The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Variations on the Mince Pie

Every year, I do my utmost to avoid Mince Pies until, at least, the second week of December.  The description ‘warm mince pie’ always sounds far better than the factory produced supermarket offerings which frequent gatherings, events and parties at Christmas.

I believe that making your own is simple, far more satisfying and, it will certainly impress guests. Taking a pretty box tied up with ribbon to a friend’s house always proves successful. Which brings me onto the subject of making time for baking. Christmas is one of the socially busiest times of the year, and there are hundreds of recipes out there for homemade pasties, tried and tested – however I’m going to suggest using shop bought pastry – it’s time saving and perfectly good. The ideas below are based on shop-bought shortcrust, puff and filo – all include little upgrades to insure a perfect pie anytime. Mincemeat is something else which can be made at home, but it needs maturing, and unless you’ve made a batch in the summer (which I always forget to do) you come a little unstuck at Christmas. I often buy a really good quality ready made mincemeat and add to it, a couple of ‘twists’ here and there and you’re good to go. I have put together four very simple, but effective ideas – ensuring that the house will be filled with delicious Christmas scents, and you’ll still have time for that last minute shopping!

Fruity Mince Meat Crackers

Using Filo Pastry makes a crisp, lighter pie. I mix a jar of mincemeat with some chopped pear and chopped apple, this firms the mincemeat up nicely and provides more substance per bite. Take six slices of filo pastry, brush each piece with melted butted and layer three together, repeat with the next three slices, then cut in four rectangles (making 8). Place a spoon of mincemeat horizontally across each one (allowing a couple of centimetres clear either end), then roll into a sausage shape. Pinch in the ends to make little cracker shapes. Brush with melted butter.  Bake until golden brown (on a non-stick baking sheet) and serve with a good sprinkle of icing sugar mixed with a little cinnamon.

Marzipan and Mincemeat Swirls

Take one ready rolled sheet of puff pastry (or shortcrust) and unroll onto a floured board. Spread 1 400g jar of good mincemeat over the pastry. Grate 80g of marzipan onto the mincemeat. Roll the pastry horizontally until you have a ‘Swiss roll’ then pop into the freezer until well chilled – it will keep very well in the freezer until needed – simply take out and slice into disks of 1cm, place on a greased, non-stick baking sheet, brush on some beaten egg yolk, then scatter with silvered almonds and a little shake of  icing sugar. Bake at 180 degrees c until golden brown and serve warm

Pimped Up Pies

I’ve taken a little Italian inspiration for my Pimped Up Pies. One of my bugbears, when it comes to Mince Pies is avoiding a ‘soggy bottom’ – I have tried several methods to help prevent this, this is one of the most successful. Line a patty tin with ready rolled shortcrust pastry. Scatter 1/2 tsp of polenta into each pie then follow with 1/2 tsp of ground almonds, this forms a ‘pillow’ for the mincemeat. Mix one 400g jar of mincemeat with 1 tablespoon of Limoncello, add three of four chopped dates, and finally, the zest of one medium lemon. Fill the pies and top with pastry lids brushed with beaten egg,  bake until golden brown and served scattered with icing sugar and grated lemon zest.

Little Bakers Pies

Making Mince Pies with children is one of the family friendly aspects of the festive season which makes memories – we all remember helping our parents or grandparents in the kitchen; very clean hands, far-too-big apron. So why not get out the pastry cutters and top your pies with festive cut-outs, they can be decorated afterwards with silver balls, coloured icing or other treats. All you need to do is line a patty tin with pastry, put in a little mincemeat and let the little ones create. These also make great presents for family members too!


Win 2 Ticket to Abergavenny Food Festival’s Christmas Fair on Sunday 10th December

I have teamed up with the wonderful Abergavenny Food Festival Team to give my readers the chance to win a pair of wristbands for this year’s Abergavenny Christmas Fair, allowing access to the yuletide markets and demo stage in the Market Hall, for the whole day.

All the details are below so hop over to Twitter then like, follow and retweet to be entered into the draw.

Competition closes at 12pm GMT Friday 1st December

Good luck!

The Abergavenny Christmas Fair is coming to town!

