Branding irons

The summer is almost here and judging by the weather records its going to be a hot one. Bearing this in mind I cleaned up the grill, sorted out the garden and last weekend started to create culinary alchemy aided of course by a few beers or so. I have now made so many different things using so many different rubs and marinades that I have forgotten which ones worked and which ones didnt. So I am going to (hopefully) write the name of the marinades and rubs etc along with what cuts of meat I used with the results, good or bad, and use this blog as a record.

Last week I cooked a brisket marinaded in Stubbs beef marinade for 24 hours and then used Willys onederfuel dry rub and smoked it in a roasting tray on my grill for 4 hours. I used wet wood chips wrapped in silver foil to give it some smokey taste and basted it with Stubbs till it was cooked. The result was fantastic and the meat just fell apart and was served sliced and pulled in sandwhiches. I also cooked some chicken portions in the same manner on the grill but I used a bourbon marinade and baste. The marinade consisted of Soy sauce, Whiskey (because I had run out of Bourbon), lots of garlic and spices and some liquid smoke to compensate for the lack of Bourbon. Again this was deemed a great success by all those who tried it. For the coming weekend I am smoking some ribs and a pork shoulder. Naturally I will let you all know how it went.

Due to circumstances all attempts at building a smoker have been suspended and so during the week I bought a Brinkman smoker and I hope to use this instead of the grill for smoking large chunks of meat. Feeling rather pleased with myself and to the great hilarity and amusement in some quarters I also ordered a Grillslinger (check it out on Google) some rib racks for cooking ribs, a meat thermometer and for sheer indulgence I have ordered a steak branding iron with my initials in the brand. Is that class or what?

Old friends and the smell of death

OK, back to normal or almost! I took mum to the nearest eye hospital yesterday and she was seen by a professor no less who after scanning her eye and taking several ultra sound photographs commented, that he thought the spot behind her retina was a blood spot but could not be sure, that he would he would like to see her in six weeks time to measure the spot and see if it had grown any bigger. We are still in the lap of the gods.

After coming home and trying to relax, you need to after trying to park where I have just been, I went into the garden and spotted some old friends. For the last few years a pair of collared doves have been nesting at the bottom of my garden in an old silver birch tree. They have been coming here for quite some time each spring and raising chicks. I know its almost summer when I see them flying about. A few years ago I noticed a young collared dove chick walking about in the garden looking slightly bemused and bewildered. It was being stalked by one of my cats, Claws. Claws was a wily old male cat some 16 years of age and the lord of all he surveyed, this being to the bottom of my garden and possibly a couple of others. Claws was probably quite bemused by fresh meat walking around his turf and I expect sensed an easy snack. In the grand scheme of things I should have left things alone and left nature to its course but when the young chick had hopped onto the rubbish bin into comparitive safety and looked at me with big innocent eyes I felt I had to do something. I knocked on the tilers door, cos he bred budgies and knew a thing or two about birds, and said what would you do? He replied put it in a box with some water and some seed and let it have a good rest and it will probably be all right in the morning, Its just traumatised and tired and lost.

So I put the young bird in a box with water and seed and placed a lid on the box to stop him escaping and then put the box in the garden shed out of any harms way. The following morning the young chick looked quite perky and I took him out of the box and placed him on a table in the garden. I figured if he needs to get into the air then the best thing he could have is a bit of a runway, like an aircraft carrier, and a little bit of a drop so he can soar into the air and back to his folks in the silver birch tree. I left him to it and went inside to make some breakfast. Venturing back outside some 15 minutes later I noticed Claws sat on the back door step with a sheepish grin and some grey feathers hanging from his mouth. In an instant the awful truth dawned upon me that Claws had captured the bird and decided that it was going to be his breakfast. The feeling of guilt was compounded by the realisation that I had merely fattend up his breakfast and gave it a good nights sleep before several pounds of experienced fur, fang and claw had ripped it to shreds. I felt so angry with my cat who after all had merely done what nature had built and designed it for, that I kicked it up and down the garden and did not feed it for a couple of days in the vain hope it would get the message that I was not best pleased.

