Sunday, 1 January 2017

January 2016: play!


I don’t think I have played since I was 14, apart from the odd reluctant game of badminton with my brothers, or mikado with the kids. I was too serious. I only did useful things, and if I relaxed it was always with a book. 
These days, playing often means computer games or, worse, the lottery.
How did children spend their days before the advent of commercial entertainment? They played - with sticks and stones, bits of paper, dirt, or just each other. Playing was enjoyable or serious; it might end, maybe, in winning or losing, but a lot of it was fun. And often but not always, relaxing. 
I don’t think it’s only me who had forgotten how to do that. 

Playing in the way I mean, is done light of heart, light of foot and light of purse. The higher the financial stakes, the less properly playful the game becomes

We also need plenty of time to do it in. 
Have we got that time? 
Could we not swop a bit of tv watching or ‘doing things on the computer’, for a card game? 

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” 
Any time you think play is a waste, remember that it offers some serious benefits both for you and for  others. Brown says in his book, “Play is the purest expression of love.” [1]
Moreover, if you play as a family, the benefits for the children are endless. [2]
It’s fun, cheap and - though I hate the sound of this - good for their development. It teaches them to count, to lose and to get on with people. It teaches us to get on with our kids, no batteries involved. No going places. No snacking, or not necessarily.
Of course, if you are bad loser it’s not quite so pleasant, but maybe all the more useful.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

What does all this have to do with food? Nothing whatsoever. Although, maybe you can spend some of the money saved on computer software or dvds, on quality food? Organic (yum!) vegetables, nuts instead of crisps, for example? Just saying ……

And by the way: don't believe everything they tell you, at least not where big money is involved ....
To see a short article in The Week (USA), click on the right hand side of this page: "the dark side of clinical trials".

To sow/plant:
if the weather is suitable: early peas, broad beans. Apple trees, if it's not too cold and the ground is not waterlogged or frozen.
And keep weeding - they don’t stop growing just because it’s winter! You’ll be glad you did it when you’re busy in spring. 

To eat:
Veg: beet, broccoli, brussels, cabbage, carrots, chard, celeriac, kale, cavolo nero, leek, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, rocket, spinach, swede, turnip, jerusalem artichoke, chicory, celery, corn salad, endive, kohlrabi, salsify, winter purslane.
Fish: bib, cockles, crab, dab, flounder, lobster, mackerel, oysters, pollack, scallops, seabass, whiting.
Meat: game is bountiful, cheap and good for you. This is the time to buy - or catch! - it. 


3 beetroot, ¼ pumpkin/squash, 2 carrots, yoghurt (or cream and lemon juice), 2 garlic cloves, ginger, oil, butter, seasoning. Spices such as mustard, cumin, fennel and/or coriander seeds. 
Chop veg, garlic and a small knob of ginger. Heat oil/butter and fry garlic and ginger for half a minute. Add spices and cook for a minute longer to release their flavour. Add veg and sauté gently for some more mins., stirring regularly. Bring to the boil with enough liquid to cover them and simmer till soft. Blend, check seasoning. You may need to add more liquid. Serve with double cream and lemon juice, or a spoonful of yoghurt.

If you make this the day before, the meat will be lovely and tender from having sat in the tomato sauce overnight.
400g chopped mutton (or lamb), 1-2 onions, 2 tblsp flour, 1 tsp paprika, 3-4 garlic cloves, tin of tomatoes, ¼ tsp mace, 1 tsp coriander powder, ¼ tsp nutmeg, (half a cinnamon stick if you like it), olive oil and butter, 1 tsp salt, pepper.
Mix together flour, paprika, pepper and salt. Coat the mutton pieces with it. Heat some oil and fry till they are golden brown. Heat more oil in another pan and melt butter into it. Add onions and crushed garlic. When the onions start to turn golden brown, add mace and nutmeg. After 1 minute add the tomatoes, (cinnamon) and the mutton. Let it simmer for 30 mins on a low flame, stirring every so often. If necessary, add some water. Serve when meat is tender. 

250g shredded cavolo nero (weighed after taking out the ribs), 140g mature cheese, 1 large or 2 small cooking apples, 1 diced red onion, 200g cooked cannellini* beans or a 410g tin beans, drained; ginger, cayenne pepper. 
Cut cheese into small cubes. Steam or cook cavolo for 5 mins, drain. Meanwhile, fry onion, sliced apple, beans and spices for a few minutes. Add cavolo nero and season. Stir fry till done to your liking.
You can add some sliced cooked potatoes to the frying pan, to make it a full meal. 
*Can be replaced with navy beans, flageolets or any white beans.

Use sprouts that are on the small side and tightly closed. I finished them off with toasted hazelnuts - delicious! 
24 small brussels' sprouts, 1 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil plus more for rubbing, sea salt, black pepper, 60ml grated cheese. 
Trim sprouts, cut in half from stem to top, toss in olive oil. Heat 1 tblsp oil. Don't overheat, or their outside will cook too quickly. Put sprouts in the pan flat side down, single layer. Sprinkle with 2 pinches of salt, cover, cook for 5 mins. The bottoms should only show a hint of browning. Taste one to gauge whether they are tender throughout. If not, cover and cook a little bit longer, Once they're just tender, turn up the heat and cook until the flat sides are deep brown and caramelized. Stir once or twice to get some browning on the rounded side as well. Season more, add cheese and eat asap! 

½ large cabbage, a large nice cooking apple, 1 tblsp butter, small onion, ¼ tsp salt.
Chop everything but keep separate. Melt butter, add the onion. When it starts to soften add the cabbage. Cover, turn down the heat slightly and sauté, stirring a couple of times. After ab. 8 mins add apple, stir. Cook 5 mins, stirring every so often, season. The cabbage should be crisp and tender, the apple soft.

40g chopped kale, 20g thinly sliced leek, 30g cubed Brie, 3 large eggs, butter, salt, pepper.
Sauté leeks and kale, covered. Stir occasionally. Beat eggs with a fork, season. If necessary, add a little bit of water. When leeks and kale are done to your liking, maybe after 3 or 10 mins., stir in the egg mass. Once the egg is almost done, with just a little bit still raw on top, sprinkle the brie around one half of the egg, fold double, cover and leave to sit for 3 mins.

700g whiting fillet*, about 200g cleaned kale, chard, spring greens or the like, 120ml dry white wine (or water), 1-2 minced cloves of garlic, 3 tbsp butter/extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Discard the thick kale stems. Wash and shake dry, letting some water cling to leaves. Cut across the nerves, strips about 2 cm wide. Put wine, garlic, half the butter, salt and pepper in a deep pan with a lid. When it boils add the kale. Cover and cook, checking that it does not dry out, until the greens are just tender, about 10 mins. Put fish on top, season and dot with remaining butter. Re-cover, and cook until the fish is done and the greens fully tender, 5-10 mins.
*Other sustainable white fish are dab, pouting, coley, megrim, grouper, flounder, gurnard or bream.

Cook any roots (celeriac, parsnips, swede) until tender. Drain, mash together with plenty of butter, salt and pepper. You can add herbs or spices to the roots when cooking, and creme fraîche/sour cream instead of butter afterwards.