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©HuwJohn

On Sunday 10th December from 10am till 5pm, the Market Hall in Abergavenny will be filled with the tastes and aromas of Christmas and a lot of festive cheer as the Abergavenny Christmas Fair comes to town. There will be over 85 stallholders with festive food and gifts for sale across the Market Hall, Upper Brewery Yard and the Priory. Back in the Market Hall there will also be Christmas decoration making fun for the kids and festive menu tips from a glittering demo stage line up of culinary experts including MasterChef quarter-finalist Imran Nathoo, top chef Tommy Heaney, Guardian gardening journalist Lia Leendertz, and expert forager Liz Knight. You can even jump in Santa’s horse and carriage at The Angel Hotel! Don’t miss tasting workshops at Homes of Elegance too – there’s more about tickets for these and info on the Christmas Fair on abergavennyfoodfestival.com.
HJ-ABER-8433 - credit Huw John, Cardiff.jpg

©HuwJohn

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©HuwJohn

 
Terms and Conditions from the Abergavenny Christmas Fair:
Wristbands are non transferable and only valid for the Abergavenny Christmas Fair in Abergavenny, Sunday 10th December 2017, between 10am – 5pm
There is no monetary alternative
Wristbands will need to be collected at the Box Office on the High Street (Red Square) in front of Neil Powell Butchers
Horse & carriage rides at The Angel Hotel are costed separately at £5 each and are available between 1pm-5pm on Sunday 10th December
Tickets for tasting workshops at Homes of Elegance need to be purchased separately
Children go free with a paying/winning adult (i.e. these competition wristbands can be used by 2 adults and 2 children can accompany for free)

The Pheasant Philosophises; part 2

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A couple of weeks ago I trawled my county (and adjacent ones) searching for the best produce I could find to fill my fridge and cupboard for the week ahead. Today I went to a supermarket and it was as though I saw it all with new eyes. I was disgusted by the rows of processed rubbish- filled refined carbohydrate based foods, pesticide covered veg and dubious meat. As I was with my son, who at 11 still has the odd craving for Doritos and Cereal (in between demands for goats cheese and olives), I decided to do a bit of a test. Telling a child that something is bad for them never seems to put them off, in my experience anyway, so I resolved to encourage a little bit of self-education. We put a pack of Doritos in the trolley and compared the ingredients to the most basic tortilla chips available in the shop, for price comparison it was £1.40 vs 45p. He read the ingredients with an ever changing expression of horror, by the time he got to MSG which he knows is not good he was thoroughly put off and returned the product to the shelf. He then took up the, unappealingly plain, packaged Tortilla Chips; ingredients Maize, Rapeseed Oil and salt. “It’s a no-brainer Mum” , he said as he put them back in the trolly.

Which got me thinking; why do people assume that the value brands are rubbish? In a society where there are people struggling to make ends meet, why do so many buy branded products. I have watched programs on the television about people learning to get by on benefits and often they fill their trolley with brands believing that you pay for quality – which you do, but really only when there is a greater divide; an organic chicken and a basic chicken for example. But when it comes to basics versus own brand I don’t see a big difference and often the basics ingredients list is far more transparent and uses far fewer (unnecessary) ingredients hidden behind their chemical names.

But, as a consumer, you must remember that shops always place their value ranges below eye level forcing you to look a bit harder. I fully believe that even those on a low budget should be able to feed their families well, and the very basics such as pasta, rice and flour are not expensive. Perhaps look towards vegetarian options or make use of sustainably sourced tinned fish; a little goes a long way! And finally do a bit of planning, if you know what you’re having on each day it’s much easier to stick to a budget.


The Abergavenny Food Festival Part 2: The Producers #AFF2017

 

 

PrintAs I mentioned in my earlier post, the stars of Abergavenny Food Festival are without doubt the producers. Whether nestling between the little booths or creating fine displays in the prestigious Market Hall,  the producers have an infallible passion for food and drink which is infectious and wonderful. Most are happy to chat and I unreservedly apologise, to those who are behind me in queues, for holding them up. I am a questioner; I want to know about the product, the sourcing, origin and inspiration. I’ve been privy to some wonderful tales from lost family recipe books, to accidental discoveries, to lifelong ambition; as well as meeting those farmers whose forebears have farmed for generations through difficult times; inherently believing in their crop or herd – families for whom the ‘organic’ and ‘buy local’ campaigns are finally paying off.

 

 

IMG_7331I love that there is always something new to be learnt. Food is an ever evolving subject and the little  things gleaned at such festivals can often form the basis for longer articles, recipes or books. I do feel a little guilty though, because were I to buy from every stall I taste (and enjoy) I would be empty of pocket and overly full of larder; however that is not to say that I can’t take my new found knowledge and share the products at a later date and so many companies offer internet shops or mail order these days. I always rather fantasised about those great hampers ordered from Fortnum and Mason and arriving in the Highlands, at grand houses, after spending the night as freight on those wonderful steam trains – I suppose I seek nostalgia – and having seen the creative thought which goes into much of the artisanal packaging these days I feel a return to these glory days are on the horizon, and it warms my heart!

I also get great pleasure from passing a stall with a hand-drawn ‘Sold Out, see you next year’ sign; whilst it is obviously a great accolade for the producer (who are no doubt cursing themselves for not having made enough, even though many were working on very little sleep and far too much coffee in the weeks leading up to the festival) it also demonstrates a belief in future success.