I am fairly sure that the collared dove pair have forgiven me for the last Faux paux, after all they keep soming back and if its not them then surely they would have told the new occupants that its not a bad place to live provided you can get on with the neighbours? Claws himself passed away a couple of years ago and is buried beneath a catnip plant in the garden. The doves often fly overhead and pass over Claws’ final resting place. Its almost as if they are saying "we are still here you know". Anyway its nice to see old friends and the smell of death has long gone away.

Almost back to normal

Well mum is finally home and after two weeks spent running back and forth between the hospital and various clinics, I feel its almost safe to say the operation has been a success. The Cataract was sucessfully removed and a lens implant went well and her vision is now normal for some one fo her age. There now follows up to six weeks of intensive aftercare to ensure that no infection takes place before we can safely say we are out of the woods.

Throughout the last fortnight almost everything has been on hold or standby including the keep fit and any work on the house or garden. Fortunately I have many good friends who have helped out with either practical help or moral support. I would like to take this oportunity to thank you all (you know who you are) and to let everyone know normal service will be resumed or at least when things are almost back to normal asap.

“Froth and Flames”

Mum went into hospital on Thursday morning for her cataract removal and lens implant. The operation was a success and we hope she will be coming home sometime on Sunday. A lot of work was carried out on the garden and I managed to remove and replace my ageing pond and generally tidy up. It may be Easter but it has been busy busy busy. To clebrate the success of the operation and hopefully end months of worry all round, I cracked open a beer and sparked up the chimnea.

As the flames grew marking the start of the season, I opened a bottle of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Halfway through the bottle I realised it was misnamed and should of been called Rampant Wildebeest, this stuff has a kick! All was going well until the chimnea either through metal fatigue or sheer boredom collapsed. Blazing coals scattered around the patio area under some glowing bits of metal. It was far too hot to attempt to move them and all I could do was watch. Around ten minutes or so later a serious of loud bangs occured and it was at this point I remembered concrete explodes when heated. My patio was exploding before my eyes. There was not much I could do except to watch until the fire went down and eventually expired.

I got up this morning remembering the Rampant Wildebeest and went into the garden to survey the damage and it was not as bad as it first appeared. The chimnea can be patched up as the cast iron bits are still intact. But finally we have Froth and Flames……….


Cellophane and farting cows

Not a great deal has been accomplished in the last two weeks. I still have not found any one who can cut up the gas bottles to make fireboxes despite numerous enquiries. I do however live in hope, the grill has not been cleaned on account of when the weather has been good I have been somewhere else like work and although the designs for the spit roaster are completed work has still not started on it yet. The spit roast was supposed to be up and running and in test mode by this coming Sunday, however it will be a few short weeks late but nevertheless it will still be built in time to enjoy the best of the coming summer.

Despite or perhaps in spite of the inclement weather and lack of opportunities I have spent some time watching various cookery programmes mainly hosted by so called celebrity chefs. There is such a glut of them although I do have some favourites. I particularly like Hugh Fernley Whittingstall and Rick Stein. These are such laid back characters that I reckon you could spend a quiet afternoon with and learn a lot. Then there is St Delia herself and the absolutely Gorgeus Nigella Lawson, The Domestic Goddess, who cares what she cooks! Along with Jamie and a few others though they all have one thing in common and that is a love of fresh ingredients. They all seem to spend hours at Farmers markets or butchers where you can buy pheasant with or without the feathers and speciality wild boar sausages. Its all a world apart from where I live. There are no farmers markets anymore and even the local market gardens have become trendy garden centres that no longer sell fresh produce.

Not only do I not have the time to search for the same ingredients they do, I am reliant on supermarkets that have dominated my shopping habits for the last 20 years or so. The butcher at the local Tesco looked horrified and then amazed when I asked him if he could get in a whole pig because I wanted to spit roast one. It goes beyond availability, for instance I have tried to be green and not buy things in packages that cannot either be recycled or are superfluous to requirements but its difficult to buy mushrooms that are not prepacked in plastic cartons any more. It almost the same with vegetables, the’re all prewrapped in cellophane. If the government really want us to be green why dont they ban the sale of anything that cannot be recycled? Its all very well saying that shopping revolutions are consumer led but if you can only buy what the shop sells then what choice do you have? I used to use a lot of charcoal years ago until I heard that a lot of forests are being cut down to supply the western appetite for cooking outdoors and so I moved onto a gas grill to stop trees being cut down from unsustainable forests. Some quarters accused me of using a “cheating barbecue” and for being lazy but that is not so. It was about the same time I read about the effects of methane on the ozone layer. Huge swathes of forest in South America are being cut down to provide grazing land for cattle so they can be turned into burgers for McDonalds. We lose the the lungs of the trees and gain the methane emitted by all those extra cattle which is truly staggering. ( Cows fart a lot and I mean a lot)

