Friday, February 01, 2008

Answers on a postcard please.


Amongst other books I was given for Christmas were two slim volumes from a new series, Great Journeys, published by Penguin Books. There are twenty books in the series, each consisting of an extract from a larger work by renowned writers from Herodotus and Mas’Ūdī to George Orwell and Ryszard Kapuściński and covering journeys on every continent.

The two books I was given were #11 In the Heart of the Amazon Forest by Walter Henry Bates, and #14 Adventures in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird.

Bates was one of the major zoologists of the Victorian era, and spent eleven years living on the Amazon where he gathered 15000 specimens, mostly insects. This extract, from his book The Naturalist on the River Amazon, tells of his time staying at a place where the various river systems of the Amazon all meet. He describes the lives of the various tribes of Amazonian Indians who live there, how they use blow-pipes for hunting, what they eat and drink, and how they have interacted with the colonials who are spreading slowly through the forests. His descriptions of the wildlife he encounters are so vivid, I could really SEE the various ants, jaguars, turtles, alligators and birds that he writes about.

Isabella Bird was also a Victorian traveller although she was not a zoologist. She was the daughter of an English clergyman and was sent off to Hawaii and America to improve her poor health – given that this was in 1854 it seems a rather drastic remedy, but seemingly it did the trick, after she had climbed the worlds highest volcano (as one does) she set off, in 1873, for Colorado - which in those days was untamed territory, still occupied by Red Indians (or Native Americans as they prefer to be called now) and outside the boundaries of the fledgling union of States which has become the USA.

The book consists of a collection of some of the letters she wrote to her sister Henrietta who was back in England, describing the incredible beauty of the country she was riding through, the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains and the wild pioneers who are settling the land. She tells of encounters with a grizzly bear, beavers, elk, a half-crazed settler who had become a cannibal, and describes the the trees and plants which grow in abundance and are all strange to her. A formidable woman in every sense of the word!

I found these books absolutely enthralling, and because of their size I was able to tuck them into my handbag, so passing tedious time standing in queues at the supermarket and post office, mentally transported to north and south America. When I announced that I intended to collect the entire series, my DD and her BF were delighted, as there are 18 more, and that should solve the perennial question of what to give Mum for her birthday and Christmas for some years to come!

Rated 5*


I have only dialled 999 on three occasions, once when a neighbour’s teenage daughter inadvertently set fire to her bedroom when her mum was out, once to call for an ambulance when a motorcyclist was hit by a car in front of me, and once, at 3 a.m. when I was woken by the sound of breaking glass and saw two men breaking into the house opposite. On every occasion the appropriate service arrived fairly quickly (fire speedily doused, motorcyclist scooped up and blue-lighted to A&E to be treated, burglars escaped but were arrested two weeks later).

In each case I was confident that dialing 999 was the correct thing to do. You dial 999 when there is an emergency. That is an E.M.E.R.G.E.N.C.Y. not when you have a problem. I thought everyone knew that, come on, its basic knowledge isn’t it? Apparently not. South Wales Police have just announce that they are changing the words they use when answering 999 calls. Up to now you would have heard “How can I help you?” from now on they will be saying “What is your emergency?”. They have decided to do this because they are getting so many time-wasting calls such as the woman who dialed 999 and said "My husband has the TV remote and won't let me watch EastEnders”, and the man who called to say "Can you come round and take my mother-in-law away? She has been here for 18 days".

Pound to a penny this sort of ridiculous behaviour is happening all over the country and not just in South Wales, and every time some moron makes a call like that, the rest of us who might really need the emergency services are put in jeopardy if we can’t get through because the lines are busy.

I am not a great one for demanding new legislation, but modern telephony makes it possible for calls to be traced, and anyone who makes one of these utterly stupid calls should be hauled over the coals and given a hefty fine


In the 70s when I was newly married and just beginning to flex my muscles in the kitchen, Beef Stroganoff was often on menus, but I couldn't afford the fillet steak that the recipe usually demanded and so made a version of the recipe using pork. Of course it is not the 'classic' dish which was apparently created in the 1890s by the chef of a Russian aristocrat, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov*, but it was jolly tasty anyway, and the other night I suddenly had the urge to make it once more. This recipe is more or less the same as the original one I used all those years ago, but with one addition which I took from the recipe given by those fantastic cooks, The Two Fat Ladies, namely some gin to flavour the pork.


Serves 4

500g pork tenderloin (fillet)
200g mushrooms
Dash of sunflower oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions

1 teaspoon Paprika
6 tablespoons gin
150mls sour cream or crème fraiche
Salt and pepper

Handful of parsley, finely chopped for garnishing.

Cut the pork tenderloin across the grain into 1cm wide discs.
Finely slice the mushrooms.
Peel the onions and cut in half from top to bottom and then slice in the same direction to make fine slices. (This makes long slivers of onion rather than half-moon shaped slices)

Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan and sauté the pork slices in batches turning regularly so they are slightly browned. As they are done remove them from the pan and keep warm. When all the pork is done, add a little more oil to the pan and then sauté the onions until quite soft and just beginning to colour then add the mushroom slices and continue cooking until they are soft.
Remove the onions and mushrooms from the pan.
Return all the pork to the pan, together with any juices, add the gin and heat gently for a few minutes. Then use a long match to set light to the gin, and whilst it is flaming baste the pork with it. Season with salt and pepper, and then stir in the paprika.
Lastly, stir the crème fraiche into the pan and continue cooking for a few minutes until it is bubbling gently.

Serve, sprinkled with parsley, on a bed of noodles or with creamy mashed potatoes

*BTW I've just discovered another recipe which takes Count Stroganoff's name - a cocktail of vodka, white creme de cacao, and lime juice - sounds yummy, I intend to try it sometime.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I've read several stories about all the trivial requests made to emergency services, it seems to be getting worse. I've read about women needing tampons, people who've locked themselves out, people who're not sure what medicine they've taken, you name it. How can people be so stupid as not to know what an emergency is? And too selfish to realise that others genuinely in need might miss out? Too many people have lost all sense of society and community and the welfare of others - their own household is all that exists. A sorry situation.