A Shotgun Salad

And so the cakes that starred in my last post were carefully placed into my beloved Garden Trading cake tins and accompanied me around the M25 and up the M40 to the E J Churchill’s Mini-Game Fair, where they became well acquainted with some members of the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club and a few others to boot.

The mini fair was great – and incredibly was pulled together with little more than two weeks’ notice, when we all heard the tragic news of the CLA’s cancellation of the Game Fair proper. I was introduced to Rob Fenwick, the MD of E J Churchill, of whom I’d heard previously. Rather more excitingly (no offence to Mr Fenwick) I got to see the infamous Mickey Rouse, the former world sporting champion, trick shooting – but more on that later. We wandered up the track to the clubhouse, to be handed a slurp of The King’s Ginger Liqueur on our way into the showroom – delicious, sweet and strong with a powerful kick of ginger.[i] We paused here and there to peruse a few stalls on our way up, and after having a typically country chat with Scott in the shop about wellies and tweed and that sort of thing, we made our way into the tents to examine the main array stalls. I had another twang of that feeling of ‘belonging’ when one of them men on the Hunter stand waved at me as if he knew me. On closer inspection, he turned out to be Gary, the Hunter rep from William Powell with whom I’d dealt in the past (incidentally, their new catalogue is out soon and new website is in production – very excited!) Knowing someone (and luckily for me, a friendly someone forthcoming enough to wave) my genuine-country friends didn’t made me feel very self-satisfied, not to mention a little bit relieved that he thought I was nice enough to be worth waving to. My subconscious stood there smugly, her tweed flat cap fitted firmly on her head and one hand on her hip saying,

– “See? I do belong here!”

The array of leathery feathery tweedy and altogether undeniably Country goods on offer was wonderful, from candlesticks made out of antlers (they’ve joined the pistachio green mixer on my mental somewhereovertherainbow-maybeoneday wishlist) to tweedy iPhone covers and snuggly coats for your hipflask. Beautiful photos on card and canvas, gorgeous cashmere knitwear well out of my price range, and delicious fruit gin from the wonderfully friendly Nick at Foxdenton Estate, from whom I purchased two bottles of wickedly delectable gin – one raspberry, one damson (and you can really taste the plums!) More cakes in the offing I have no doubt! The prize for the S&CBC Open Shoot on 18th August was proudly on display – a stuffed fox standing on his hind legs, with a just-as-stuffed pheasant under one armleg and gun over the other. My not-quite-determined views on taxidermy aside, this prompted some cheeky giggling with the S&CBC girls as my friend said he that was determined to come along, win the fox, then place it in the road to confuse some unsuspecting driver, later to be stood at the side of the road saying “Hello? Police? I’ve just hit a fox and it was carrying a gun!” Probably not as funny as at it seemed the time, but sufficient giggles ensued to entertain us. Any way, Mr Fox stood proudly on the stand next to the CBC girls: Bettina with her beautiful bracelets (also on my Wishlist, though promoted from ‘somewhereoverhterainbow’ to ‘next pay day’), Kay with her lovely cards, and Lili of Forbes and Maude displaying her tweeds. Possibly unfortunately we were attending the fair on the Friday, which was very much the quieter of the two days from what I’ve heard. However, we had fun wandering around, and and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to eat a cheeseburger complete with onions and ketchup without getting any on my white jeans. My view on white jeans is you should only wear them if you’re prepared for them to get mucky – if you’re going to be precious about it, wear blue ones or something else altogether! However, bright red grease stains wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I thought that as I put them on earlier in the day, so I battled with my burger and came out on top, my trousers surviving the ordeal and thankfully appearing on the other side of lunch ketchup-free. A perfect canvas for the various shades of proper country muckiness they would no doubt accrue throughout the day.

