July 2009


Grubs up!

The quest for Drooling self sufficiency goes on. Fearlessly we move towards a nirvana, a perfect world in which the clan Drooling will be dependent on NO-ONE for the essentials of life!

In my last post, below, I outlined the genius masterplan for replacing puny shop-bought alcohol with the finest home-grown wines a man can produce. In just a few years I shall have ditched poor-quality beers and wines in favour of a world class cellar of Chateau Drooling.

And so on to the next challenge: what is the next culinary element of the current Drooling lifestyle to be replaced?

Let’s think this through logically. At the moment: go out for beers and drink far too many. In future: replace with home-grown wine. At present: stagger home from supplier of beer and fall into kebab shop for Chicken Shish Kebab to replace electrolytes cruelly removed from system by said beer.  And in future? Hmmm….

Now at present the raising of poultry to provide the above Chicken Shish is strictly forbidden by Mrs Drooling on the grounds of Bird Flu. The logical alternative would be the acquisition of a pig with which to provide the family Drooling with an endless supply of Doner meat. However if chickens are a no go then it’s just possible that the current noise around Swine Flu is likely to reduce the chances of Mrs D signing off the arrival of a large smelly porker in the garden.

And she’s also a vegetarian. And in any case we have loads of broad beans that need eating up. And she’s quite partial to a falafel. And….hey! Wait a minute!

Enough of the subtle lead in. What follows is pretty much the only recipe we’ve used for our broad beans this year. It’s a Jamie at Home recipe, with a slight tweak. While the mockney genius suggests eating these as fritters, we stick ’em in pittas with salad and slosh some tahini over them to make more of a meal. Many other sauces are just as tasty, and most of them don’t look like emulsion paint when you take a photo of them, but unfortunately it was tahini night when I had the battery in the camera.

(Don’t know why I’m beating myself up: follow the link to Jamie’s page above and you’ll see his fritters look like dog turds…..)

Broan bean falafels

300g broad beans (once podded. About 1kg in pods)

bunch of coriander, bunch of mint

1tsp cumin

1 red chili, deseeded

zest and juice of a lemon

1tbsp flour

About 1l of vegetable oil

Whizz up everything in the blender. Put the oil in pan that’s small enough to make it about 5cm deep and heat it up until it’s hot enough to deep fry. Shape the mixture into balls no bigger than golf balls and drop them in. They cook within a minute or two. Keep the first few batches warm in the oven while you do the rest.

Serve them in pittas with salad or whatever else you want. NB: make sure you get the proportions right in the recipe. I was a bit casual the other day and the falafels all disintegrated in the oil. Perfectly tasty but not quite so easy on the eye.

On the ipod while deep frying: Graham Coxon / All over me. The tahini, that is. Wasn’t paying attention.

Booze, lovely booze!

Growing your own produce is undoubtedly a great thing. Eating fresh home-picked salad leaves with a few ripe tomatoes from the greenhouse is a wonderful experience.

But let’s be honest. Delicious though it is, it’s still salad. And nobody brings a bowl of salad to a party. (Although that was a lovely green bean salad we had the other day, many thanks Rose!). No, for all its merits you can’t get pissed on salad.

So a different approach is needed if the homegrown approach is to meet all the Drooling family needs. In other words, I am growing grapes.

I did think about growing hops to make some beer, beer being a bit quicker to brew, but it occurred to me that I haven’t the faintest idea what a hop looks like, let alone what sort of plant (bush? tree?) it grows on.

The local off licence

So wine it is. I’ve got three vines in the garden, one planted four years ago and the other two on either side of an arch, planted last spring. The older vine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, produces lovely grapes each autumn, but so far I haven’t done anything other than eat them. The younger two vines produced one rather tart bunch between them last year, but as it was their first year I’m glossing over that and putting it down to the petulance of youth.

Despite this minor blip, according to my calculations the extra two vines should give me enough grapes to make around 12 bottles of wine this year. I’m a little hazy on the details of the process (a vague image of standing barefoot in a bucket full of grapes comes to mind) but hey, I’ve got a good few months to hone the technique before the harvest.

