GETTING YOUR FIVE-A-DAY IN CORNWALL

When you are on holiday in a place like Cornwall you are probably spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly being a bit energetic – walking, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, following wife and daughter on Poldark hunt etc. So hearty sustenance is important. Happily, there is no problem getting your five-a-day in Cornwall. Here’s how:-
1. CORNISH PASTY. The jewel in the Cornish culinary crown. For those not in the know, a Cornish pasty is basically a beef steak and potato pie (with onions, swede and seasoning thrown in) but made in a distinctive semi-circular shape with the pastry forming a thick crust round the curved edge of the pasty. The pasty was the traditional lunch of the Cornish tin miner and legend has it that the distinctive thick crust was used for holding by the miners’ dirty fingers, then discarded after the rest of the pasty had been devoured. Unlike tin mining (now extinct), pasty shops are everywhere in Cornwall selling both the traditional steak and more exotic varieties (often with a curry or vegetarian vibe). And good value, they are too – about £4 for a large, hot pasty that will provide enough fuel for an afternoon’s bodyboarding.
Cornish pasty
2. CREAM TEA. Tea rooms and cafés abound in Cornwall and a real afternoon treat is the classic cream tea. A pot of tea, a scone or two (actually it has to be two), strawberry jam and lashings of cool, thick, yellow clotted cream. Ideally, there should be more clotted cream than appears necessary. Having cut your two scones in half, the challenge then is to ladle every last ounce of your excessive amount of clotted cream on to your four halves of scone (before adding some jam). I never have a problem rising to that challenge. The worst crime that can be committed by a tea room/café is not giving you enough clotted cream to provide a 13.5 Tog rated cover for each bit of scone. Laws should be enacted to ensure this can never happen because it can ruin the rest of your day. A real bonus is to arrive at your tea room or café of choice while the scones are fresh out of the oven and still warm (happily this happened to us at the National Trust café at Bedruthan Steps).
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3. ICE CREAM. Dairy is big in Cornwall, hence the clotted cream and more local ice cream makers than you can shake a flake at. The likes of Roskilly’s, Kelly’s, Callestick Farm and Moomaid trip off the tongue …. not to mention the lips and chin on particularly warm days. In the interests of research(!), we visited Roskilly’s farm near St. Keverne on the Lizard peninsula. A homely, tumbledown affair down a typically narrow Cornish country lane, we had a small lunch in the café and no prizes for guessing what we had for dessert. But … have you ever been to a restaurant and instantly regretted your choice of dish? I happen to like coconut ice cream but the only type they had was non-dairy but I still went for it. Why, oh, why did I do that?? That’s ice something but not ice cream. I was on a farm where you can even see the cows being milked and I chose a non-dairy product. Happily, we all had three scoops (and three different flavours), so the excellent, full-fat white chocolate and raspberry ripple and black currant cheesecake saved the day. To be fair, knowing I was having two dollops of proper ice cream did have something to do with the non-dairy choice!
4. FISH. Cornwall is a long thin county surrounded by sea (except for the frontier with Devon and the rest of the UK). Even in the middle of the county you are never far from the sea and an achingly quaint fishing village or harbour, so it’s a great place for traditional fish and chips. A seaside holiday for us typically includes the take-away version of this British classic, usually eaten out of the paper, sitting on a harbour wall or sea front – the romantic notion of fish and chips (let’s ignore fighting off hungry seagulls and tackling a large piece of battered fish with a totally inadequate little wooden fork thing with only two prongs). However on this holiday (we got back home two days ago by the way), it was raining at the time we decided that fish and chips was the thing we needed most in the whole wide world. Fortunately, The Beach Restaurant in St. Ives came to