The diverse and  rich varieties of food and drink related produce to be found at festivals are a testament to the British public’s return to real, local and artisanal foods, whether it be sauces, whose recipes come from as far away as Borneo wth Sorai; delicately flavoured gin with autumnal botanicals from Sibling Distillery or a jar of Forage Fine Foods herb rub bursting with the smells and tastes of a summer meadow, there is a story and a demand – rubbed into a leg of Welsh lamb and then slowly roasted, the herb rub is absolutely exquisite.

As I wander through the markets the smells which waft about are all too tempting; from the jars of Joe and Seph’s Willy Wonkaesque popcorn, to the elegant displays of cakes, pasties, real breads and finely sliced charcuterie. The cheese market is difficult to pass through without adding at least another four cheeses to my already overladen refrigerator. This years haul, (chick in tow, who is possibly even more of a cheese lover than me) added mature yet smooth unpasteurised cheddar from Batch Farm; IMG_7492award winning firm Somerset goat’s cheese, creamy and surprisingly mild, and charmingly named ‘Rachel’ from White Lake Cheese ; the Bath Soft Cheese Company’s Wyfe of Bath, an organic Gouda inspired cheese (although there was much debate over whether to also buy their rather marvellous Bath Blue); and  finally a donation to Macmillan (sponsors M & S’ chosen charity) secured us two packets of classic soft and milky Abergavenny goat’s cheese, a fitting final choice given the location. Soft goat’s cheese is something I always have in the refrigerator, it’s my go-to topping for oatcakes, toasted sourdough or even to add  a surprising savoury lift to cheese cake.

The street food stalls at Abergavenny do encourage gluttony, however when you’re presented with everything from Taiwanese Bao Buns to the South West’s (and that’s Bristol not the U S of A, whatever image the logo may inspire) now legendary The Pickled Brisket and their outstanding salt-beef stuffed brioche rolls; chocolate dipped authentic Churros or The Guardian’s 2017 number one choice for Pizza, our own Cardiff based  The Dusty Knuckle Pizza Company.  There was hog roast, Aberaeron honey ice-cream, Legges of Bromyard’s traditional British pies, Welsh venison and even Ghanaian street food – you could have easily taken all your main meals for a fortnight and still not covered everything. Abergavenny Food Festival champions all good food, yes a lot of it is classically British, but also a lot of it stems from other cultures; many of these chefs and producers, although British born and bred, have carried with them a great passion for their ancestral cuisine and it’s rather lucky for us, that they have. DSCN0635

I could quite easily write a whole book about just one year’s festival in Abergavenny, there is so much to see and do and taste; but alas, I am forced to be content with rifling through my collection of cards, leaflets and recipes until I can match taste to name and put in my online orders. I have also been know to drive Mr D rather mad on weekend breaks when I’ve insisted on searching the lanes of some rural county (inevitably without a sat-nav signal) for a farm shop selling something of which I only half remember the name, but found absolutely delicious at Abergavenny.

Of course, I obviously am looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary celebration but may well have to consider some sort of abstemious routine in the early days of September!

Whilst I attended the Abergavenny Food Festival as a guest, all opinions are my own as are the images.

 

 


A weekend of Munching in Monmouthshire: Meeting The Sponsors @Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

Last weekend my sleepy little corner of South Wales saw over 35,000 visitors enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of good food and excellent drink. I always feel very proud of Monmouthshire when I’m walking through the stalls, battling the crowds and tasting my way through dozens of local supplier’s goodies. This year was no exception and I have to say, it was possibly the best yet!

 

In fact, I had only intended on visiting on Saturday but time ran away with me and I discovered, by 4.30, that I’d not managed to get around half of it…so a quick shifty of plans and I was back on Sunday, Little Chick in tow, to cover all bases.

When blogging about the festival, it’s very difficult to know just what to focus on. The speakers and demonstrations were all excellent; the feasts were magnificent…however, the real stars of the show were the producers; those who make a living day to day, year to year,  from their products. Abergavenny is their way of showcasing their individual, artisanal and unique produce and to introduce some of the more unfamiliar items to a wider audience, helping them thrive within an ever challenging political climate. DSCN0641.JPG

 

Politics, of course,  rarely fail to infiltrate anything ‘country’ related and this years festival was no exception. There seems to be a bit of fear (major panic) on the wind of the British Farming industry, the uncertainty of Brexit being one of the main concerns. In the Farming Matters zone of the festival there were many passionate speakers on all aspects of farming and the various interlinked industries; without doubt this will make a post on its own and (with a little more research) I hope to share my ‘take’ on the British farming industry with you all shortly.

But, back to the event itself; and where to begin?

I was extremely lucky to be invited on a short tour to meet with some of the main festival sponsors – this year’s sponsors included Riverford Organic Farmers, Belazu Ingredient Company and the  Chase Distillery.