As well as those S&CBC girls who had stalls at the fair, we ran into a couple of other key actors in the Chelsea Bun Show on Twitter: Jane Macnab, a trickster with a stage name that lulls you into a false sense of security, believing its her real name, until she shatters the illusion by saying ‘Hi, I’m Lucy!’; and Urban Gundog, with bosses in tow. Mrs Macnab had brought along her faithful CBH (Chelsea Bun Husband), Dr Macnab, and Urban had brought along Deputy Boss (another CBH) to accompany him and The Boss. The Macnabs had even brought along Little Miss Macnab, of whom I am very jealous due to the fact that she was treated to both an ice cream and a lovely tweed dress. But to make up for the lack of a tweed dress, Urban[ii] honoured me by christening my white jeans with the proper sort of muck white jeans should pick up. He graciously bestowed upon me the most perfect paw print that I have ever seen – and that’s after years of trying to ink my dog’s paw to get him to ‘sign’ birthday cards, unerringly ending up with a coloured smear in the card and numerous matching smudgy patches on the surrounding floor. I have never seen one so accurate and un-smudged, and was so chuffed that I even took a photo – though for the Boss’ sake I won’t post it, as she didn’t seem as excited about it as I was. But Urban (we’ll stick to stage names here), I thank you!

Stalls done and two bottles of gin the richer, we headed over to watch Mickey Rouse trick shooting. And it was wonderful – both impressive and hilarious. Renowned as an absolutely fantastic clay shooter, we watched in awe as he shot balloons that appeared to be floating way out of range, and in the order of preference we the crowd shouted out to him as the targets drifted further and further up into the sky. He shot clay after clay, all from the hip. He lined up volunteers and had them throw eggs in the air – and then, you guessed it, he shot them. Using a pump action gun meant he had to physically reload between eggs, a feat not to be sniffed at. He carried on by chipping golf balls higher with his shotgun than I’d probably manage with a club and a set of lessons. Using a 10-shot self-loading gun, he fired a shot, then shot the spent cartridge as it was ejected and continued the series until he’d run out of ammo. Last but not least, he more or less prepared a salad with his shotgun. He balanced a tomato on the end of his barrels, flicked it up into the air and shot it barely a metre away from the end of his gun. He then threw up a melon, which was blasted into pieces, and finally and most spectacularly did the same thing with a couple of cabbages. As you can see, it turns out cabbage explode rather marvellously when shot with a  12gauge shotgun:

Cabbages done, and we return to the cakes. I said previously that the verdict on the cakes would come later, and so here it is:

The lavender cakes I was a little disappointed at – the icing was nice, but wasn’t as floral as I would have liked – more experiments needed to make that one work. However, the Chelsea Bun girls seemed to enjoy their cakes, and I was delighted to hear that Kay thought she could taste the lavender – so maybe my taste buds were marred by the intense scent of lavender in our kitchen from the preparation. The delicious blueberries were altogether too scarce – more needed next time!

My mother was very happy with the carrot cakes, as was I. I would even go so far to say that it was one of the best cakes I’ve made in a long, long time and is definitely one I will be trying again in the not-too-distant future (and if you’re lucky, I’ll put my recipe up when I find the time!) But the biggest endorsement for me was when I gave Mickey a carrot cake. He of cabbage-shooting glory turned out to be an acquaintance of one of my friends, and joined us for a cup of tea. After accepting the offer of a cupcake, declared with a mouth full of carroty sponge,

– ‘That’s seriously good cake.’


[i] I’ve been wondering what that would be like in a ginger cake… Or perhaps in the icing… We shall see.

[ii] It turns out this is also a stage name; his real name is Monty. I shall have to keep an eye out for all sorts of espionage at the Chelsea Bun Club it seems.

Advertisements

What’s up Doc?

