around singing and being rewarded with sweets must go back to an old pagan ritual, which found it’s way into modern societies in different forms. In Spain it is connected to Epiphany on the 6th of January, and children go around dressed up as the three wise men. When I grew up in the Netherlands we went around on st Martins day, the 11th of November, using a sugarbeet as a lantern, because they were widely available. I wouldn’t  be surprised that lighting candles, singing at Christmas and getting presents go back to same tradition. And now this practice has found its form as trick or treating on Halloween.
Parading children, singing lively and carrying the light must be a reminder that in this period of slumbering bleakness these children are our future.

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But as much as it is about the promise of a future, it is also time to look back at the past. In the Catholic Church the 1st of November is the day of the dead. In Mexico it is a very important festival. People visit the graves of their loved ones, bringing offerings to comfort the departed. Feeding the dead, so they won’t come back and feed on us. In Elizabeth Luard’s ‘Spiritual Food’ I read that  this is important to many cultutes, from Celtic to Chinese, to make sure you are at peace with your ancestors.

In modern society where the future is bright, and everything has to be new and better, we are not caring anymore what our ancestors would make of this. We stand in awe at the fireworks at Bonfire night, forgetting that the bangs should scare unhappy ghosts of the past. On the 11th of November we commemorate those who made the ultimate offer to our country, but what are we offering them? We treat them with silence.

To make peace with your lost ones might be a decisive step in accepting who you are, where you have come from, the relationships with the departed which have formed you. Before you have done that, it might be difficult to move on to the future.

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Food plays an important part in all this. Nothing brings you back to your childhood like the taste or smell of something. That is why I am hosting 2 dinners with an Absent Friend theme this weekend. It is important toast to them, so that they are happy with us.  We eat aromatic spiced soul cake, to evoke fond memories. And rosemary, which scent brings me back to the paradise allotment of my Italian neighbour in Utrecht, 20 years ago. To Franco.

Living Together

This week I am cooking Roman. It usually evokes images of toga clothed men lying around the table, feeding themselves as young birds with wide open mouths, holding up bunches of grapes. An image that for me as a Dutchman rhymes with the Dutch way of eating salted herring.

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For the Dutch this tradition might have been born out of pragmacy, visitors to the lowlands look at it with slight disgust. “For goodness sake, that herring is raw, and then to slide it down your throat as herrons or seagulls….”

Roman grape eating has almost the opposite connection, that of decedancy. Part of a jetset lifestyle, we think.

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But that is how we look at it with our modern eyes. I wonder what the Romans would have made of our dinner parties.
There is something rejective about those reactions to the Dutch herring ‘happen’ and the Roman banquet. That is something the Romans wouldn’t have liked. The called their banquet a convivium, a ‘living together’.

I find modern food culture more and more that of an exclusive one. New European legislation on allergy advice have made a menu in a restaurant almost more about what you can’t eat then about what the restaurant is offering.
I know Oren is only covering a niche market, because more and more people describe themselves as picky eaters.  The food they choose to eat is used as part of their identity, a way of setting them apart from everybody else, instead of ‘living together’, joining in.

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When I was a child I hated green beans, because we had them every monday. Now I love them in a good salad Nicoise. I couldn’t stand raw tomato, I melt now when I smell a perfect ripe example. Recently I was given a jar of honey so good,  I had a teaspoon as a treat every day. My 14 year old self would have looked at it with disgust.
Only with real allergies the rejection of food is a physical thing. For the rest it is a mental switch. And as soon as you have made it, you can discover a world of flavour you might have been excluding yourself from.

I am convinced it is better to live together with the world and all its possibilities, then to distance yourself from it. So for all of you who do and don’t like honey, here is finally something the Chinese didn’t invent, but apparently the Romans,  a cheesecake.

http://www.deliciousitaly.com/lazio-rome-recipes/ancient-roman-cheesecake

Memories in a Jar

 

  • Chantarelle mushroom soup
  • Liquorice lamb with roasted vegetables & sweet carrot jus
  • Fish frikadeller with curry remoulade
  • Open pie with rye crust and rice & smoked cheese filling
  • Pancake tart with apple & rosehip sauce and blackberries

Finally time to do some contemplative writing again, after a busy summer. It’s been good, making friends for life over breakfast while running a B&B, enjoying all the fresh local produce in the restaurant & having manic days while popping up with Oren at festivals as Gwyl Arall and Gwyl Gardd Goll.
Now, with the wind blowing around the house, autumn has definitely arrived and brings a bit of melancholy with it. Nature is starting to show its more sorrowful colours in the deep red & purple of aubergines, plums, blackberries, elderberries & grapes. I would love to spend some time in a vineyard in Southern France to experience the buzz of the harvest and the anticipation of the wine it will make.

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The chill in the air and the first yellow leafs are telling us to hurry up, gather our produce and preserve the summer for the dark days to come. It is the season of jam & chutney making. No wonder there are no jam jars left in Caernarfon’s hard ware shop as we bought the last ones for the green tomato chutney I made. No point in waiting for the perfectly glossy full bodied but hard & green tomatoes to get some colour. Better off putting them in a jar where they will remind me of the good summer I had growing them.

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Of all the jams, rosehip must be my favourite. Ever since one summer as a small boy I helped pick Mrs. Blauw lots of them from our bushes, and she gave me a Matchbox Ford tractor as my reward. Mrs. Blauw was one of the few people to recognize the value of these fruits of the flower of love. They need a bit of work, with their little devils of thorns and millions of rock hard seeds. But after a good cooking you end up with a scented syrupy goodness – full of vitamin c.

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All in all a good symbol of the sweet memories I am left with after the hard work this summer.

 

Tiny Morsels & Great Conversation

 

Dates in Duvets
Devilled Chicken Liver & Tarragon Vol Au Vents
Welsh Lamb Meatballs in Tomato & Leek Sauce
Radishes with Anchovy Sauce
Curried Oren Bach with Smoked Haddock (fried rice balls)
Potted Crab with Harissa
Mini Rarebit
Spring Green Salad
Home Baked Oatcakes
Potato Salad with Wild Garlic Mayonnaisse
Lemon Trifle

Spanish cooking has always had a special place in my heart since my first job as a chef, in a Spanish restaurant in Utrecht. I have got good memories of that job. The restaurant had recently opened and the staff formed a good motivated team (complaining about everthing the managers did wrong of course). Waiters greeted me in the morning with cafe con ponche (coffee with a bit of sweet brandy on the side). The dishwasher, a Spanish student from Barcelona, taught me how to make the perfect tortilla, potato omelette. The trick is to cook your sliced potatoes in plenty of olive oil, then drain them and mix the eggs with the warm potatoes.

Spanish-Tortilla-Recipe

There is something about Spanish cooking which suits me very well. Maybe it is because it is a rustic cuisine, heavily influenced by the people of the land, instead of fine dining influenced by palaces & aristocracy. Tapas are Spain’s biggest contribution to global cooking. Somebody had the idea to put food on the little plates which were used to cover glasses, to ward off greedy flies. There is something to be said for a cuisine which regards food as a tasty bit on the side. It is that what endears me most about Spanish cooking. The food has a supporting role to a social occasion. Most important is that people have a good night, and having some nice little snacks on plates are helping to realise that.

012Inspiration for this week’s menu comes mostly from ‘My kind of cooking’ by Mark Sargeant, one of the most inspiring cookbooks I read the last couple of years. It does really contain easy recipes, based in British tradition. I read the book and thought, oh, I’ll put that on the menu, and that, and that… So it is back to the table buffet formula at Oren this week. I realise now why it is always such a succes, because it goes back to the important role food has as a social medium.