For the first year ever the festival utilised Abergavenny’s Linda Vista Garden as a ‘wristband free’ venue – opening up more of the festival for free and allowing all visitors to share in the essence of Abergavenny Food Festival. The garden played host to our tour and proved to be a lovely, vibrant yet relaxing area and a credit to the festival.

I was extremely delighted to meet with Riverford founder Guy Watson and to discuss with him, not only Riverford’s origins but also its future as an employee run company – and of course its eco-credentials.

 

Guy is a man really passionate about veg as befits the pioneer of the organic veg box delivery system and the Riverford yurt was offering free vegetable themed cookery workshops throughout the weekend and the samples we were given were absolutely scrummy – and obviously really good for you too! Affordable, pesticide-free fruit and veg should be readily available to all and although still a little of the expensive side I hope that with greater future demand organic will become the norm, allowing our health to reap the benefits.

Next we met with one of Mediterranean deli product purveyors Belazu‘s founders,  and were given a little insight into the company which began as an olive import business over 25 years ago – Belazu has always featured in my larder. Their Rose Harissa is used in our household on a weekly basis so I was very interested to discover the lengths they go to to connect with suppliers and ensure that only the very best quality produce ends up with their Belazu branding – the demonstration by their in-house development chef was extremely interesting and the lettuce cups filled with Sea Bass tartare were not only delicious but beautiful to look at too – after all we do eat mostly with out eyes. My ancestors were very successful merchants in Georgian Bath, they sold virtually identical products to Belazu so perhaps my heart is with them on that front too!

Finally, the  Chase Distillery tasting was particularly welcome, especially as a little pick-me-up mid afternoon and I can now confirm that their Expresso Vodka is as I imagined, quite a revelation. I must visit the distillery soon and write an extended post (note to self; take a driver) but I managed to work my way through most of their current offerings and can report that the standard is still as high as ever. One of my favourite Gins of all time is the Chase Grapefruit  which can always introduce itself, through its citrus filled burst, from the other side of a crowded room – I also tried their signature Marmalade Mule, a blend of Marmalade Vodka, ginger ale and Angostura bitters; it was, as expected, sensational and something I’m definitely going to replicate at home. It always amuses me that the Single Estate Vodkas and Gins are made from Single Estate Potatoes, it seems to be the epitome of glamour and economy!

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Whilst I attended as a guest of Abergavenny Food Festival; all opinions are my own as are the images used above.

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Delicious, Inspiring and Fun-Filled! Family Fun @ Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

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The countdown has now officially started and in just under two weeks Abergavenny plays hosts to its internationally renowned food festival, and food festivals have come a long way since they comprised a few stalls of locally produced food, a beer tent and several catering vans.

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

 

Now, perhaps you would, initially,  think twice before taking the younger family members for a ‘fun day out’ to a food festival but you’d be very pleasantly surprised. This years festival is absolutely packed with family fun; whole zones geared towards the little ones and a plethora of workshops – and of course child entry (under 16) is free which is always an added bonus! (although you will need to ask for wristbands when buying adult tickets)

I believe that it is so important to introduce children to food in a positive and fun way, new tastes are far more readily accepted in a relaxed environment and we all know that children are far more likely to eat new foods which they have helped to make.

The study of food sources, field to fork style, should be integrated into the national curriculum, the earlier the better. Britain is riding a wave of obesity and education is the only thing that can prevent this – a recent survey showed that a shockingly large percentage of inner-city children didn’t even know that milk comes from cows!

It’s up to us to change this, to teach them the joy in a homegrown, misshapen carrot or a crudely formed loaf of homemade bread. Society has become used to perfection in all foods, from a visual perspective as well as taste; we must reduce waste, embrace the wonky veg and encourage future generations of passionate foodies.
Aine Morris, CEO Abergavenny Food Festival - credit Kirstie Young PhotographyAine Morris, Chief Executive of Abergavenny Food Festival says:

It has been proven time and again that kids who have the opportunity to grow fresh produce are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables! Children are naturally pre disposed to connecting with nature, being outside, and exploring the world through taste – who doesn’t love sticking their hands in the dirt?
“It is essential that we give young people as many opportunities as possible to learn about the natural systems that we are all so dependent on. Otherwise, how can we expect anybody to value our relationship with nature in the future?