I suppose that is why the spit and the smoker are being made from recycled material and the fuel to power them will provided from sustainable woods and copses where the trees are managed. This is why I did not walked into a fabrication shop and asked for something custom built. I want to make it myself out of materials that I have acquired or would have otherwise gone into a landfill. I have only just begun to realise how serious about this I am becoming.

Cute and Cuddly in Shangrila!

After being in such a good mood on Friday evening I set about with gusto my exercise programme on the Saturday morning just after I had managed to obtain tickets to see Rush at the MEN in October. Full of enthusiasm I set about honing this lumpen body into the Lean Mean Knobbing machine of my desires. The first few sit ups were quite easy and painless so I did a few more, I mean how hard can this be? After a third set I began to feel a slight twinge in my abdomen but after all no pain no gain right? After a final fourth set and a positive glow in my stomach muscles I decided to call it a day. The day sorta came and went with various friends passing by and I eventually went to bed feeling quite pleased with myself. It was shortly after I had retired that it became obvious something was not right. It was impossible for me to lay in bed in any position for more than a few moments before the most excrutiating pains hit me. I spent some time in the bathroom retching and then tried to sleep but could not. talk about feel the burn I was ready to call out the damn fire brigade, my stomach was on fire. It was about 9am when I finally managed to drift off only to wake a few hours later completely unable to move. I stayed there until 7am on the Monday morning.

Monday was a bit of a blur as all I could concentrate on was the pain in my stomach. By 9pm I had had enough and hit the painkillers and various bits and pieces out of my extensive medical cabinet. Washing these down with a Cider or two made all the pains go and by midnight I actually began to feel more like my old self, however I was now wide awake. I decided there and then that the Lean Mean Knobbing machine would have to wait and for now it would be Cute and Cuddly Knobbing machine! During this period of reflection I started watching a programme about finding Middle England.

We have all heard of Middle England, the tabloid press tell us everyday about Middle England and it’s Middle Englanders. Just the phrase Middle England has me thinking of some quiet sleepy little Hamlet in the shires with a postcard duck pond complete with obligatory ducks flapping about a couple of geese stopping over and maybe a swan or two swimmingly serenely by. Just by the duck pond is a well maintained bowling green where ladies and gentlemen can be seen dressed in immaculately creased whites and well blancoed plimsolls with nothing more than the “Clack” of woods gently cannoning into each other to disturb the peace. In the distance can be heard the sound of leather crashing off willow and the occasionaly shout of “four” and gentle applause from the cricket ground. Not to be outdone is the even more genteel sound of wooden balls being gently tapped by wooden mallets on the croquet lawn.

Sandwhiched in between “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe” and the “Food Emporium” is the very heart of Middle England, The Public House, invariably named after some king or animals head but always containing chaps quaffing pints of the landlords best foaming beer and ladies straight from the womens institute with their glasses of sherry or a Pimms no 1 cocktail. There is always a fleet of Morgans in the car park supplemented by the odd Bently or two and maybe the occasional vintage Roller. Nothing so common or tasteless as a Ferrari or BMW or one of those modern post 1962 Rollers which are so vulgar even pop stars and heaven fordid lottery winners buy them.

No, in Middle England you wont find a shell suit or a copy of the Daily Star, there are no stretch limo’s or the like with blacked out windows and definitely no Bargain Booze or Drugstore. Turns out this place which is predominantly Anglo Saxon does not actually exist other than in the minds of people who yearn for a distorted view of the past. It is of course a charade kept up by the press and government to pigeon whole a section of society and is predominantly used to characterise the middle classes. It is often used as a derogatory term for people who actually like to work for a living and abhore the shame of an asbo instead of wearing them like a badge of honour and sell crack on street corners. Its a pity really because it sounds like a really nice place to me. Something akin to Shangrila, you know its there you just dont know where but you hope to find it one day.