A couple of weeks ago I was presented with a free bag of organic fruit and veg, courtesy of Abel and Cole. Included in that bag was a punnet of peaches, which as a family we simply had not got round to eating. So one morning, I trundled downstairs clutching some pretty cupcake cases and a recipe book, intending to make peach cupcakes of some variety or other. I had been beaten to the punch; I walked into to the kitchen to see my mother, apron on, radio on, cake mixer on as she whipped up a summery fruit loaf – using up the peaches, just as I had intended to do. I could have been bitter about my baking intentions being thwarted, but the cake she made was really very tasty, and she had the Archers Omnibus (she who cooks has control of the radio) so I got to listen to it anyway, even without being Queen of the Kitchen. Even now I have seen some of the mythical countryside for myself, I feel it important to keep up with David, Ruth and the gang from time to time and remind myself where this all started.

I had just left the house for work last Thursday when I got a phone call saying there had been a leak somewhere in the clinic and please don’t come in. So I turned on my heel, retraced the 10-15 steps back to my front door and immediately decided that today was a Baking Day. One supermarket sweep later (all heavy-lifting credits go to my little brother) and I had planted my feet firmly in the kitchen, apron on, beautiful beloved birthday mixing bowl out and wooden spoon in hand.

We’ve had a little box of icing carrots in the pantry for a couple of years now, that Mum has been saving to adorn a carrot cake. We also had enough carrots in the house to satisfy Bugs Bunny, so you can see where this is heading. I followed the Hummingbird carrot cake recipe to start with, but at mother’s request and for a (slightly) healthier cake, used entirely wholemeal self-raising flour, and added sprinklings of baking powder and bicarb to help boost the little bubbles that should make my cake nice and light. I also added sultanas; thankfully everyone in my life in Twickenham likes sultanas, so I am free to enjoy using them once again! I also added some milk, as someone, somewhere told me, or I read/saw/heard, that the wetter your cake batter, the moister your cake – and it makes sense when you think about it. After all, where is a little cake going to find any extra moisture in a hot hot oven?! As with fruit cakes, carrot cake batter must have some oomph about it to hold up all those bits of carrot, nuts and now sultanas, but the mixture seemed too stiff. I popped in a generous splash of milk to loosen it before decanting my mixture into pretty turquoise spotty cupcake cases and silicon mini loaf moulds. A beep of the timer later, and the cakes were out cooling, getting ready for their cream cheese icing.

This again was a Hummingbird recipe to start with, but I often find that their icings are a little too soft to pipe. Perhaps I don’t start with my butter cold enough, but it’s certainly chilly enough to crumble into the sugar and send puffs of icing sugar into the air until the kitchen was full of a sweet, white fog. Anyway, this time I blitzed my butter and cream cheese together quickly before mixing in the icing sugar a bit at a time. I didn’t weigh it, I simply kept going until the mixture looked stiff enough to pipe – and it was! Once piece of advice here: don’t use a piping bag with a hole in. It leads to very sticky hands, a messy piping bag and counter, and worst of all, wasted icing. But eventually I had piped generous swirls of cream cheese icing onto each cupcake – topped of course with a little, iced carrot. I then piped more icing onto the loaves, snaking my way over the top of each one. Mum helped with decorating, popping blueberries (because we had them!) and carrots onto each loaf. In the end, we were left with some rather pretty cakes, even if I do say so myself! What they tasted like remained to be discovered, but they did at least seem to sit there with plenty of confidence and say “Hey Bugs, want some cake?”

20120724-114915.jpg

Batch number two was more of an adventure. Years ago, when I decided as a teenager that my life long dream was to become a chef, my aunt and uncle gave me Gordon Ramsey’s Secrets, a recipe book with lots of exciting things. I might get around to trying a few more of the recipes in years to come… Anyway, one of the dessert recipes (that I have actually made!) is for berry kebabs with a lavender honey dip, made with mascarpone cheese, and it was really lovely, indulgent but Summery all at once. This recipe was the inspiration for the second batch of cakes – why not try for indulgent Summeriness in cupcake form? I made a simple vanilla sponge cake mix, with what was left of the wholemeal flour topped up with white, and folded in some lovely juicy Spanish Blueberries. I even cut a couple up and mushed them a bit before folding those in too, in case it helped flavour the sponge (word to the wise: it didn’t).

