Trapped in a Lock Down Beverage Routine

These days of Lock Down Three are passing by in a blur, each one much the same as the last until suddenly it is Friday and bin day! I stumble into wakefulness every morning remembering I am still in the same place and I yearn for the thrill of lying in our campervan thinking about where we are and where we are going next and opening the blinds to check the weather. But even in our Blue Bus we have a routine and my day always begins with a mug of tea. This first cup of tea, a mixture of Assam and Earl Grey, is the best of the day and is usually followed by a second over breakfast.

In non-lockdown times, after those two beverages, my day in drinking could go anywhere, depending on where we are and what we were doing. But after 12 months of mostly being stuck at home I have become someone I never thought I would, I am stuck in a routine [or rut] that, on closer inspection, revolves around drinks.

At home the morning trundles on and we brew coffee at around 10.30 [or, to mix things up, visit Morecambe’s wonderful Stone Jetty Cafe at the weekend], have a glass of water with lunch and sup a post-lunch digestive of peppermint and licorice tea from Teapigs. By about 17.00 we are ready for our day’s last mug of tea and a lockdown routine has become enjoying this with a piece of homemade cake. Later we’ll share a bottle of beer, have a glass of wine, a gin and tonic OR a small glass of Spanish Vermut, unless it is a no-alcohol day [about twice a week] when we have to make do with water. Our last drink of the day is in the evening when I have a soothing Barleycup and my less-susceptible-to-caffeine partner has another coffee. We fit local walks, gardening, reading and TV viewing around all this liquid refreshment.

Will breaking out of this routine when we can travel again be a shock to my hydration system? For a day in the hills or cycling we mostly carry just water, taking plenty of it for regular drinks stops. If it is cold I find it comforting to stick a flask with a hot drink in the rucksack for one of our pauses. If we’re in a town or village, part of the joy of travelling is also discovering something new and different; maybe a decadent hot chocolate in a cafe or a lunchtime local beer sitting outside a bar. Relaxing outside the campervan with a mug of tea or a glass of good red wine can’t be beaten and, more than once, a fellow camper has strolled over and shared a favourite liqueur with us.

I don’t like getting a peek of myself becoming this creature of habit, she isn’t a familiar figure and she doesn’t sit comfortably alongside me. But, it seems, this is what I have become in these Covid-19 times. Niggling in the back of my mind is an anxiety that I might never rediscover my previous spontaneous personality. Will I suffer withdrawal symptoms if I don’t have my morning coffee or afternoon peppermint tea? I don’t think this foreboding about the future is mine alone. I sense that we all feel we have changed in the last 12 months and many of us are not sure how we will occupy the new world. Some of our transformations might be for the good but some of us may emerge more apprehensive and guarded.

Bringing Staffordshire to Lancashire

In normal BC [Before Coronavirus] times we would make regular trips to Leek in Staffordshire, partly to visit family but also to stock up on the culinary delight that is as essential to anyone brought up in north Staffordshire as fresh air. This is, of course, the Staffordshire oatcake.

In Leek there is still a small shop that is mostly oatcakes. These oatcakes are soft but substantial, they are full of the taste of oats and are perfect rolled around some melted cheese for a warming lunch. Oatcakes freeze well and we will always come back from a trip to Leek with enough oatcakes to fill our small freezer. You can occasionally buy something called Staffordshire oatcakes in the supermarket but these lacey and flimsy things are just a hopeless substitute for the real thing.

Of course, in these days of Lock Down Three, a trip to Leek for oatcakes in no way counts as an essential trip, whatever my stomach might think! My dad kindly suggested posting me some but that seemed an extravagance for such an inexpensive but bulky and weighty item. The only option was to bring Staffordshire to Lancashire and make our own.

I did make Staffordshire oatcakes many years ago and we both remembered something tasty but thick and chewy. This time I used our heavy cast iron frying pan that fries pretty much everything beautifully and worked hard to get a batter that was just the right consistency to spread around the pan.