Bottoms up!

On the ipod while cleaning carefully between the toes: Fountains of Wayne / Mexican Wine. Yes, I think I will have another glass.

Aubergines

I love my greenhouse. It’s one of the first things I put into the garden when we moved house, and when it comes to growing vegetables it opens up so many possibilities. In the spring it does a great job as an incubator, meaning I can get vegetables started early in the year and get me a headstart on the season.

In the winter it provides protection for all those plants too wussy to cope with a few months in the open air. Yes, I’m looking at you Mrs Dahlia. Most excitingly at this time of year it allows me to grow Mediterranean crops that would otherwise turn up their sun-loving noses in disgust at my South London weather.

This year I’ve got cucumbers, melons, peppers and tomatoes.  Some of these would cope OK on the patio, sure, but you know what they’re like: they might produce some fruit but I’d have to spend all summer listening to them moaning on about the weather, how it’s much warmer in Spain, how I should be grateful to have just a handful of small, bitter tomatoes, yadda yadda yadda.

So having a greenhouse saves me earache and allows me to grow things like the little aubergines (eggplant, if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic) in the pic above. I tried growing aubergines a couple of years ago but didn’t have much luck. Two small fruits, with tough skins and rubbery flesh weren’t an advert for the veg at its best.

This year though things have been much better. The three plants look perky, about a foot tall and bushy, and they’ve produced loads of fruits – about 6-7 per plant. They’re not massive but that’s the variety (Orland0) rather than my poor husbandry. No, really it is.

So what to do with the veg now they’re ready to eat? The little babies are so small and precious that it seems a waste to toss them into something like a ratatouille where they’ll disappear without trace among a thousand other flavours. And beautiful though they are, there’s nowhere near enough to make a big dish like moussaka.

For the first batch I’ve opted instead for Moutabal. You and I, we’re citizens of the world, been around a bit, I need say no more. I can sense your approval. But there might be a couple of readers who don’t know what we’re talking about, so for their benefit: Moutabal is a Middle Eastern puree. Sometimes eaten as a dip, probably great as a side dish for chargrilled lamb, we ate this smeared onto the end of carrot battons.

Normally I’d stick a photo of the results for you to drool over, but as I haven’t quite got the hang of this food photography business I’m going to pass. In my defence, every other photo I’ve found of Moutabal makes it look a bit like the stuff I used to grout the bath the other day. Don’t be put off, it’s delicious, honest! Instead coo over the lovely flowers just waiting to turn into aubergines…

Very pretty. But even better whizzed up with garlic and tahini

Moutabal

3-4 aubergines

4 tbsp tahini

3 cloves garlic

juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

Prick the aubergines and bake them in the oven (200c) for about an hour or until they blacken. Cut them open and scrape the insides into a bowl. Mix the tahini and lemon juice with a few drops of water and then stir this into the aubergine paste. Finely chop the garlic and add.

Ideally you would now drizzle a few pomegranate seeds over the top of your dip. Haven’t quite managed to grow them in the greenhouse yet. However, chopped parsley works pretty well.

(Most recipes include salt in the ingredients. I find the above recipe is pretty salty as it is, so I’ve left it out)

On the ipod while sipping beer and pretending I’m sitting in a North African market: Kate Nash / Birds. A rather beautiful anthem to chav love.

Shallots drying out

I always thought I’d make a good girl. Not bad at picking out dresses, pretty handy in the kitchen. You know, I think I’d be quite a catch for some lucky guy.

The great unknown, though, is the hair. Being as my hairline is receding rather quickly and I don’t live in the Sixties, a thick head of long wavy hair is something singularly missing from that old devil gazing adorably at me in the mirror in the mornings. This means that I am denied the opportunity to improve the hairstyling skills that would seal my claims for womanhood.

Happily the allotment, as well as providing hours of relaxation and food for the table, has somewhat unexpectedly come to the resuce in my bid to try out alternative gender roles.