the rescue. The counter on the ground floor selling fresh fish was a good omen and upstairs we sat inside but with an excellent view over the harbour. The haddock and chips did not disappoint –  thick, firm fish, perfect crispy batter and decent chips (to be honest, battered fish is at its crispiest best when eaten straight away rather than after having been wrapped in paper for a take-away). Traditional fish and chips is not the only product of the sea on offer in Cornwall as there is plenty of other fish and shellfish to be had. If you have been to Padstow in recent years, you will know that celebrity chef, Rick Stein, seems to own at least half of the eating establishments in the town and fish is what he is most famous for. And yes, we did do the Rick Stein thing but in one of his pubs in a small village just outside “Padstein”. The menu was not dominated by fish dishes by any means but I went for the Goan fish curry and it was seriously good.
5. CHEESE. More moo juice products from those productive Cornish cows. Cornish Blue is a lovely, mild blue cheese – the chunk we bought did not last long. I even had a Cornish Blue pizza one evening at a pub, sitting outside overlooking a quiet, picturesque creek. If you like blue cheese but find Stilton a bit too strong, then Cornish Blue could be the thing for you. The other Cornish cheese we tried was Cornish Yarg. An intriguing name but not from the depths of ancient Cornish culture. Apparently, a couple called Gray re-discovered the 13th century recipe for this cheese and simply reversed their surname to create a convincingly Cornish-sounding name. The distinguishing feature of this cheese is the edible (but mouldy!) rind made by wrapping the cheese in nettle leaves. Inside, the cheese is a bit Cheddar-like towards the edges, being yellowy and smooth. Towards the middle, it becomes whiter and a tad crumbly – vaguely reminiscent of Wensleydale. At first, it tasted a bit soapy but, as I nibbled at it over the course of a few days, it just got better and better – creamy and delicious. The mouldy nettle rind is a bit of an acquired taste though!
Cornish-Yarg
Cornish Yarg with its distinctive nettle rind!
So there you have it – how to sustain yourself when on holiday in Cornwall. OK, it may not be that healthy, but different rules apply when you’re on holiday, don’t they? To be honest, if you did eat all five of these in one day you may explode. I think the most I had was three in one day.
The choice for number five was not easy. Fudge (made with clotted cream of course) and cider are popular local fare and were possible contenders. However, not a morsel of fudge passed my lips in the whole two week holiday and I only got round to having one bottle of local cider. But what a belter that cider was – Healey’s Oak-Matured Special Edition Cornish Cyder. If the name sounds familiar, yes these cider makers are related to Donald Healey. You can visit their cider farm, not far from Donald’s birthplace Perranporth and they have a small collection of Austin-Healeys on show (I trust they don’t drink and drive!).
Finally, here are a few photos of Cornwall itself. If you are not familiar with the UK – look at a map. Cornwall is the bit sticking out at the bottom left, a bit like a leg and it’s the most popular holiday destination in the UK. Miles of beautiful coastline and loads of old towns and villages. The North coast and South coast have different characters. The North is rugged with rocky cliffs and endless bays with long sandy beaches. Facing the Atlantic, it has a surfing culture and surprisingly warm sea. The South has fewer beaches but numerous peaceful, wooded creeks and a bit of a subtropical feel thanks to the occasional palm tree. We cannot decide whether we prefer the North or South because they both offer something different. So, as we have just done on our most recent Cornish holiday, we usually have a week in each!
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Trevose Head Lighthouse
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Port Isaac which doubles as Portwenn in TV’s Doc Martin
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Kynance Cove. An absolutely stunning beach but only accessible as the tide recedes
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Typical creeky scenery in the South

