Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Three ha'pence a foot

It cannot have escaped people's notice that there has been a smidge of precipitation of late. So much so that the reservoirs in the south have filled by about five percent in the last month, and the price of Bird's Eye Maple has been the subject of heated debate.

Following the torrential rain of today, I headed down to the river to take some dramatic action shots of the raging torrent, and people fleeing for higher ground. Such shots were not available; the Mole being the Mole, it was really dull, with the water merely seeping slightly faster than usual:


Monday, April 23, 2012

A Modest Proposal

The other week, a friend pointed out the hashtag #CreepingSharia, which had been started by a member of the EDL who was objecting to the Islamification of everyday life, namely a picture of a mosque on Twitter. Fortunately the majority of Twitter users were roundly mocking the EDL, pointing out that the picture in question was actually the Taj Mahal. However, what struck me most was the illiteracy of the EDL’s posts.

Initially I thought there was something delightfully ironic about the English Defence League’s poor grasp of the English language. Then I decided it was actually quite sad. There seemed to be a strong correlation between ignorance and hatred.

Similarly, with Ched Evans’ recent conviction for rape, it is noticeable how few of the people abusing and insulting the victim online understand the difference between “your” and “you’re”:!/search/freechedevans

This leads me to my suggestion: there should be a compulsory internet proficiency test. The internet should be divided into two parts. The main part is only accessible after passing a test on the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, the use of the apostrophe, and whether or not homeopathy has any basis in science. The other part will be strongly filtered, so that "U da stoopid hoe!" becomes “I say old chap, I fear that you have angered me somewhat.”

Then I realised a flaw in this plan. Although I can tell my stationery cupboard from a stationary object, and can usually remember the difference between complementary and complimentary, I’m buggered if I know whether it’s practice or practise which makes perfect. I may end up condemning myself to the shallow end of the internet forever. On the plus side, at least I’d have all the people who believe that “cologne” is spelled without the silent “g” or the “e” to amuse (not bemuse) me:

It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “the bottom half of the internet”!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Only two years!

Several years ago, I complained to the council about a pothole. They did nothing. I waited a bit. One year, three hundred and sixty-three days ago, I took this photo:

Good news! This week, they've finally started resurfacing patches of this road! Go Surrey Council!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Mediaeval Easter!

For those whose historical knowledge is largely Hollywood-derived, you may be surprised to learn that there was a reasonably complex system of etiquette when dining during mediaeval times. Most people know that it was unthinkable to eat one's trencher (the wooden disc of bread which served as a plate). However, forks hadn't been invented, so one ate with the fingers of one's left hand, wiping them on a napkin placed on one's right shoulder. A prosperous household would provide spoons, but free men would have to bring their knife with them. Naturally, slaves would not be permitted to own a knife.

I am not his godmother. I don't know why not.
Food was not served in "courses" as we have now, but brought to the table in "removes" where sweet and savoury were mixed. A "two remove" meal, where the table was filled, the remainder removed, the table filled and removed and filled again, would equate to three table-loads of food. The more exotic and expensive dishes would be served in later removes, because the least-important people would be sent back to work after the first remove or two. Between removes, a "soteltie" - an elaborate pastry construct or something - would be brought out to demonstrate the skill of the chef. Butter was not usually employed in cooking, apart for dishes for the elderly and infirm. Saffron went in everything. And of course, a post-Lent feast should contain meat, and lots of it. With lard. And spiced wine.

Since it was Easter, we sat down for a special pre-remove dish of "Calfe sodden and blessyd" (boiled and blessed veal) and "Soden egges with grene sauce" (boiled eggs in parsley, garlic, spice and vinegar sauce).

Note the blessing on the left-hand side of the dish
Herb sauce hand-pounded by me

We then proceeded to fill the table with the first remove:

To give a break-down of the dishes:

Furmenty: wheat boiled in milk and stock (not quite cooked in this snap - the finished shot was a bit blurred)
Venysoun, to go with the Furmenty
Pevorat: breadcrumbs fried in lard, mixed with vinegar. To go with the venison.
Pigges in sawge (boiled pig with sage sauce. Also roast pig).
For to boile partritch (What it says on the label)
Pesoun of almayne (literally "German peas" - split peas cooked in spices and almond milk)
Aquapatys (garlic boiled in oil, with spices)
Appulmoy (apple, almond and saffron)
I'm a fan of frumenty and split peas anyway, but the surprise hit on this remove was the pevorat. In Prague, we'd found the Czech equivalent of restaurant breadsticks to be sliced brown bread and a pot of salty lard with bacon bits. The pevorat had a similar flavour (lacking in bacon, but I'm tempted to add it should I ever make it myself). It was meant to be used as a sauce with the venison, but it went very well spread on bread, or as a vegetable. Lard is a vegetable, isn't it?