 

So what exactly can we do to help encourage a positive, lifetime relationship with food?….Abergavenny Food Festival might just have some of the answers…

 

 

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Blas o Gymru Travelling Kitchen

 

Join the Travelling Kitchen at Abergavenny Castle for a culinary historical journey through Wales. We’ll be cooking some savoury and sweet recipes, showcasing local ingredients and using traditional Welsh recipes, some with a modern twist.
The workshop, on Saturday 16th September at 10am is suitable for 7-12 year olds. At the end of the workshop children will take away a picnic bag of the food they’ve cooked to share with their families and a recipe booklet so they can cook the recipes again at home.
Free Event

Kids and families Farmyard takeover
IMG_3227“We are handing the Farmyard over to the next generation on both Saturday and Sunday morning between 10:00 – 12:00 with a host of fun and interactive experiences aimed to get children, and adults too, excited about food and farming. Learn about the realities of farming and food and get stuck in to some fun hands-on workshops, interactive demonstrations and exciting and inclusive bite size talks, accessible to all.
Activities include wild tea making with foraged foods, felting with wool, animal handling, games, challenges, milling flour and more.
The programme of ‘Back to Basics’ talks for kids and families include exciting and interactive discussions on Stardust in our Soil: where things grow and why and what our soil is really made of; The Magic of Seeds; and How to Keep Pigs Happy. Topics to inspire budding farmers, growers, gardeners, food producers and inquisitive minds of all ages. We want everyone to get involved and to learn something new from the talks and demonstrations on hand, and encourage you to share your own questions and opinions around the topics of food production and farming.”

 

ANIMALS

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Saturday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 2 x Pygmy goats
• 2 x Sheep
• 3 x Goats: Billy, mum and kid (with special goat-milking demo at 12.10pm at the pens)
• There will also be Goats milk soap & wool available to buy from the Hepburn’s goats next to their pen

Sunday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 1 Ram
• 2 x Sheep
• 2 x large Saddleback Pigs

 

FAMILY FARMYARD TAKEOVER DEMO TABLES & KIDS WORKSHOPS (in the speakers tent) – Saturday & Sunday AM from 10am – noon only
 Saturday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  How to keep happy pigs props, pics & info and a pig meat cuts display board with Martha Roberts, local pig farmer and small-holder (The Decent Company)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm
Sunday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  Wild tea making with foraged foods & info on safe, fun foraging for kids – Liz Knight (Fine Forage Foods)
Ø  Felt-making demos & workshop plus a felt & wool display and info on working with wool – Emma Bevan (Ffolky Felts)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm

 

Kids Cookery Classes

Always a winner in my family!

Saturday 16th September
10:00 – 13:00 For kids, by kids BBQ with Freddy Bird
13:30 – 14:30 Ice cream sundaes with Green & Jenks (personally recommended)
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr
Sunday 17th September
12:00 – 13:00 Delicious beans with Jenny Chandler
13:30 – 14:30 Get baking with Bill King
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr

There is limited availability, places will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

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Of finally, of course, there are the wonderful stalls. The producers’ knowledge and enthusiasm is totally infectious and many are quite happy to explain products and processes to children; and offer tastes – my son really enjoyed this aspect last year; he actually returned home clutching a ‘souvenir’ sourdough starter….and he knew the science behind it!

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Additional activity for families:

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

Love Zimbabwe Kids Parade
Saturday 16th September, 1pm – 2.00pm

Pupils from local schools come together to learn and share Fairtrade songs in support of Love Zimbabwe. The march starts at Castle Street Methodist Church at 13:00, before heading to the Angel Hotel and the Lower Brewery Yard stage. At each stopping point songs will be sung and a speaker will say a few words, with the Mayor of Abergavenny closing the parade.
The march aims to raise awareness on sustainable living, global food shortages and the importance of Fairtrade.
Love Zimbabwe is an international charity based in Abergavenny, run by Martha and David Holman. The charity’s mission is to improve quality of life of disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe through health, education and poverty reduction interventions and fostering sustainable global education in Wales.

Rotary Young Chef of the Year Competition

Saturday 16th September, 9.45am – 10.45am

“We are delighted to be hosting the Abergavenny District Final of Rotary GB & Ireland’s Young Chef of the Year Competition, which will take place in the Market Hall on Saturday morning. The winner of this final will go on to compete against Britain and Ireland’s best young chefs in the National Final in January 2018. Whether you just like to cook or you want a Michelin starred career in the kitchen, Rotary’s Young Chef of the Year Competition is a fantastic springboard to culinary success. Who knows, one day the winner may be headlining the Abergavenny Food Festival themselves!”

This competition is open to all students in full time education between ages 11 and 17. Go to https://www.rotarygbi.org/what-we-do/youth-competitions/ for more information.

Storytelling for Children
Saturday 16th September, 3pm – 4pm

“As part of this year’s Fringe programme, experienced storyteller Alison Newsam who works at schools in the surrounding area will be reading stories at Broadleaf Books in the town. A free event, suitable for aged 5+ with contributions welcome.”

And after all that, I expect the adults will definitely be in need of one of these…..highly recommended, and I have sampled extensively…just to make really sure!