As you can see from the pic above, the shallots (Longue de Bretagne) are starting to ripen and I’ve harvested the first lot. Much as I love the pungent devils though, I’m not going to eat quite that many at once, and one of the attractions of growing shallots is that they store so well and last for ages.

One of the most stylish ways to store them is to plait them and hang them up, thus turning a prosaic task – the storing of vegetables – into a work of art. And also giving Drooling a chance to demonstrate, through the medium of alliums, the ability to plait hair in a fashing that would truly merit the title “lady”. If I can do it with shallots, surely, then hair would be no problem?

So off we went. A quick tour of the internet suggested that plaiting the shallots before they dry is best – otherwise they become too brittle and less pliable. They can then dry out while tastefully dangling from the beams in your farmhouse kitchen. After that the instructions got a little vaguer and I found precious few useful diagrams or instructions. Still, how hard can it be for a wannabe woman?

Three shallots together. Cross the stem of the left over into the middle. Then the stem of the right, then repeat. Add in another three shallots and watch the plait start to take shape. Just tuck that shallot back in there….left stem over into the middle…might need a bit of string to keep that row nice and tidy…add another row of shallots…the rustic look is good, no need to make it too neat…bit more string…just need the scissors to snip off that little piece sticking out there…whooaah, what happened to that row? One more row to go…and there we are! Just tie that off at the top and see how it looks hanging up…

Imagine you saw a beautiful woman with hair plaited like this: Irresistible, no?

What do you mean? It’s all the rage this season! Haven’t you seen the plaits on the Paris catwalks – “tousled and unkempt” is the look of 2009. Philistines!

Still, probably best I don’t have to do this on a regular basis.

On the ipod while imagining what it would be like to have one of these dangling down the back of my neck: Blur / Boys and Girls

It's lonely at the top

Beans are sociable things. It probably comes from all that nestling together in the pod when they’re first born. I guess if the formative moments of your life are spent check by jowl with your siblings then it’s no surprise that you grow up prefering to hang out in the company of your peers.

So spare a thought for the poor darlings currently dangling off my tattered-looking borlotti beans. I raised them in the greenhouse and then planted out the beans a little bit early, and they spent a few weeks looking a bit sorry for themselves. But they recovered and slowly climbed their way up their poles.

But life is clearly hard for beans, at least on my allotment. Many of the leaves bear the tell-tale slime trails and jagged edges of slug attacks, and they don’t look as bushy as they should. That may be unfair on my beans, as this is the first time I’ve grown borlotti, but they don’t seem quite as healthy-looking as they did in my head when I ordered the seeds.

Aesthetics aside though, the most telling sign that the beans aren’t happy is the depressing lack of flowers, let alone pods like the one above. My seven plants have barely mustered the same number of pods between them, with not that many more flowers to report. That doesn’t feel like a great return.

Slugs apart, I may have found another possible cause of this scarcity.

I haven't the faintest idea what this is

While poking around the plants looking for beans I came across this little bug and about five of his mates. They were just sitting there nonchalantly, not doing anything offensive but certainly looking suspicious. It was a bit like coming round the corner and seeing a bunch of teenagers clutching spray cans next to a still-wet graffito. I didn’t actually see them doing anything wrong, but they look bloody shifty, don’t you think?

Now, being a bleeding heart liberal organic gardening type I didn’t feel I could administer summary justice with the ball of my thumb without having any concrete evidence. And short of checking their teeth for flecks of borlotti bean I couldn’t see anything conclusive.

So I felt obliged to leave them be, unharmed. A bit like the grizzled cop who knows a judge would have him for dinner if he actually arrested those pesky kids, I felt I should wait until they did something wrong before squishing them. After all, they might be good bugs simply protecting my beans from evil blackfly.

So my internet search to identify these mysterious bugs continues. All suggestions gratefully welcome. And then judgement day shall come. Will it be a quick and painless squishing or will I be laying out the welcome mat and telling them to bring their friends to the party?

On the ipod while practising a pincer motion with thumb and forefinger: The Clash / Should I Stay or Should I Go?