Ingredients for 5 or 6 oatcakes (depending on how thin you get them)

150g oats – whizzed in a nut grinder or food processor for a short while until they are finer

150g flour – use either white or white and wholemeal mixed

7g dried yeast

1 teaspoon sugar and salt to taste

300ml milk (I used soya milk)

300 ml water (boiled and cooled)

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Add the cold milk to warm water, you want a temperature that it isn’t too hot to put your fingers in. Whisk the milk and water into the dry ingredients. The batter should be fairly runny. Cover the bowl and leave this in a warm place to bubble up for about an hour.

After an hour or so the batter will be frothy and before cooking you should give it a stir. I added a little more water at this point so that it was a thick pouring consistency (like thin porridge). In a good thick-bottomed frying pan, melt a knob of butter or margarine and swirl this around to cover the pan. I use a soup ladle to measure out the oatcake batter and about two ladles worked well for one oatcake. Ladle the mixture into the frying pan and, if it doesn’t spread out itself, carefully spread it around the pan with a knife [I use a long baking palette knife] so that your oatcake isn’t too thick. You will notice the mixture that is in contact with the pan will cook quickly but you have time to move the runny / uncooked mixture sitting on the top to the edges. After two to three minutes, turn the oatcake over to cook the other side (you can check it is cooked by peeking).

Once both sides are cooked, place the oatcake to one side and cook the next until all your batter is used up.

We like to enjoy our oatcakes with cheese. If you are going to eat your oatcakes as soon as you have cooked them [and who can blame you] simply put your favourite cheese [grated or sliced] along the centre third of each oatcake, roll it up and keep them warm in the oven until you have cooked them all.

If you are working with cold oatcakes, then you can warm them in the oven or under the grill. Add the cheese as above and for the oven roll them up, place on a baking sheet and warm for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted. Under the grill, leave the oatcakes open and grill them for about five minutes and then roll up and eat. A dollop of your favourite brown or tomato sauce on the side compliments this simple dish and you can spice it up by adding tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, gherkins or pickle [or all of these and more] to the cheese.

Some people eat oatcakes with a full English cooked breakfast and others eat them with sweet fillings but this latter combo has never been tried in our house or in any of our families houses!

Jägermeister & our Campervan: A Story of Christmas Generosity & Love

There are essentials food [?] items we always carry in our campervan; some bottles of red wine, Scottish oatcakes, Bahlsen Pick Ups, a jar of good pesto and pasta and in the fridge there is always a green square bottle of Jägermeister. This tradition began many years ago after a tour of Eastern Europe. As we travelled through different countries we bought and tasted local herbal liqueurs. The first was a homemade firewater a campsite owner generously shared while we watched the Champions League final in southern Germany. From there we moved through mysterious explosive Hungarian beverages and onto the medicinal yet ambrosial Becherovka from Karlovy Vary.

With practice, we acquired a taste for these liqueurs that remind me of having a spoonful of Venos cough medicine in childhood but with an added kick. As Jägermeister is the most easily available liqueur in the UK, it has become a permanent part of our campervan kit. Today we have even added two dark green Jägermeister shot glasses to our ritual.

Jägermeister have been producing their herbal liqueur since 1878. The result of a family vinegar business branching out, this unique drink made from 56 botanicals and with an ABV of 35% is created in Wolfenbüttel in Germany and in the UK is now widely available thanks to Jägerbombs where Jägermeister is added to an energy drink.

It was seven years ago that I discovered that Melchior produced Jägermeister chocolates while browsing the internet for gifts. They were expensive but we were lucky to receive a box as a Christmas present. They were so rich and scrumptious we have included them on our present list to our son ever since but never had them again.

A strange choice for two vegetarians?