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To try and distill the true essence of Abergavenny Food Festival I asked Chief Executive Aine Morris a few questions:

What makes the Abergavenny Food Festival so successful?
“The festival is all about food with a commitment to showcasing the very best developments in British craft food. Our speakers and supporters love Abergavenny as fundamentally, we are able to deliver a food festival with a community feel to a hugely engaged audience of visitors every year. There’s a special mix of talent, interesting talks, dynamic masterclasses, demos and educational spaces which keep people coming back year after year.”

What are the highlights of this years festival?
“I’m very excited about the return of the Community Feast in the Market Hall. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate the installation of the Market Hall decorations, and say a massive ‘thank you’ to the local town with their own special event.

“The pop-up feast by Edinburgh Food Studio is going to be a real highlight – they are definitely some of the most exciting young chefs in the UK at the moment and I’m looking forward to seeing them showcase their food.

“And for families, The Farmyard will be taken-over by kids each morning of the festival this year. There will be a series of workshops including The Stardust in our Soil and the opportunity to milk goats!”

In three words, how would you describe the Festival?
Delicious, inspiring, fun-filled

So there you have it; what’s not to like? Parking is easy, accessibility is excellent….my main recommendation? Really comfy shoes, because there’s an awful lot of ground to cover!

 

 

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                    For further information: www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com

 


Back to school, foodie festivals….and sticky buns!

IMG_1722For years, those words, banded about from about mid-June terrified me. I admit that I did not enjoy school; I was classic bully fodder and suffered terribly. Now, Master A is about to start secondary school; luckily he takes after Mr D and is very popular albeit a little geeky around the edges and after twenty five years I am finally at peace…I think (although I have been having anxiety dreams for the past week).

I still associate September with fresh starts. I think it is ingrained upon you as a child that the true New Year is actually your first day back to school in September; I have implemented diets,  started projects and freshened things up, all in that first week of September. Perhaps that’s why I am an Autumnophile.

In other news, the food festival season has now started and most weekends will find me surrounded by delicious foods and sampling all manner of little drinkies, all in the name of research of course. However, as they are on weekends I do have to ensure that Master A, when he comes with us, always has something to look forward to, rather than trailing around after Mum, lamenting his enforced separation from various gadgets. Luckily, he only gets bored after a couple of  hours; he is a cheese fanatic and will, ostensibly,  try anything (even though he is rather more picky at home). Last year saw us sharing our car with a lovely wedge of the famous Stinking Bishop, perry-washed cheese whose odour is somewhat akin to trench-foot!

I do believe in feeding your children a nourishing diet, certainly not without treats though.  I have found that limiting sugar and swapping white for wholemeal, heritage grains or sourdough does help with concentration hugely. I enjoy baking and always make sure that I stock up the tins with lots of yummy treats. This week I have been making Spelt Buns, with an egg-enriched dough. We are split into two camps in our household – Camp Cinnamon (myself and Master A) and Camp Fruit (Mr D), so I made both. Using spelt flour makes these buns more easily digestible and you needn’t kneed quite so much as with wheat flour.

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These can be made with only a small amount of sugar (and a tiny dusting of icing sugar) as the fruit or cinnamon adds its own natural sweetness.

The Bun tradition is Britain is wonderfully regional, with almost every county and often town having its own variety. The most famous buns being the Chelsea Bun and the Bath Bun (which is also home to the Sally Lunn which possible originates from the French Sol et Lune, sun and moon). In Cornwall, Saffron Buns are found; rich, yellow and slightly spicy. Obviously the most famous is the Hot Cross Bun which is pan-British; however if you delve into those dogeared cookery books you’re bound to find hundreds of small variations which give each bun its individual identity.  The lesser know varieties (mostly from the Bun-loving 17th century include;

The Real Current Bun (Hampshire late 17th C)

The Colston Bun (Bristol mid 17thC)

The London Bun (Unk. but NEVER to be confused with the finger bun!)

 

 


In search of breakfast…

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Allegedly the most important meal of the day; and I am inclined to agree. Until I eat breakfast I just can’t concentrate properly – I have read a great deal on breakfast, researched ‘breakfast’ throughout the world, looked in to history it it – and became rather fascinated about it’s changing role in our society.

Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – and was only placed at the beginning of the day, as a specific meal, when the fashion for dining changed from one main meal of the day (and a lighter supper) to three meals a day in the 16th century. It is said that the Tudors invented breakfast. Although their breakfast, and indeed breakfasts up until the mid twentieth century were far more robust than today’s muesli and Nutella toast.

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I think the Edwardian breakfast is probably the King; several courses, served buffet style in large houses, comprising porridge, kippers, ‘the full English’ and the odd kidney (of which I am not very fond). The arrival of cereals in the later 19th century brought about the quicker almost ‘grab and go’ breakfast, which is sadly where we generally are today.

