Campfire Cookery for 30

We do a BBQ each year for 30-40 people and I think we’re getting quite good at catering for these numbers.

This year for variation, I did a campfire style stew that was super filling but still had the smokiness that is the essence of BBQ cooking. If you can’t taste the charcoal you cooked on you might as well have cooked in the kitchen.

To start with you need a MASSIVE pot:

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This beauty was £40 from a local Asian supermarket and would serve a LOT of people.

The campfire stew I made was lamb in a red pepper sauce. They key is that everything is well smoked before it ends up in the pot:

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This is a couple of lamb shoulders and a lot of red peppers, cut into chunks. They’ve all gone on the BBQ with some chunks of well soaked oak on the coals. The temperature is quite low and the lamb is directly over the coals. The peppers are receiving indirect heat. This produces a lot of smoke:

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Next, fry up some onions, chili and garlic in the massive cooking pot. For authenticity this can be done on top of the BBQ although it doesn’t really matter:

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Add the smoked red peppers and blend with a stick blender to make a rich, smokey red sauce. Add some cooked beans or pulses such as kidney beans or chick peas. If using dried, make sure you’ve soaked and cooked them properly – schoolboy error! The beans make for a high volume, inexpensive and filling stew. I also added a tonne of courgette to bulk it out as, like most people who grow their own, we have loads of the things.

Add the lamb and leave to simmer for a few hours. Do the usual touches according to taste – salt, pepper, chopped coriander. Serve in bowls, maybe with some torn up crusty bread. Enjoy!

The Murder

“Have you seen this?”

It was a rhetorical question since Nigel had had the paper since it came into the house. He had picked it off the door mat and was reading it from his stool at the breakfast bar.

“Some poor lady got shot in a care home. They’ve arrested her husband!”

Beryl glanced up from the cooker, her thin lips pursed.

“That’s terrible”.

“Says that she was shot with a ’30s service revolver. Jees, how long must he have had that lying around? Did she know?”

Beryl slapped the fried egg down on a piece of toast with slightly more force than was necessary.

“Well of course she knew. Of course she did”.

“What’s that meant to mean?”

“He’s had a gun in the house for 60 years! She’s been keeping the house, washing his clothes all that time. Now they’re in a nursing home with probably nothing but a suitcase each and the thing’s still there. Do you think she didn’t notice? I’d notice”.

Nigel felt slightly stung by the force of her words and detected in them a buried rebuke.

“Maybe she did.”

“Of course she bloody did. Poor old dear was probably terrified her entire life.”

Nigel glanced up at her as he bit into his toast, making the mental calculation of whether to pursue the conversation or just let it go.

“You don’t know that. It might have been for their protection. Maybe it made her feel safe.”

He regretted saying it immediately.

“And what kind of guy keeps a gun all his life? Ex squaddie from Essex. Bloody thug, that’s who. I bet he beat her. Imagine that going on for 50, 60 years. What a life!”

Nigel kept his head towards his wife but his eyes were down towards the newspaper. The conversation as a dialogue was functionally over.

“It was different back then, wasn’t it. A women stuck with her husband through thick and thin. Put up with anything. Well, it killed her in the end, didn’t it? Are you listening?”

50 miles north and 9 hours later, regional sales manager Dave Milson walked in to Penistone Bowling Club for what he referred to as “Singles Night”. Basically, him and his two other divorced friends having a couple of pints of lager and chuntering about their exes.

The preamble is always the same, jostling for who gets the first round in at the sticky old bar and taking their usual spot in the corner of the room that last looked fresh some time in the 1980s. They ask how their respective weeks have been as a conversational gambit, not really caring for the answer. It’s just the prelude to the banter.

“Have you seen this?” said Dave, showing his phone to Steve and Tom.

There was a point about three quarters of the way in to his first pint when Dave felt his body physically relax, like a whole-body sigh. He reached that point now.

“‘Kinell, yes” said Tom. “Imagine”.

“Yep. Poor fella finally snapped!”

“She probably told him to put the toilet seat down one too many times!”

Dave and Tom snorted ladishly at the image.

“Yeah he was like ‘Tell me about that toilet seat one more time. I dare you. I double fucking dare you bitch”

“I bet he’s well pleased with himself. No nagging where he’s going, eh?”