Jägermeister comes in a distinctive dark green bottle that is designed to be sturdy enough to survive being dropped and can fit in a large pocket of a hunting jacket. Jägermeister means master of the hunt, so the drink is an interesting choice for two vegetarians who are anti-hunting. The story goes that the logo comes from the legend of Saint Hubertus. Hubertus was a hunter but one night had a vision of a stag with a glowing cross between its antlers. This vision had a big effect on Hubertus and he became an advocate for a greater respect for nature and the story was chosen as the Jägermeister logo. I like to hang onto the respect for nature aspect of the legend and the almost unbreakable bottle is also perfect for a bumpy ride in a Blue Bus.

We have another connection with Jägermeister. My father-in-law was in the British Army and was stationed in Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony in Germany for some years and my partner lived there. We have visited the lovely town since and retain an emotional connection with Wolfenbüttel and its famous distillery.

The Christmas Spirit

Unbeknown to us, Melchior stopped making the boxes of Jägermeister chocolates some years ago. In ignorance, we continued to put it on our wish list. This year our son and daughter-in-law generously rose to the challenge of our Christmas gift list and decided to make their own. The internet is full of Jägermeister truffle recipes and so, with no experience of chocolate making, they piled in with the optimism of youth and created some simply gorgeous chocolates that were all the more mouthwatering because they were made with love for two demanding parents!

However much longer I live on this planet, I don’t think I will be able to say thank you enough times to them for indulging my taste buds and making my heart sing and my waistline bulge with this very special gift.

Vegan Apple & Blueberry Cake

This is a perfect cake for damp autumn afternoons. I have been experimenting with this recipe for a few weeks now, trying to make a cake that isn’t too sweet but is tasty. This means we have munched our way through some delicious but slightly fragile versions of this cake until I managed to get the ratios right so that we had something with enough robustness to be picked up. Here is the recipe I am sticking with …

Recipe

  • 90 g of brown sugar
  • 100 g of margarine melted & cooled
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 50 ml of milk [I use soya milk]
  • Half of a 270 g jar of apple sauce [I use Lidl]
  • 150 – 200 g of blueberries
  • 190 g of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or mixed spice

Optional topping – 1 teaspoon of brown sugar with a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple juice and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or mixed spice

Method – Put the blueberries in a small bowl and mix with 20 g of the brown sugar. In a large bowl beat the cooled melted margarine with the remaining 70 g of the sugar.

Add the vanilla essence, milk and apple sauce to the bowl and mix well.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon or mixed spice and fold into the wet ingredients.

Carefully mix the sugar-coated blueberries into the cake mixture.

Grease your baking tin. I use a 6″ square tin but have tried muffin tins and loaf tins too.

I bake in the Remoska for about 40 – 45 minutes. Otherwise, bake at 180C [gas mark 4] for about 45 minutes or longer, depending on your oven and the tin you have used. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is cooked and your kitchen will smell warm and inviting!

Cool in the tin and while it is still warm you can coat the top with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon / mixed spice and juice for a slightly crunchy sweet topping.

A poor substitute for a Cambodian takeaway with friends

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I was stupid to make plans really in these DC [during coronavirus] months [maybe years] but I did.  We have two old friends who live on the rural edge of Greater Manchester.  We have known one of them since school and met his partner in the mid-1980s; we go back a long way and have few secrets from them.  In those carefree BC [before coronavirus] days we would normally see them every six weeks or so for a wild night out in Manchester city centre and spend at least one holiday a year with them.  These are  not normal times and we have only seen them via a laptop screen since the end of January … it isn’t the same.

As restrictions eased, we arranged to meet up at their house for a takeaway.  We decided on their local Cambodian and had even spent ages going through the menu and ordered our meals.  The it was announced on Twitter that Greater Manchester was off limits!

The disappointment of not having an evening laughing with these friends is hard to put into words, a week later I am still choked up about it.  We had nothing planned for an evening meal at home as we thought we would be enjoying a delicious Cambodian meal, so a quick trip to the supermarket and a Zoom meeting booked with our friends we had a go at making the best of the spoilt evening.  Here’s what we ate:

Substitute Cambodian stir fry – for two

Spicy peanut sauce

  • I onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 chilli pepper

I blitzed these with a little water in our mini food processor.