As the cakes baked, I popped round to a neighbour’s and collected six lavender heads, four for the recipe and two for luck. I dissolved some sugar in water, just as Gordon instructs for his dip, and then popped the lavender heads in for two minutes to infuse over a low heat, filling the kitchen with a very relaxing, flowery scent. Once infused and left to cool (with lavender still in), I strained the syrup and mixed it with honey, mascarpone cheese and 50g butter (the same amount Hummingbird instructs for the cream cheese icing) before again adding icing sugar until the mixture looked stiff enough to pipe, and purple food colouring until the icing was – wait for it….. lavender purple. Who could have guessed?! This icing was piped on top of the cooled buns in an attempt at a rose – starting in the centre, and slowly working your way out so the lines of the icing (from the nozzle) overlap and loop a bit like petals. The final adornment was a sprinkling of lilac edible glitter, and the cakes were finished! I sat down with a big mug of Earl Grey tea and admired my lovely little creations, basking in a glorious mix of pride and smud self-satisfaction.

20120724-114744.jpg

For the verdict on the taste, you’ll have to wait until the next post. I elected to save most of them to take along to E J Churchill’s mini-game fair, speedily set up in a fortnight since the announcement of the cancellation of the CLA event. I knew a few of the girls from the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club would be there with stalls, selling with lovely cards, bracelets and tweed, and thought that cakes would make a nice surprise for them (in true Chelsea Bun spirit!) I shall be writing about that – including the shot-shredded cabbage, smashed melons and splattered eggs that rained down on us – soon, but for now, that’s all folks!

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

I’ve frequently declared country life to be muddy. I don’t just mean the countryside – on occasional walks in the countryside as I was growing up, I walked and waded through mud, no doubt splashed in some muddy puddles as a toddler (Mum?) and when I was fourteen even tripped over a stile and fell face-first into the mud (and quite possibly cow pats too). I have seen enough mud to know the countryside is muddy – I daresay it’s linked in some inexplicable way to the lack of paving stones, tarmac and concrete. Mysterious.

But mud worms its way into other places in Country Life – like right on your doorstep for example, because so many people actually live in the world I walked/splashed/tripped my way through before; or sprayed artistically up the side of cars (probably due to the aforementioned scarcity of concrete.) And in its drier form, those signed up to country life (and those who had it thrust upon them) will find mud encrusted into the bottom and around the sides of wellington boots or any other footwear you elected to go clay shooting in one rainy day (and thus in its crumbled, powdery form all over the inside of the foot wells of your car).

And now, to a certain degree, I see mud as a certificate of authenticity. I’ve mentioned how my friends laugh at my wellies, not just because they cost less than a night in a nice hotel, but also because of how incredibly shiny and green they are. I’ve worn Mum’s blue Hunters for years, and they are most definitely not shiny. When I went to university, she wouldn’t let me take them and generously bought me my own pair which I duly wore and loved, trudging around campus and the shooting ground in the snow and mud, and the wellies showed this loving wear in their lack of sheen and newly-dulled greenness. However, the inside sole started rolling up within the guarantee period and Hunter, true to their word, replaced them with a brand new pair. Problem is, this coincided with my third year and – horror of horrors – finals. This is the time that every university student becomes far, far too familiar with the library – or in my case, Starbucks. When you walk five minutes on citified concrete/tarmac/paving stones, sit down, head down for eight hours, make the same walk home (in the other direction of course, and work some more before falling asleep on Erasmus’ Institutio principis Christiani, there may be need for an infinite supply of biros, sticky labels, coloured pens and most importantly hot cups of tea, but there is very little need of wellington boots. Hence the new replacement wellies haven’t been worn half as much as they would have been in first or second year, and still stand glorious proud in their very-greenness.