“Just got to be careful not to drop the soap”

Predictable as a Swiss clock whenever prison is mentioned but the anal rape reference got guffaws in any case.

“Wah Wah Wah Pick up your clothes Wah Wah Wah you’re drunk”

“Can’t blame him really, can you”

“Nope”

“No”

At about the same time and in the rather more sober setting of a nurses break room at the local hospital, Senior Sister Anita Patel was chatting to her colleague over a cup of tea that most people would consider over-brewed. She found anything weaker too watery and wouldn’t give her the kick she needed to get through the second half of a late shift.

“Have you seen this?” She was gesturing to the coffee-ringed copy of the Daily Mail that had been left in the break room.

“‘Bout that thing in the care room? Yeah, wha’s that ’bout?”

“He just shot her! After been married 50 years”.

“I know! Don’t gettit. I mean, after 50 years an all.”

“Well, sometimes you just get to that age and you don’t know who you are any more. Bet he didn’t know who she even was”

“Oh, aye?”

Anita put her cup down and checked her watch. She was due back on the ward in three minutes.

“I’ve seen it loads of times. Old geezers who think their fine and their families think are compos mentis arrive in our department all confused and not know who they are!”

“Yeah, seen it. What do you even do about that?”

“Well by then it’s too late. You just have to protect them and the people around them. Sometimes they suddenly get violent from nowhere. Bet this Ronald guy had frontal lobe infarcts. That’s the usual thing. Saw that a couple of months ago, this frail looking old guy suddenly turned, right in the department. Looked like he didn’t weigh more than 50 kilos but it took 3 nurses to bring him under control. No warning!”

“Aye”.

They silently put their cups down and went back to their shifts.

Ronald maintained the same position he had been in for the last 4 hours; Seated but bolt upright, with a spine so straight you could use it as a ruler. The kind posture that only old school army boys had any more. Hands clasped on the table in front of him. Staring dead straight in front of him, eyes focused in the distance at nothing in particular. Silent.

The two young detectives had tried it all. They’d started by treating him as an old uncle, talking down to him, then about him right in front of him. Then they’d gotten more aggressive and tried to threaten him like a common criminal, before finally falling silent in the hope that the awkwardness would force him to start talking. Fools.

He’d lost everything. He would never be free again. At 87 “For ever” wasn’t a scary length of time but still. Never go home again, back to the room that had been home for the last 13 years. He saw his family precious little as it was. Now would they come and visit him, knowing what he’d done? Would he ever get to meet his great-grandson? Unlikely now. Never play cards again with Bill. Small mercies. Bill was a prick anyway.

There was only one thing he had left. A piece of knowledge that he had and nobody else knew. The knowledge that these idiot detectives had been trying to get from him for the last countless hours, and he was resolved to take to the grave with him.

Only he knew why.

 

 

 

 

Trip to Transylvania

Made a journey today from Chisinau to Zarnesti. Moldova to Romania. Outside to inside the EU.

Woke up in the plushest hotel in Europe’s poorest country, the Prezidente hotel, where they play loud slamming techno in the restaurant 24 hours per day. Picked up my white BMW pimp wagon from the airport. This is where it got fun….

I was unable to download the Moldovan map on my Satnav app so I had to try and exit the country using voice guidance only – no road found where I drove. In the middle of Chisinau I took a wrong turn and panicked slightly, doing a uturn and going back the way I came, to some honking. Then a siren.

The cop pulled me over and asked me in decent English what I’d done wrong. I didn’t really know. He pointed out I was going down a public transport only road and there was a no entry sign.

My default defence to authority is to get terribly English and hope he recognises me as a good egg. So I got more and more Terry-Thomas as he says “I need to make you papers and you need to go to the bank”.

Getting exasperated, he sits me down in his car and I finally understand what he wants. A bribe. Oh, I exclaim and get my purse out, just as the other cup wanders over. The chap rolls his eyes at my naivety and tells me to put it in the door. As I expected to be leaving Moldova I had hardly any money anyway.

Another couple of hours of driving in circles gets me to the border. First time I’ve crossed a land border into the EU and it seems easy until the woman at the gate tells me to turn around and go through the customs checks.