The leftovers were cleared, and the chef's first soteltie was brought in:

A gingerbread (i.e. breadcrumbs, honey and ginger) Miffy. Coloured with saffron and sandalwood.
Then it was time for the second tableload of food:

This consisted of the following:

Iussel (eggs scrambled in stock)

Mameny: chicken, almond milk, stock and rice flour. And saffron.
Tartlettes. Seriously, they had ravioli then. With a spiced pork-and-raisin filling.
Connynges in clere broth (aka "rabbit stoo")
Capon endorre (golden roast chicken - the "gold" is saffron).
Vyuande cypre (pork and chicken, minced with dates and spices)
Chyches (chickpeas in olive oil, garlic and spices)
Spynoches (spinach fried in lard with pepper)

The Mameny was a little bland, and the Vyuande cypre was insanely sweet, but the scrambled eggs were identified as an optimal hangover breakfast, and the ravioli was very modern (but if a recipe says "take minced pork and wrap it in thin leaves of dough and boil it", how else are you to interpret it?)

Once this was removed, it was time for the chef's next soteltie:

That's right, a sheep-shaped pie containing four-and-twenty fluffychicks. And sweeties.

We had a brief respite from eating whilst we played the traditional mediaeval game of "Who can eat a Haribo Tangfastic and then drink a cup of sweet mead?". The answer was "most people" - possibly the saffron was providing a protective coating to our tongues.

After whetting our appetites, it was time to move on to the serious eating:

Custard tart. OK, so it's called "Dariols", but the recipe for custard tart hasn't changed since 1390. It has saffron.
Crustardes (chicken, pigeon, pheasant and dried fruit pie)
Hasteletes (fig, dates, raisin and almond threaded on a skewer, in a saffron batter, roasted)
Bursews: Pork-and-egg spiced meatballs. Battered. I can't remember if they contained saffron, but the odds are in favour that they did.
Rost of smal bryddes (quail, pigeon, and pousin, roasted)
Fryturs (battered apple fritters)
Having eaten this, and squabbled over the remaining hastelettes (oh, but they were good!), we retired to an adjacent room, admired the chef's next soteltie whilst eating confits and wafers and drinking pyment and hypocras, and felt a bit over-larded.

Sotel. Very Sotel.

Many thanks to Mrs S for the copy of her notes so I didn't have to work out how to spell the foodstuffs myself, and for all her sacrifices in the kitchen.

Ow. Just- ow.

Mediaeval Easter Preparations

All sheep-shaped and Bristol-fashion.
 So. My friend Mrs S is (a) a very good cook, and (b) an (grammer!) professional historian. So, given an excuse to cook something esoteric and authentic, she will. And what better excuse for that than the fact that the weekend just passed would have been Easter, were it not for that wretched Papal Bull issued by Pope Gregory XIII. And thus it was declared that there would be a Mediaeval Easter Feast!

There were many preparations. Although Fancy Dress was not compulsory (indeed, the last Mediaeval Feast which was hosted by the S's, Mr P turned up wearing a long scarf, a wide-brimmed hat, and proffering jelly babies), I decided to make an effort. When I was informed that there was a garment called the Gates of Hell surcote (so named because of its wide armholes, revealing the shape of the woman's dress underneath her other dress - shameless!), it was clear what I had to make!

Oh the sinful nature of this dress! Beneath it, save for my other dress, shirt, underwear, tights, etc, I was almost nekkid!
I didn't think it came out too badly, despite some damn fool casting himself into the Thames whilst I was trying to sew with the TV on, and distracting me enough to do a wonky seam.

Costumes aside, there were a lot of other preparations to be made. Those familiar with mediaeval dining arrangements will appreciate that the tableware had to be baked:

Mrs S spent many days (weeks!) beforehand preparing things. The aim was the replication of a royal feast recorded in 1390, and the recipes required translation, research and experimentation (they pre-dated the invention of measuring ingredients, or spelling). We arrived to help on the Friday (orthodox Good Friday) evening and Saturday morning. I foolishly looked at the recipes for the herb sauces, and pointed out that crushing plant material with a pestle-and-mortar releases very different flavours to those produced by shopping herbs in a food processor, and was promptly handed a pestle-and-mortar and half a herb garden.

With effort and time, this...
...became this!
Parsley and mint was manageable, but sage was somewhat tough!

In the end, we cheated and employed a Mechanical Minion (aka "food processor") on the sage. In the meantime, other preparations continued apace. Pork and poultry were smoked on an applewood fire:


Almonds were threaded onto skewers by means of a traditional Mediaeval Method which involved an electric drill:

Food was set in readiness, and it was time to prepare for the Feast!