CORNISH COAST PATH AND THE WORLD’S BEST LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE AT THE REST A WHILE TEA GARDEN

When setting out on a long walk, it’s always a good thing to have a significant objective or reward to look forward to. A tea room voted the third best in Cornwall for the last two years isn’t a bad objective. We didn’t know about the accolades heaped upon this little gem until we got there, so it was quite a find although it’s not actually a tea “room” at all but read on. Things don’t get much better than walking along Cornwall’s rugged north coast in fine weather, drinking in the spectacular scenery and sea air. So, if you happen to find yourself in the Padstow area, try this (almost) six mile walk for yourself and search out the fabulous Rest A While Tea Garden in Hawker’s Cove.

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The clifftops on our walk. We saw Poldark galloping the other way.

We parked in the car park overlooking Trevone beach to the west of Padstow then struck north along the South West Coast Path. Although the walk is “only” six miles, bear in mind that coast paths do tend to go up and down quite a bit and this stretch of the South West Coast Path is no exception. You are however rewarded with wonderful views from the clifftops – looking down into rocky inlets or out across the sea as far as the eye can see. The path takes you up the west side and round the top of a small peninsula to a dramatic headland known as Stepper Point near to which a “daymark” tower was built in the early nineteenth century as a navigational aid for sailors. You also pass a more modern coastguard lookout before heading down the east side of the peninsula into the estuary of the River Camel where a few golden beaches catch the eye.

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The daymark tower as you near Stepper Point.

It’s when heading south alongside the River Camel (still on the South West Coast Path) that you need to keep your eyes open for signs to the Rest A While Tea Garden. The signs direct you up a narrow track past the back gardens of a small row of old coastguard houses. And one of these gardens is the Rest A While Tea Garden, just 50 metres off the main coast path. It is literally someone’s small back garden covered in decking, where orders are placed – and food and drinks served – through the kitchen window! There is no indoor seating (in fact there is not even a back door) so a visit to the Rest A While is weather dependent. There is also (officially) no toilet but if you ask, the staff will send you round to the front of the row of houses and into number 7 where the owner keeps his front door (and loo) open for Rest A While customers.

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View across the Camel estuary from the flowery Rest a While Tea Garden

Our reward for completing the first part of our walk (roughly 3.5 miles from the start) was a light lunch which turned out to be less light than intended. It started out well – my wife and I had tuna mayonnaise jacket potatoes (perfectly cooked, crispy skin, plenty of tuna, two portions of Cornish butter, decent bit of salad with dressing) and my daughter had homemade tomato and basil soup. Then came the cake …. oh boy. The world’s largest slice of chocolate cake (very, very good) and the best lemon drizzle cake I have ever tasted. I have never had warm lemon drizzle cake before but I think that’s what made the difference. That and the incredibly soft, moist sponge. And the plentiful, tangy drizzly stuff with which the cake was laced. And the sea air. And the view.

Cake!
Believe me, the lemon drizzle cake was not small – the chocolate cake was huge!

Suitably fed and watered, we waddled on down the coast path for almost half a mile until coming to a tropical looking, white sandy beach (nearly empty) stretching out to our left – Harbour Cove. Here the coast path turned inland for a couple of hundred yards but when it turned south again, we left it and kept straight on up a track to a parking area. We carried on through the car park and up the track before turning left on to a small road. Looking to the right at this junction, we could see the Lellizzick farm house where they also serve teas – one to try another day! After almost half a mile, the road took a sharp turn to the left but we didn’t. Instead we went straight ahead on to path which took us back to the west side of the peninsula and back to the coast path. Here we turned south and re-traced our steps back to Trevone.

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Beautiful Harbour Cove beach.

Trevone has its own friendly little bay and sandy beach so after a satisfyingly tiring walk, there was only one thing to do – bodyboarding!! Fantastic. Stayed in the water for about an hour doing my impersonation of a twelve year old.

If the Rest A While Tea Garden sounds like your sort of thing then you can also walk there from Padstow. It’s about two and a quarter miles from the north side of the harbour (you could drive but that’s cheating and you won’t have earned your cake). On your way you will pass the Doom Bar, a sand bank created – according to legend – by the lovelorn Mermaid of Padstow to imperil sailors. In modern times, it has given its name to a very popular Cornish ale. This cult beer was created in Rock just across the river from Padstow, where the cask version is still brewed. However, the bottled version has proved so popular that it is now made 270 miles away in Burton-Upon-Trent!

Colin

MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A HAGGIS – POTATO CAKES!