In a pan with a little vegetable oil I gently fried:

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice

Then added the onion / tomato mixture and two tablespoons of peanut butter.  I added more water to make the sauce consistency I wanted and seasoned to our taste and kept this warm.  You can make this in advance.

Fried tofu

I unwrapped a 225 g pack of smoked tofu [any tofu will be fine] squeezed some of the liquid out of it and cut it into 1 cm cubes.  I coated these in flour mixed with salt and pepper and shallow fried them in vegetable oil until they were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

Stir fry vegetables

  • Green beans – we had some cooked ones left over
  • 1 pepper cut into thin strips
  • About 2/3 rds of a bag of beansprouts
  • 1/2 stick of celery cut into thin batons
  • Bag of Singapore style rice noodles [From Sainsburys these are already in a curry paste and red chilli dressing]

In a wok, I stir fried the pepper and celery quickly in a small amount of vegetable oil, adding the green beans, beansprouts and noodles at the end.

I mixed the tofu with the stir fried vegetables and served with the sauce poured over.  It tasted great but would have been so much better with good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

More Campervan Comfort Food: Fennel & Cream with pasta [vegan or veggie]

Fennel and cream (2)

You return to your campervan after a long walk on a cold or wet day and what you need is something warming to eat that only takes 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.  In our Blue Bus, pasta is a great go-to dish for these evenings.

I love the taste of fennel but I wonder if it isn’t so popular in the UK.  I bought some in our local supermarket recently and the cashier didn’t even know what it was and when I asked admitted he had never eaten it.  For me, fennel brings back memories of Italy and the beautiful food that country produces.  I also love the fresh spicy liquorice taste and the crunchy texture.  You might read that it is good for you but don’t let that put you off, it just tastes great.

This dish can be vegetarian or vegan, depending on your own preference.  If you don’t like fennel you could use asparagus, broccoli spears or courgettes in this recipe too, they all also cook quicker than you can pour a couple of glasses of wine!

Fennel & Cream with pasta [for two]

  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 3 or 4 spring onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 200 – 300 ml of sour cream or vegan cream, grated
  • 100 gm or so of cheese [I used half a packet of vegan Greek white cheese I had in the fridge but anything will do]

Wash and then slice the fennel thinly [I use pretty much all of it, including the outer bulb, the stalk and leaves – just cutting out the hard inner core].

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan [or your Ridgemonkey grill] and add the fennel.  Stir and cook until the fennel is softened.

Meanwhile put your favourite pasta on to boil as this is fast food.

Add the spring onion, black pepper and garlic to the fennel and stir. then add the cream and warm through.

Finally add the cheese and then season [with the cheese you probably won’t need any salt].

When your pasta is cooked, drain and add to the creamy mixture, stir in well and serve.

After a long day walking I would serve this up with a bunch of rocket if we had it and a glass of red wine [we always have this].

 

 

 

 

 

Courgette & Green Bean Stew with Lemon & Olives: Enjoying Outdoor Campervan Cooking with a Summer Stew

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The sun is shining, there is hardly any breeze. It is too hot to slave over the campervan hob.  On these evenings I always move outside to cook.  We don’t travel with a BBQ but have a portable electric hob that can be used outdoors.  In the Yorkshire Dales recently, it was exactly one of those evenings. We were camping at Howgill Lodge campsite which has one of the best views this side of Scotland and I jumped at the chance to sit at one of the many picnic benches the campsite provides and chop my veg.

This fresh summer stew can be made in one pot and uses vegetables that are in season.  We had a beer to help us along while we cooked.

To conjure up a summer vegetable stew for four, I chopped up:

  • One red onion finely
  • 500 gm new potatoes, cubed
  • One courgette into cubes
  • One pack of green beans (200 – 300 gms) trimmed and cut into approximately 4 cm lengths
  • Garlic
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • Small bunch of fresh dill
  • 100 gm of pitted green olives [my favourites are Sainsbury’s pitted queen olives] cut in half

I also had:

  • 500 gm of good tomato passata [you can use tinned tomatoes]
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

In a large saucepan, I heated the olive oil gently and added the onion, cooking until soft. I added the garlic, pinch of salt, black pepper and paprika and stirred and then the potatoes and courgettes, coated them in the oil and cooked for one minute before adding the tomatoes and a little water [about 125 ml].  Put the lid on, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so, you can sit back and relax for a while until the potatoes are softening.