First guy can’t speak English so I hand him my phone with Google Translate on it. The message he types translates as “is it your intention to make contact with collaborators?”. I shake my head.

Next guy informs me I need special insurance to drive in the EU. All is not lost, I Can get it from the booths at the start of the check point. So, I pick the first one and say ‘carte verde’. The man wants cash which I don’t have so reluctantly he takes my card. He has no clue how to use the machine apart from following two pages of instructions one word at a time. It doesn’t work.

Someone else points out there is a bank across the road and it actually works. I have cash, i have my green Insurance card. Customs was a breeze after that. Then another queue for immigration into the EU.

My overall impression was that everyone was trying their hardest to be helpful and friendly, and also that my visceral hatred of the principal of border control is not diminished. It should not take two hours to get from one bit of land to another identical bit of land.

The rest of the trip was long and pleasant enough. The scenery was a photographers paradise apart from not having time to take advantage – alternating flat plains and mountains.

My lunch stop was at a random cafe in a small town where I got chatting to a local guy who lived in London, working as a lorry driver. I shared sunflower seed with his family and gave them the rest of my biscuits in Return.

Got in to the guesthouse at 21:15, 11 hours after I started. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Mead

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Mead brewing is fascinating because the basic recipe is simple – Water, Honey and Yeast – and then you can flavour it with anything you want.

I’ve found lemon mead and apple and ginger mead to be highly successful – although one batch was far too lemony and ended up tasting medicinal. I’ve also made quince mead and chili and chocolate mead.

I use champagne yeast that makes a stronger drink. It’s also very dry – you expect mead to be sweet but this isn’t. It’s more like prosecco.

I can’t add anything that Storm the Castle haven’t already said so go there for details but my advice is to find a honey dealer and give it a go!

 

Simply the best…

Dave – for that was what he had to be called – had set the alarm for 05:12 in the morning. Straight out of bed and on the floor into the press up position. 3 sets to failure, groggily at first then with increasing energy as his body woke up. Morning routine – teeth, face, shower, antiperspirant, aftershave. All done within 30 seconds of the time he had allocated when he planned his actions the night before. Best suit, most expensive shirt and tie combination. He tied his tie 7 times before he is happy with it.

Breakfast was a banana sandwich for the slow release carbohydrates and 1.5 cups of coffee. Dave had read the research on the time caffine persists in the system and knew the optimal dose to be alert but not jittery at 10:30. Today was his. Nothing would be left to chance. Today he would show her.

At 06:12 the train to London arrives in Doncaster, bang on time. He waited on the platform in the right spot for his carriage to come to him. This left time to rehearse in his mind every scenario imaginable for how this meeting would play out. There were a myriad of possibilities, countless questions he could be asked, but all the different timelines inevitably converged on one outcome: Promotion.

They had to. This was his last chance. The divorce would be finalised next week but while there’s life there’s hope. Believe. Take this opportunity and everything would turn around.

Don’t dwell on the negatives. Don’t think yourself out of form. Where’s your positivity, Dave? On your phone, that’s where. It’s time for your boost. White ear buds rammed in your ears and go to the playlist you put together last night. The song starts and his adrenaline surges, bassline ascending like prowling tiger. “I call you when I need you when my heart’s desire”….. The other people on the carriage look around. Someone smirks. I don’t care. I’m Simply The Best!

200 miles further south and 6 hours previously, Carl and Michael had got out of bed. They were more haphazard but no less organised. Hat, gloves, bolt cutters. Their purpose was self enrichment, same as Dave’s but their methods were nefarious. Half a kilometre of copper cable, unguarded by the railway and worth hundreds in scrap.

The heist is hardly text book and they made a bloody mess of the control booth but they left with a car boot full of shiny metal. For this they got £157.43 from the local shadey scrap merchant who made 5 times that from selling it on. The money had been lost in a bookie by the afternoon.

There was one other inevitable consequence to their morning’s activities – chaos om the railways. The whole of North West London was paralysed while emergency repairs were effected.

After 3 hours going nowhere on a crowded train, Jenny finally admitted defeat and called her boss to say she’d be working from home today. She’d have to have her meeting with David next week….