It’s July. Almost six months after Burns Night. I am not Scottish nor do I have any connection with Scotland (other than having been on a few holidays in that very beautiful country). So why am I doing a post about haggis? Because its delicious!! And, because I am not Scottish, that’s an unbiased statement not one born out of blinkered patriotism. You don’t need to be Scottish nor does it need to be Burns Night for you to enjoy it. It makes for a hearty and quick midweek meal which we have several times a year (it only takes a few minutes to heat up in the microwave – don’t bother steaming or oven cooking for hours!).  Even our fussy kids love that dark crumbly meaty, oatmeally goodness spiced up with white pepper and they have eaten it from a very early age (I have to mention, they are now grown up and a lot less fussy).
If you have not tried haggis, please give it a go. Don’t turn your nose up because it has a slightly unattractive name or you are not sure exactly what it is. Now that brings me on to an important point – the animal rights issue. Many people think that haggis are cute, cuddly, furry creatures. They are not. Don’t believe what you see in the picture below(!). They are vermin with nasty little spiky teeth and bad tempers. Haggis breed more profusely than rabbits on Viagra and they are omnivorous, stripping the Scottish Highlands of heather and other flora thus depriving other indigenous fauna of food and habitat. Worse still, their favourite food is the genuinely cuddly and inoffensive sporran. The sporran is now an endangered species. Not only do they fall prey to the ferocious haggis but, of course, their pelts are used as the traditional furry adornment to that most Scottish of garments, the kilt. Scottish weavers claim as many sporran as the horrible little haggis. By the way, did you know you can tell the clan of a Scotsman by what’s in his sporran? A bottle of gin and he’s a Gordon. A tin of soup and he’s a Campbell. And if a Scotsman has two quarter pounders in his sporran, he’s a McDonald. Or is that under his kilt? I’m not sure.
So please eat more haggis and help save a sporran. Traditionally, haggis is eaten with “bashed neeps and tatties” and washed down with Scotland’s national drink, Irn-Bru (usually a special single-girder Irn-Bru, aged in iron casks for 12 years). In practice, I think swedes might be used rather than “neeps” (turnips). If you are not keen on swede, try it mashed with carrots and plenty of butter and black pepper. At home, we have whatever veg we have to hand since we are not bound by tradition. Also, we always have gravy – either homemade onion gravy or leftover gravy from a roast (beef, chicken or pork – all good). I hope I am not offending any Scottish folk. Tip: when you have a roast (including a cheat’s pot roast) or even a beef casserole, always make more gravy/sauce than you need by adding a bit more stock and thickening agent. Then freeze some for another meal e.g. sausage and mash or … haggis and mash!
For some years now I have also thought that left over haggis and mashed potato would make a great potato cake. Mix the potato and haggis together and form into cakes (about the size and shape of a thick hamburger). Then fry on both sides until brown and temptingly crispy.
The problem is we never have left overs! It’s all wolfed down at the first attempt. However, I had my opportunity a few weeks ago when we had a guest so we cooked two haggis and too much mashed tatties. The next day, I cooked the haggis potato cakes as described above for brunch for my son and me. Topped with (very) crispy bacon and a poached egg, they were as yummy as I had hoped.
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Haggis potato cakes – just add brown sauce. Or A1 Steak Sauce in the US if you can get haggis over there. I know the bacon’s a bit, er, crispy. I got distracted by a very cute sporran. My best poached egg ever though.
Colin McColinface

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – MORE VANS, MORE LE MANS AND A MAGICAL GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF

Just vans this week but one of those took me to Le Mans and back for the second time in seven days! I didn’t want to give “my” trusty Peugeot Boxer back after our adventures together:-

Sunday to Tuesday: Peugeot Boxer (very)LWB 2.2 HDi (130hp), Leicester to Le Mans to Leicester to Aston Martin, Gaydon to Rugby where it was bye bye Boxer

Thursday: Fiat Doblo van 1.3TD, West Bromwich to Lewes, East Sussex

Never underestimate a modern vehicle. The prospect of driving almost 200 miles in a dull looking van with a silly name and only a 1248cc engine would be unthinkable to some. And this was a very basic van – no aircon and it had wigglesticks to manually adjust the wing mirrors (which is quite rare these days). But myself and two colleagues all agreed that our Fiat Doblos dobbled along surprisingly well. No problem at all sitting reasonably quietly and comfortably at 70mph on all five motorways between the West Midlands and Lewes on the south coast.  When we collected the Doblos, all three had zero miles on the clock – first time I have ever come across that. Bizarrely, all three of us arrived at our destination at more or less the same time having followed exactly the same route but one van had six fewer miles on the clock. I forgot to ask my colleague whether or not he had driven the last three miles backwards (although I suspect it’s a myth that the mileage goes down when you reverse in a modern vehicle).