Checking in with the cooking again, add the cut beans to the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the beans are tender.  Stir in the dill and parsley, olives and lemon juice.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you.

This is a delicious and hearty meal served with some crusty bread and either a simple green salad or a Greek salad with feta cheese.

Asparagus cooking in a campervan

As a child I’d never even heard of asparagus let alone tried it.  Something as exotic as asparagus never reached a small Staffordshire village in the 1970s!  It took owning a campervan to encounter this wonderful vegetable.  Back in 2007 we took our new Devon Sundowner across Germany and to Poland.  It was late May and early June and driving through Germany we couldn’t miss the fields of asparagus and the roadside asparagus stalls.

Trying a new food can be daunting but I like to give things a go.  At a farmer’s market in Hamelin I found a stall selling asparagus and decided to take the plunge. Not really  knowing what was the right amount to buy and not knowing how to ask for half a kilo let alone a quarter in German, I came away with a kilo of green asparagus!  We lived like kings, eating asparagus for three nights running and I quickly learnt different ways to cook it, adding it to risotto, flash-frying it in butter and roasting it.  My love affair with this vegetable had begun.  In Germany that year we tried white asparagus as well as green, which is grown beneath the soil.

Nowadays I can’t wait for May when the short asparagus season begins.  Our first asparagus-based meal this year was a simple pasta dish. The asparagus was flash-fried in olive oil with garlic and black pepper in my RidgeMonkey grill pan and served with cooked pasta, sprinkled with some grated hard Italian cheese.  We had a bottle of tasty Scottish beer to wash it down. What a Spring-time treat!

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.

 

 

 

Here’s why Making your own Bread is Tasty & Frugal

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I have baked my own bread for a long time, mainly at home, although in the campervan I occasionally knock up some pitta bread.  I became a bread maker in the days when we lived in a semi-detached house with a good-sized kitchen and I had room to leave a worktop covered in flour for a few hours while the dough proved.  When we moved to our flat I still wanted fresh homemade bread but there was hardly enough space for kneading dough on the worktops of our tiny kitchen.  We don’t have a good bakery nearby and shop-bought bread was so awful, buying a compact bread maker was an option that has worked well for us.

We have owned our Morphy Richards compact bread maker for nine years now.  We have had to buy a new pan and paddle over the years but it has given good service, is easy to use and makes affordable fresh and tasty bread that we love.  I particularly like knowing exactly what has gone in to our bread and just love the smell of bread baking.

We use the bread maker two or three times a week while we are at home.  I would estimate before we retired we used it around 100 times a year and now we are away on campervan trips more we use it around 70 times a year.  In nine years that is a lot of bread-making cycles!

WHAT DOES MAKING BREAD AT HOME COST?

  • Morphy Richards compact bread maker £46.50
  • Replacement bread pan £25.99
  • Replacement kneading paddle £8.99
  • TOTAL £81.48 [£9.05 per year / approx £0.10 per use]

BREAD INGREDIENTS [for one loaf]

  • 500 gms of mixed strong white and wholemeal flour £0.28
  • Allinsons Easy Bake Yeast £0.08
  • Olive oil, salt and water cost pennies
  • Electricity approximately £0.12
  • TOTAL INGREDIENTS [for one loaf] £0.48

These calculations are rough and ready [our bread maker might last a few more years for a start] but show that the cost of a loaf and the bread maker over nine years comes to around £0.60.  While you can get a sliced white loaf in a supermarket for around this price, the taste of this is no match for homemade bread.  Buying a good loaf from a bakery would cost much more, so a frugal and tasty win!