Food, food food. You know when the weather is so cold for Christmas week, and you just stay in and cook, well the weather was balmy, still I stayed in and cooked. It was an especially feastive week. Almost by accident, really.
For a change, I ordered a haunch of wild boar for Christmas lunch. It arrived in time, but it was the wrong order. Instead of a small haunch, we had a huge leg of wild boar. Not only that, a wild boar rib as well. The supplier wouldn't accept my offer to pay the difference. "Don't be silly", said Keiran, in his disarming Irish accent. So for four of us, we had a roast that would feed about 20. Marinaded in cider and slow-roasted, it was very tasty, quite strong, and went wonderfully with the turkey and bread sauce. A winner. But cold, it was the turkey that got gobbled up with lettuce and mayonnaise, the boar not quite tender enough, a little too tasty. It sat in the fridge accusingly. Eventually I cracked, and started again. The boar was cut up into big chunks. Then it was the usual drill: lardons, onions, garlic, two tins of cannellini beans, cup of red wine, stock cube - I think I used beef. And then bubbled gently for an hour. I wouldn't go on about left-overs, except it was possibly the best meal of the week! Melting and divine we had enough left over to freeze for another blow-out. I say possibly the best meal, because it didn't stop there.
Chestnuts. They were fat and fresh at our local shop, shiny next to the mistletoe. We roasted them, peeled them rather laboriously, and made a chestnut soup. Oh dear heaven. It was heaven. The chestnuts were maybe a little too toasted with dark edges - most recipes recommend getting 400g of chestnuts vacuum packed, all uniform and creamy in colour. Sweet and nutty, we struggled not to eat them all up. It's made in just the usual soup way, onions, carrot and celery fried in a bit of butter, then chopped and peeled potato and the chestnuts, boiled in a litre of stock for 30 minutes, then swizzed till a cream. Then served with a swirl of real cream (it being a Christmas larder) on top. Good enough to well, eat and eat and eat. No need for a second course.
We've had a single lobster in the freezer ever since out trip to the Isle of Wight in the summer. I saw my first ever red squirrel there - squashed in the road. But for all that, it's a lovely olde worlde place, the Isle of Wight, with fresh crab and lobster on every cobbled street corner. Lobster Newburg is a simple recipe with lots of cream, sherry, brandy, and paprika, all reduced, then stirred into the cooked lobster and served on rice. A rare treat. My most favourite ever lobster, though, was eaten years ago at a crumbling little ferry port in Nova Scotia in a rickety wooden caff. With the wild Bay of Fundy and roaring gales outside, here they served Lobster Newburg up like a snack, on toast. Unforgettable.
And for New Year's Eve, also up there, a humble chicken. Not all that humble, though. It was Jamie's Empire Chicken. This took quite a bit of preparing, marinading, then roasting on a rack, and it was great fun. The marinade goes like this: garlic, ginger, chilli, all crushed together, lemon, yoghurt, masala, cumin, coriander and turmeric, oh god, the whole bang shoot. Slash the legs to the bone then smother the whole chicken in it, inside and out. Then overnight in the fridge, I think I would turn it over a couple of times - the chilli seemed to settle at the bottom of the bird. Put the boiled lemon from the potatoes inside, and in for a slow-roast (I deviated just a bit there) on a low rack in the oven with the roasting pan below. The roasting pan has the gravy and theoretically, the juices drip from the chicken. You chop three onions, and fry them up with cinnamon and cloves in the pan, add vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, stir in some flour and half a litre of chicken stock. And that makes the gravy, theoretically, as I say. At the end of cooking you just strain into a jug. Mine ended up a rather aromatic black tar which took two days soaking to get off.
It didn't need the gravy. It barely needed anything else. But we soldiered on and did it with Jamie's Bombay potatoes. These you boil up with lemon till just cooked, then roast them in a fry-up of cumin, turmeric, garlic, black mustard seeds, de-seeded chilli, tomatoes and (whew, I did all this?) oil and butter. I may not bother with the potatoes again, but the next time I want to impress, this chicken is exactly what I will do.
I live in the centre of the universe - well for two weeks of the year anyway. Everyone knows where Wimbledon is, but most of the year it is just another leafy London suburb. I started out though, in the far reaches of the empire, on the sultry eastern coast of southern Africa.
Join me at my table and share my passion for food, my woodland garden, and my travels - and the joy of being an African soul in the heart of England.