I missed a trick in last week’s post about my trip to Le Mans. In one breath I mentioned a well-known celebrity baker and in another, Harry Potter’s magic baguettes. Why didn’t I connect the two? They don’t call me Flash for nothing. What a great technical challenge that would be in the next series of the Great British Bake Off!! If there is enough time between the commercials, the contestants would each be required to bake three magic baguettes – one with a Phoenix feather in (Harry’s), one with a dragon heartstring (Hermione’s) and one with a unicorn tail hair (Ron’s). The contestants would not be permitted to use yeast. Instead, they would each be given a magic baguette baked earlier by Paul Hollywood. With this, they would attempt to get the correct rise on their own baguettes by invoking the Wingardium Leviosa spell.
Judging would be based not only on the usual criteria such as texture, taste and the “bake” but also the effectiveness of each magic baguette at some popular spells, e.g. ALOHOMORA! (to open an oven door), ENGORGIO! (to make the baguettes twice their original size) and EXPECTO PATRONUM! (to conjure up a Patronus in the form of Mary Berry). Extra points would be awarded to the contestant who is able to magic GBBO back onto the BBC and get the real Mary Berry back.
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Early last Monday morning; all loaded up at the Aston Martin gîte and ready to return home.

My second trip to Le Mans went smoothly apart from the return trip through the Channel Tunnel. Coming back the day after the end of the 24 hour race, I joined a constant stream of British cars on the autoroute heading for the Channel crossings. In fact it was a bit of a mobile motor show. Various exotic cars, sports cars, classic cars, boy racer mobiles and a Honda Jazz from Chipping Sodbury. Result: chaos at the Tunnel but I did get a nice text from Eurotunnel apologising for the delay.

 

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Joining the British throng for a pit stop on the way back to the Channel. No driver change though – I was the only driver on my team.

These two trips to Le Mans were my first experiences of using the Channel Tunnel. Apart from that last return leg, it was fast and efficient but if you are driving long distances either side of the Channel, there is still a strong argument for the ferry. Especially on that last crossing, I would have been glad of a decent break, a hearty meal and the opportunity to stretch my legs properly whilst breathing fresh sea air. Instead, I was stuck inside a tin box with air of dubious quality and had to stop for a break on the motorway after leaving the train anyway, thus negating some of the time saving (the ferry crossing takes about 55 minutes longer than the train). Eurotunnel definitely has its merits but the ferry does too!

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Typical gloomy view when travelling on Eurotunnel.
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Typical view when travelling by ferry. OK, I’m cheating – this was coming out of Portsmouth not Dover. But on the ferry from Dover you will get views of the famous white cliffs.

Colin

RIDICULOUSLY SIMPLE HAKE WITH EGG SAUCE, A BIT ABOUT BERGEN & ATMOSPHERIC CHINESE TAKE-AWAYS

Just so you know, the hake with egg sauce is nothing to do with China – it’s Norwegian (read on, all will become clear). In my old life when I did serious work, I often had to travel to Norway on business – usually Bergen or Stavanger and once to Oslo. A beautiful country, as we found out in 2005 on a family holiday in our motor caravan. On one business trip to Bergen, I had a particularly memorable and tasty meal. The starter was “creamed reindeer on toast”. This sounds like a colloquial description of a reindeer after an unfortunate coming together with a large truck on a quiet Norwegian road but it was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it involve a very large, reindeer-sized slice of toast? Actually, no. It was about the size of a Ritz cracker and topped with finely chopped reindeer meat (don’t worry children, no sign of any red nose) in a creamy sauce which may have involved some brandy. Yum!