Recently, there has been so much contrasting information relating to the healthiness of the ‘Full English’ –  currently, saturated fats are good for us, twenty years ago they were bad….what is the truth? There are now the paleo devotees who preach about piles bacon of runny eggs, the health brigade with their chia, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free choices and the more usual toast and marmalade lovers who just want ‘something light’.

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At home, we enjoy rather varied breakfasts – dependant of course on time and current food ‘fad’. Usually it will involve eggs and wholemeal bread, sometimes bacon and occasionally something exotic like sweet potato rosti and avocado. If we’re feeling indulgent the croissants come out.

One of the easiest Autumn breakfasts is without a doubt, Porridge, made with oatmeal and served with a good glug of double cream and either maple syrup or fruit compote (blackberry being a particular favourite). On the weekend a ‘Full English’ is non-negotiable; buckets of tea both days complete the line-up.

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I am one of those strange people of actively look forward to the breakfast at hotels, I’ll often sneak a look at their menu and pre-plan; hotel breakfasts can take you right

through the day without need for lunch of carefully planned – I devote hours searching the local farm shops for the ‘ultimate’ bacon and am totally repulsed by the supermarket offerings with their seepage of white gunk. Eggs have to be free-range, preferably organic (from our chickens if we can find where they lay them) and toasted sourdough or heavy stone-ground wholemeal has to be smothered in salted butter and a little marmalade. Beans, I can leave but mushrooms are usually lurking somewhere on the plate, as is black pudding. In Cornwall we enjoyed hog’s pudding which is a white sausage and often far more palatable than than the red. In Scotland, Lorne sausage squares and a slice of Haggis is included. The Irish breakfast with its potato cakes and soft soda bread is totally yum. Of course, in Wales we have our own full breakfast addition – Lavabread. This seaweed is well cooked, and either served as is or made into little cakes and fried to bacon fat; do not be put off by it’s shoreline credentials – just try it and you will be surprised.

Apparently the healthiest breakfast in the world is from Iceland and comprises Oatmeal, Skyr (a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which gives the Greeks a run for their money), dark rye breads, cheeses and meals. I’d be quite happy to indulge! So this Autumn why not experiment a little – whether adding a twist to the usual pre-school offering or going all out on the weekend, breakfasts is well worth the effort.

 

 


Well, I’m back…

A long weekend in Cheshire and NorthWales is to be highly recommended. We were, as always budget conscious and enjoyed two nights away with Master A (who is a rather vocally pedantic pre-teen) at The Bear’s Head in Brereton which is close to Sandbach and about 30 miles from Manchester. The room was clean and tidy and the complimentary buffet breakfast was perfectly good; this is not a five-star premises but was comfortable and convenient and the room cost only £114 for both nights…and of course, to keep costs down, we hammered hell out our family National Trust membership!

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On our way ‘up north’ we stopped at the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall, once home to Lord Litchfield, photographer extraordinaire. The house is beautiful and is slowly being restored having been recently handed back to NT from Staffordshire council. I last visited as an eight year old and in the twenty five or so ensuring years little has changed. It’s a great place for families to visit, the grounds are spectacular and it’s quite easy to loose yourself in the formal gardens and wild parkland. Stafford is of course, home to the Staffordshire Oat Cake; a griddle-cooked pancake often served with bacon and eggs for breakfast, a dish worth seeking out.

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Our second visit of the day was to Little Moreton Hall near Congleton. This was about fifteen minutes from our hotel and is quite delightful. Known to be the best example of a black and white Tudor Manor House in Britain, it sits in splendid isolation with a small moat, knot garden and is surrounded by beds of sweet smelling herbs.

That evening, to the dulcet whinge of Master A, we dined at The Vicarage.  It being a Sunday evening we couldn’t say no to a roast and enjoyed local Cheshire pork with all the trimmings; admittedly the portions were not as generous as we would have liked but it tasted delicious and even Master A was content once he’d demolished a home-made, brioche-bunned burger as big as his head. I also ‘discovered’ Rum and Raisin ice-cream.

Our second day took it towards Manchester, and to Quarry Bank Mill, famous as the location of Channel Four’s gritty period drama, ‘The Mill’.

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Walking through the various rooms, hearing the machinery and learning about the cotton industry in general was fascinating, even Master A didn’t moan too much! Occasionally immersing ourself in our industrial history is so important, how many children wear cotton today and don’t know where it comes from, know nothing of children in a bygone time who suffered, worked and often died in pursuit Britain’s most valuable industry?

Nowadays, here at least, it’s much more ethical and I did treat myself to some cotton fabric woven at the mill and printed locally, which depicts the mill, the ‘big house’ and the Apprentice house (a building which housed poor children from city workhouses who were indentured to work for 9 years at the mill for their keep only). There is also a great cafe with some really tasty local dishes and of course ice-cream to keep the little ones happy!

