Thursday, January 11, 2007

AT LAST I HAVE MANAGED TO PUT SOME OF THE BLOGS I READ and enjoy into the sidebar, and I really will expand the list to include a few more favourites. There are some really terrific bloggers out there. You will have noticed though that I have been completely unable to change my clock in accordance with daylight-saving time, I've tried twice and failed so you'll just have to put up with it being one hour ahead of UK time.

Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall is one of the four or five books I read over the Christmas/New Year period a
nd I would recommend it very highly indeed. Tarquin Hall is a young British journalist who returned to London after spending 10 years reporting from abroad. Finding the costs of most accommodation in London way beyond what he could afford, and needing to have somewhere that his Indian born, American fiancée can join him, he settles for a place in Brick Lane in London’s East End. At first he is completely stunned by the squalor and noise, the variety of residents in the area: drug dealers, mini-cab drivers, shopkeepers, market traders, prostitutes and of course his own wily slum landlord Mr Ali. He and Anu slowly get to know local people, their neighbour Sadie, the elderly Jewish widow who is one of the few Jews still living in an area that was almost wholly Jewish until the 1950s; a group of Afghani asylum seekers, the sternly righteous Pathan newsagent, and many other fascinating people. Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, wrote about the area from a fictionalised Bengali perspective, this book gives the real living breathing Brick Lane. It is a wonderful, funny, and affectionate book, with the history of one of London’s most vibrant areas – the entry point to Britain for immigrants and asylum seekers for nigh on 300 years, an area with a mongrel population which is constantly shifting and moving on and out. When Hall tries to find out who in the vicinity can be considered a real “Cockney” he slowly realises that the nature of Englishness is not as straight forward as many people think - and certainly not as straightforward as the BNP (British National Party) think. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and so would anyone who is at all interested in London.


Last night I was woken in the wee small hours by a high pitched series of shrieks, rapidly followed by hysterical barking from my two terriers.

It’s that time of year again, the breeding season for foxes, and the vixens let all dog foxes in the vicinity know they are available by making this hideous noise. If you are hearing it for the first time you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the sound of a woman screaming, and I have heard of people calling the police at night in the mistaken belief that they were hearing someone being attacked.

Urban foxes are now all over London, and becoming a real nuisance. I have seen a fox loping along Charing Cross Road at 6 am; I have seen a fox trying to get into my kitchen through the dog flap completely undeterred by the lighting and Radio 4 playing loudly. A friend found a fox lurking behind the sofa in her sitting room last year. There have been a number of cases of a fox having a go at a baby in a pram in the garden .

Foxes carry diseases: leptospirosis, toxocara and mange, fortunately they do not as yet carry rabies as they do on the continent; they dig earths, scatter debris, attack cats on their territory, kill pet rabbits; they mark their areas with foul strong smelling faeces and urine. There are approximately 30,000 urban foxes in England and they are thriving. In the UK they have no natural predators apart from man and the golden eagle – and golden eagles are in short supply in London. There is a plentiful supply of food for them, rubbish bins, restaurant garbage left out in black sacks for overnight collection, park litter bins, recycling bins, and general food litter near fast-food restaurants, supermarkets and food stores – in fact the city must seem one huge gourmet fox paradise to them.

Legislation prevents anyone from killing foxes, and local authorities have tried various methods of controlling their numbers. For a while our local authority tried trapping them, having them driven north of London and released (still in a semi-urban area). Ha, ha, cunning Mr Fox just strolled back down the A1 in the dead of night and carried on as before; meanwhile the firm that was doing the trapping on behalf of the Council was making plenty money from a repeat business.

Feral cats are captured and humanely dispatched, Ken Livingston (the Mayor of London) has declared war on the common pigeon, but foxes are left to increase in numbers, soon they will become more than just a nuisance, but become real pests. Now, where’s my pink coat, my horse and some hounds…tantivvy, tantivvy!


This is an old, old English soup recipe which my mother-in-law gave me, she thought it was from the Victorian era, but it could be earlier- I have converted the quantities to metric. I think it is quite delicious.
It is a winter soup because that is when we get Jerusalem artichokes in our greengrocers, and for some reason I always associate it with January. It is particularly appropriate today as it is very windy, and Jerusalem artichokes make you very windy! Now, before any cooks who have strong views on the whole Middle East political situation get hot and bothered about this, I should explain the name of this soup. It has absolutely no political connotations at all. The soup is made from tubers which are called Jerusalem artichokes ( Topinambour in French). They are called this because the tubers, when cooked tasted similar to the heart of a globe artichoke, but they are actually produced by a plant that belongs to the same family as the sunflower. When these tubers first arrived in Europe ( they are native to North America) the Italians called the plant "Girasole" which means "turns to the sun" . The English thought that "girasole" sounded like "Jerusalem" hence Jerusalem artichokes. It was but a small linguistic jump for some cook to name the soup made from these tubers after the area in which Jerusalem was situated - the cook probably thought the tubers came from there; bear in mind that this was a couple of centuries ago, long before Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq or any of the countries in that region were considered as nations.


Serves 6

1kg Jerusalem artichokes
1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
50g butter
litres chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt & Pepper [Strictly speaking you should use white pepper to keep the pale ivory colour of the soup without dark flecks, but I never have any so just use black!]

250ml single cream
2 egg yolks

Chopped toasted hazelnuts &/or chopped parsley for garnishing.

Fill a bowl with cold water and add a splash of wine vinegar or some lemon juice.
Peel the artichokes with a potato peeler, cut into even sized pieces and immediately place them in the acidulated water to prevent them discolouring.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and sauté gently until translucent; drain the artichokes and add them to the onions, stir and cook for a few minutes, do not allow them to brown.
Add the two peeled cloves of garlic, and pour the stock over the vegetables and bring to the boil. Place a lid on the pan, and simmer over a gentle heat until the chokes and garlic are soft – about 15-20mins.
Either place everything in a food processor or use a hand-blender to whiz to a smooth consistency, or push through a sieve; return to the pan. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. At this point you can either refrigerate or freeze the soup until you want to use it.

Just before serving, bring the soup nearly to the boil, beat the cream and egg yolks together and whisk into the hot soup, making sure it is all well blended.

Serve with a scattering of chopped toasted hazelnuts or chopped parsley as a garnish.

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