I was very intrigued by a main dish on the menu described as “haddock with egg sauce”. What on earth is egg sauce? Only one way to find out. Actually, there’s two ways – I could have asked the waiter but my Norwegian wasn’t up to it (let’s gloss over the fact that the waiter, like most Norwegians, spoke excellent English). So, I ordered the haddock with both egg sauce and high expectations. Perhaps egg sauce is a Norwegian variation of Hollandaise sauce? Maybe with grated troll for true local flavour? The dish duly arrived complete with the eagerly anticipated sauce which was ….(drum roll)…. crumbled up hard-boiled egg!

HOWEVER, this was absolutely fine because a) I like hard-boiled egg and b) there is no better place in the world to get really fresh fish than Norway and, in particular, Bergen. This dish was all about simplicity in order to highlight the high quality and freshness of the main ingredient and I can testify that it did just that. By the way, if you are ever in Bergen, make sure you visit the fish market – it’s fascinating just to wander round. Then you can visit Bryggen, the famous old wooden wharf and UNESCO world heritage site, go up a cable car or funicular railway (Bergen is known as the city of seven mountains), go to the excellent aquarium or on a “Norway in a Nutshell” day trip down stunning fjords and up a spectacular mountain railway in Flam. Bit of a boring place really.

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Brightly coloured wooden buildings in Bryggen, Bergen rebuilt after a great fire in 1702. This was an important trading centre dating back to 1360.

A couple of weeks ago, our local supermarket had some fresh thick, chunky looking hake fillets – along with haddock, this is another member of the cod family. Supermarket? OK, not a patch on what you could get in Bergen but they looked the part. So, for a quick midweek meal I cooked hake with egg sauce and mustard mash. Cooking the whole meal took as long as it takes to make mashed potato. We have a two tier steamer so I was able to steam both the fish and vegetables above the pan in which the spuds were bubbling away. Here’s what I did for two of us:-

  • Peeled and chopped potatoes and put on to boil.
  • Put one egg on to boil, simmered for about 8 mins once it had come to the boil.
  • After potatoes had been boiling for about five minutes, I put the fish on to steam above them.
  • About five minutes later, put vegetables on to steam above potatoes and fish.
  • I steamed the fish for about 10 minutes. The time needed depends on thickness – steam until opaque, the fish will flake (test the fillet you will serve to yourself and keep your guests’ fish intact!!) and it’s hot in the middle (skewer/burnt lip test).
  • When cooked put the fish on a warm plate in warm oven.
  • Rinse the hard-boiled egg once in cold water so shell is cool enough to handle but egg will still be warm. Peel and crumble the egg. Maybe mash with a fork or cheat like I did and put through an egg slicer twice – lengthways then sideways (or vice versa if it’s Tuesday).
  • Toss the egg in a some melted butter and add some finely chopped, fresh parsley (this may be my own tweak – can’t remember if the Norwegian version included this).
  • When the potatoes and veg are ready, mashed the potatoes with milk and lots of butter. You need lots of butter because, despite the title of this fish dish, there is no real sauce so the potatoes would otherwise be rather dry. I like lots of freshly ground black pepper in mash too.
  • Add wholegrain mustard to the mash and mix in. You can add the mustard bit by bit (i.e. teaspoonful by teaspoonful, not grain by grain) until you get the strength of mustard taste that suits you.
  • Serve!!
Hake with Egg Sauce
Hake with Egg Sauce and Mustard Mash

You can of course try a different type of fish (er, haddock?!). If you don’t have a steamer, try poaching the fish or wrapping in foil and baking in the oven. Personally, I don’t think this dish would work with grilled fish because I think it calls for the really pure taste of steamed or poached fish. However, there is no law…..

On the subject of egg slicers, next time you have a Chinese take-away, try placing one of your children or the butler in the corner of the room and give them an egg slicer. Ask them to pluck the strings at random and fairly slowly. They can also throw in the occasional strum. This produces a remarkably authentic oriental sound and will provide an atmospheric aural backdrop to your sweet and sour. Better still, if you have one of those folding oriental screens, place child/butler behind that.

