Thursday, 3 July 2014

ought cuisine

A moment's carelessness and plop! The pepper grinder was at the bottom of the canal. So I went shopping for a new one. I found one one that came preloaded with Fairtrade peppercorns, and since it'd been a while since I'd looked around a supermarket spice section, I delved a bit and found this remarkable seasoning. With a promise like that on the label, I had to get it, of course, and shall discover in time whether it will indeed replace all the other herbs and spices in the galley.

Eve’s galley is both small, and exactly the right size for me. There’s a midget Belfast sink; a tiny washing machine; a Calor gas stove complete with oven that will sometimes get warm if it's really trying; a little fridge that runs on three different power sources; and a Paloma gas water heater that you have to coax into life with a match and which then roars at you while gouting hot water, all very much like a 1970s bedsit.

The washing machine really needs a line connecting it to shore-based mains electricity to work, and as I am a ‘continuous cruiser’ (moored up on the towpath, moving at least once a fortnight) that isn’t usually an option, so I’m going to get rid of it. I mostly do my washing in the bath after I’ve showered; it’s a useful way of economising on water, too; and after I had a great pile of laundry after fixing the car’s clutch the other week, I visited the launderette in Devizes. It’s about 25 years since I last used a launderette, and I was curious to know what it would be like. Very sociable, as it happens, and I can strongly recommend it as a way of meeting people and getting into conversations with a ‘we’re all in this together’ sort of flavour.

The fridge hasn’t worked since I left the marina and its shore power behind at the end of April; I should really get round to doing something about it soon. I haven’t tried to run it on Calor gas because it doesn’t vent to outside the boat and I don’t want it to asphyxiate me. It can work on a 12V supply, at least in theory, but it didn't work when I tried, and my 12V system (a bank of batteries, charged from an alternator on the engine) gets drained very quickly anyway. I must install a solar panel, and either get the fridge working or change it.

So things that would normally get put into the fridge have to be eaten or drunk very quickly. I rarely eat meat now, and I put condensed milk in my tea, which is very cheerful first thing in the morning and reminds me of camping expeditions. I sometimes buy small portions of ready-made salad; I also got a copy of Richard Mabey’s Food For Free, and have not used it once, despite being surrounded by fields full of wild food.This is the usual trajectory for people who buy Richard Mabey’s Food For Free, I suspect.

I’ve been experimenting with convenience food. It was jolly exciting to find that Vesta still make those little boxes of instant meals (‘easy cook- add water & simmer’). So obviously I had to try one of their paellas. It was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest, not least when compared with the Maggi ‘Saveurs du Monde’ paella that I got in a french supermarket a few years back. Still, it was a happy reminder of those simple days of the 60s when a Vesta beef curry, with perhaps a sprinkling of desiccated coconut, seemed thoroughly dashing and exotic.

Determined to try some DIY, I got some dried shrimps from Wai Yee Hong in Bristol, and dried onions, mixed veg, and mushrooms from Sainsburys, and tried my own instant paella. Pretty good, though you have to not mind the shells still being on the shrimps.

Another good meal was fried frankfurters from a jar, with instant mashed potato and instant curry sauce. Oh yes. Serve with a bottle of Heineken, fresh from the supermarket chill cabinet, and you could almost be at an Oktoberfest, but without the Australians.

Far less successful was Sainsbury’s Bacon Brunch, a confection of potatoes, bacon and onion that came from a foil envelope and would have been better not having done so. Greasy and tasteless. I threw the remnants to the flotilla of expectant ducks, hove to around Eve’s stern as I sat up on the aft cabin roof. They swam away as it sank.

My corned beef hash is better by far, though of course it needs a few more minutes of prepping- peel spuds, stick them in pressure cooker, slice onion, fry, add the now-cooked spuds and paprika, and a can of corned beef, throw in loads of olive oil and fry it all up while shovelling it round with a spatula till it’s sizzling like fury and there you go. Serve it with baked beans and chilli sauce. But that is not quite ought cuisine, is it?

mussels in cider with oven chips, yo

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