This shiny green is the badge that marks me an infiltrator into Country Life, or at the very best a newcomer. Those fully-fledged country people, initiated into the fold years ago, will without fail sport wellies in a stoic shade of used-to-be-green, mud spattered on the tops and legs, mud encrusted into the zip, mud slowly infusing with the sole of the boot its been there so long. The wear, the mud, the gorse/blackthorn scratches, the mud, the  worn sole and lest we forget, the mud – these are all signs of Belonging.

Similarly, the position on my mental map of those vehicles that I used to look down on disdainfully – the accursed Chelsea Tractors  – has changed. I’ve mentioned this before, so apologies if I’m repeating myself, but there is a point relevant to this post hidden somewhere. Chelsea Tractors used to take up space on the roads, slow everyone down by not fitting through gaps or parking oh-so-carefully in a normal parking space because the silly car is just too big for the normal world. People sat in them, quite literally on high, and looked down at us mere insects daring to scuttle down the M<insert motorway of your choice here> beside them. And yet now I’ve seen 4x4s in action – and probably not yet at their best or most useful– and I finally understand why some people need them. I’ve seen them stoically crawl their way up hills that my car would slip and slide to the bottom of, quite likely ending up on its little toboggan of a roof. I’ve seen the stupidly large boot that I could quite comfortable sleep in filled to bursting with stock, with guns, cartridges, cartridge bags, tools, with boxes of packets of ear plugs, defenders and safety glasses, you name it. These vehicles are like mini transport vans, but ones strong enough to transport that stuff up a mudslide in the rain.[i] But all these 4x4s I’ve seen put to their good and proper use have been splattered with mud, their glossy new-car sheen long gone and however well kept the interior, however frequently washed the outside, you can always tell that it is a Working Car. So I now reserve my disdain especially for the spotlessly clean, shiny Range Rover Vogues that soar down motorways with cream leather seats (honestly, who ever came up with such as impractical an idea as cream seat in a car! Even in my thoroughly non-country little blue city pug, pale seats would have ceased to be pale within six months of ownership). A Landrover Discovery, mud splattered up the sides and encrusted all over the wheel arches wears that mud as a symbol of its legitimacy and its right to be owned.

And so you see how mud becomes a badge of authenticity in the country. Proof that you belong. And yet recent events have proven that even the country can’t cope with all the mud the English Countryside and English weather have worked together to offer. Event after event this year has been cancelled – the optimistic, go-getting organisers of the Yorkshire Show gritted their teeth through just one day of their event, before succumbing to the mud and cancelling the rest. Horse trials have been cancelled, fair and shows have followed in their footsteps and most recently and devastatingly, the CLA Game Fair in Belvoir has been cancelled. This was to be my first game fair not working, where I was going to get to see more of the fair than the route from my stand to the ladies’, and I was so excited. I’d been gifted with a free ticket and entry into all those exciting, exclusive members bits that I don’t know what they are – though as I won’t get to see them this year, I’m sure they’re wonderful and decadent and luxurious and amazing. But now I’ll never know. Sniff. Self-pity aside, all those traders who had prepared, produced, packaged and packed so much stock to take to the show, not to mention the signs, tills, furniture, flooring and goodness only knows what else… They are the people you should really feel sorry for.

The overwhelming muddiness of recent events has demonstrated a quality about the Country that the rest of us should try to learn from – resilience. Mini-Game Fairs have been popping up all over Twitter and Facebook, some in Belvoir, some elsewhere, one at the Oxford Gun Company, one with Really Wild at RBSS, and one at E. J. Churchill – where I shall be going instead! Lots of the Chelsea Bun Club ladies will be in attendance, so there should be plenty of fun to be had. Everyone is being so supportive of one another, demonstrating enthusiasm and positive thinking. The mud may have cancelled event after event, but the proud mud-encrusted-boots-wearing attendees still fight back. The lessons to be had here are:

1)   Don’t underestimate the symbolic value of mud.

2)   Don’t underestimate the power of mud.

3)   Don’t ever give in to the mud.

 


[i] Please don’t try this at home, whether to prove me right or wrong. I deny any responsibility for any accidents that may occur from such experiments.