Using an egg slicer as a musical instrument is not my idea. It is a little known fact that both Eric Clapton and the Who’s Pete Townshend cut their musical teeth on the family’s egg slicers on the path to becoming guitar legends and before they could afford actual guitars. Despite an egg slicer’s naturally oriental tone, both Eric and Pete were able to wring convincing bluesy sounds from their improvised musical instruments. Eric progressed more quickly because Pete kept smashing up his family’s egg slicers. His progress was therefore intermittent because he was forced to save up his pocket money in between purchasing replacements. On the other side of the Atlantic, a young Robert Zimmerman (later to become Bob Dylan) also learnt his trade using an egg slicer. Some say this inspired his 1969 hit, Lay Lady Lay.

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An early Clapton egg slicer. An anonymous buyer shelled out over £5,000 for this at auction recently. No Townshend egg slicers survived.

And finally (phew!), another true fact but a slightly embarrassing one – although pertinent since I have been to France twice in the last week. My name, Colin (a diminutive of Nicholas supposedly), is also a French word. It means hake! My old proper job was quite international and my French colleagues were always polite enough to not mention this, let alone titter when I was introduced. They would just stand there silently opening and closing their mouth, I assume because they were astonished at meeting someone named after a fish.

Au revoir for now,

Hake Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – POSH STUFF & SOUTHEND WITHOUT THE SEA

Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-

Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester

Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey

Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester

So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.

You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.

Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.

Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).

It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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The interior of the Bentley. Not a bad place to be.

Colin

VERSATILE SPINACH WITH CHILLI PESTO NEW POTATOES

We have just discovered chilli pesto – entirely by accident. Thought we had picked up a jar of the usual red pesto but it turned out to be the chilli variety and it’s rather nice (we got Aldi”s version). I have combined new potatoes and spinach before but thought I would try adding the pesto as well. Give it a whirl and try serving with grilled fish or meat. It’s quick, dead easy and there’s no need for a complicated sauce because the pesto and spinach potatoes do the job for you.

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Served with grilled salmon and steamed carrots and mange tout. Easy!

Here’s what you do. I have given a guide to quantities but you decide depending on how many mouths you are feeding:-

  • New potatoes – enough for all those mouths. They can be kept whole if small enough or cut to uniformly sized chunks
  • Baby spinach, washed. A handful for each person (wash your hands first please). It may look a lot but it does reduce down
  • Chilli pesto – a good heaped teaspoonful per person
  • Butter – as much or as little as you like (but please have some)
  • Black pepper

Boil the new potatoes until tender and while that is going on, chop the spinach. When cooked, drain the potatoes (keep them in the pan, don’t drain using a colander). Don’t worry about draining every last drop of water. Quickly throw in the spinach and butter, put the lid on and leave to steam for a minute or so (that’s why it is not critical to drain every last drop of water). Add the pesto and mix the whole lot so the potatoes are coated. You can do this over a very low light but not for long. Add black pepper if you wish and serve.

OTHER STUFF TO DO WITH SPINACH

A bag of washed baby spinach is a handy  thing to have around. We usually have one on the go in the fridge because it’s so versatile. I am however thinking of suing the makers of Popeye because I have eaten quite a bit of the stuff but, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, my arms are still like Olive Oyl’s. Spinach is rich in iron so if you start eating it regularly you can give up the Mackesons stout. Did you know, up until the 1980’s, pregnant and new mothers in the UK were advised to drink stout to boost their iron levels? I remember my mum drinking it after my baby brother was born. That may have been because of the shock though.

Anyway, here are a few things you can do with spinach (baby spinach is best):-

  • As a vegetable in its own right. Frankly, not my favourite way of consuming spinach but can be livened up with butter, lemon juice and/or garlic or cream and nutmeg.
  • Chop and add it to casseroles (or even gravy!). Can’t really taste it so it’s a good way of getting fresh vegetables into reluctant children or carnivores.
  • Finely chop it and add to a cheese sauce to make posh looking pasta dishes
  • Add to homemade tomato sauce and make more pasta dishes
  • Use as a salad leaf
  • Put in your sandwiches, e.g tuna mayonnaise, coronation chicken (not Marmite or jam, that would be weird)

Colin