That afternoon I achieved a lifelong ambition (well a 20 year ambition anyway) I went to

………

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Pemberley!!!!!!

Well, not exactly….Lyme Park to be precise but I did tread in the footsteps of Mr (Colin Firth) Darcy…sadly my Mr D refused to recreate the shirt and lake scene, but you can’t have everything.

Saying that there were a lot of rather odd, Austenland types wandering around dressed as Eliza Bennet…but with the charming additions of camera and mobile phone. The house was lovely and you could pick up your ‘I Love Mr Darcy’ totes in the shop, so well worth the visit.

Our final day took us into North Wales and to Wrexham’s Erddig estate which I absolutely adored. The family were definite hoarders and nothing was thrown away resulting in a collection of over 30,000 objects to be curated by the National Trust. The history buff in me got in the way this time and I happily spent a hour or two reading the wonderful poems which the squires had written about their servants; many of which were accompanied by oil portraits (18th century servants) and photographs (19th an 20th century staff).

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There is a lovely poem of blessing  in the servants quarters which I think everyone should have a copy of  in their kitchens.

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Steeped in culture and history we stopped for a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake in the cafe;

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where Master A completely let the side down by drawing a selection of bright pink willies on the fairy themed children’s colouring sheets (although they were apparently ‘funny men’ with big (hairy) eyes and long, pointy noses). Enough said!

With the weather a little overcast we headed to the internationally famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct designed by the eponymous Thomas Telford (who built himself a rather nice little pad in full view of it). We boarded a boat and enjoyed an hour or so peacefully meandering over the aqueduct and back again. It is a true feat of industrial engineering…and totally worth a visit!

 

So all in all a lovely couple of days and please do check out the links for more details.

And finally a few words from one of the former owners of Erddig…(although the peace and beauty may be a little lacking!)

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Let’s start with the Lower Wye Valley

I have to admit that, beautiful as our area is, we are off and over this hills this bank holiday. However, I thought it would be rather nice to share a few thoughts for those of you who’s ‘over the hills’IMG_6805, is actually my little part of Wales.

The Wye Valley has been a popular tourist destination since the 18th century; one guide book depicts be-hatted and floral-bonneted ‘tourists’ being rowed down the Wye (past the heavy industry which blackened almost everything green and natural) to appreciate it’s beauty (from a safe distance). Even Nelson visited (a visit upon which Monmouth has been dining out for over two centuries) with his ‘posh crumpet’ Lady Hamilton. But what does it have to offer?

Well, it’s great for families, you can keep the little ones entertained from dawn to dusk, on dry and wet days. It keeps the cultured happy and the food lovers, but most of all it’s a superb place to just relax. Being only 40 minutes from Bristol, under an hour from Cardiff and (with a fair wind) under three from London, the Lower Wye Valley, which lies between the towns of Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye, and is ideally located for a short break or weekend getaway.

Of course, the river is splendid at this time of year, when it reflects the pale yellows, deep reds and golden browns of the woodland, interspersed with numerous swans and the odd leaping salmon. Hiring a canoe from one of the many outdoor adventure companies is a great idea and meandering down the river makes for a very pleasant day out. There are numerous pubs to ‘rest’ at on the way, and most offer reasonably good fodder for a lunchtime sojourn. I think that it’s only from the river that one can fully appreciate the majesty of the Valley. The road which shadows it is well worth the drive but you fail to notice the little things, the unusual angle to view Tintern Abbey, the lost church of Lancaut, the Seven Sisters Rocks and The Slaughters (named for the memory of a battle between Viking invaders and the rather annoyed natives) near Symond’s Yat or the great railway bridge at Redbrook which stands, somewhat forgotten, a legacy of an Industrial Age when this little village produced the thinnest tin in the world. There’s Goodrich Castle which peers down at the river and the old Priory of Flansford which sits, timelessly, beneath it; and a plethora of architecturally fascinating bridges.

Ross-on-Wye, a few miles into Herefordshire, and well named for the red sandstone upon which it is built, is quintessentially English, its pretty covered marketplace the centre of many a 1950’s picture postcard.

The county town of Monmouth is well worth a visit. Although it has a few too many coffee shops for comfort the museum is free and the fortified gatehouse which sits astride the river Monnow is one the best preserved examples in the UK. It also has a Waitrose which is obviously a good thing!

Chepstow, the final stop on the Offa’s Dyke path is known for its castle, once the stronghold of William Marshall, the greatest knight of the 12th century. There are a few chunks of the old town walls about and there are a rather good soft play centre for rainy days and bored children.

This site is a good starting point: Wye Valley AONB