Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky


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HADDON HALL, BETTER THAN A MOVIE SET

The lower courtyard

The lower courtyard

Having watched Game of Thrones on television, I’ve finally bought the first book in the series, a great read while travelling. There’re a lot of characters, whose stories we follow, and castles and strongholds all over the mythical map. I’ve been a staunch fan of the series on HBO, filmed in Ireland, Malta, Iceland and Croatia, although it really is all just fantasy fun, sex and gore. The show has too much violence for Diane to watch, but to me it’s all wonderfully wicked, and I’m already looking forward to the season four launch in 2014.

When we climb up to the medieval entrance of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, it is so marvellously old, and odd, that for a moment I feel like a character in the Game of Thrones. This could easily be a location for the series. As we enter the lower courtyard, we can see why so many film makers have chosen this as a location. It was Humperdinck’s Castle 25 years ago in The Princess Bride, and more recently appeared in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Brilliant tapestries

Brilliant tapestries

It’s supposed to be the finest example of a fortified medieval manor house still in existence in England and we are eager to explore on a warm summer day.

We peek into the chapel, recently restored, where there are pews for the nobility and where the serfs stood. There’s a spookily realistic marble statue of a deceased young son lying atop his coffin. Recent restorations have removed ancient whitewash and revealed pre-Reformation frescoes. It’s cramped and there are too many tourists for comfort so we’re quickly off to the main building. Of course we visit the kitchens, now disused and well restored. Down a dim corridor, stone flags worn by generations of serving wenches carrying trenchers of food up to their lords in the great hall, we discover the bare facts of ancient cooking. The kitchens were added in 1370. Very up to date for their day: there’s a chimney, roasting racks beside an open fire, bread ovens and nothing modern at all. Each function has its own small space, from bakery to butchery. I’m not sure if that was primitive hygiene or old fashioned jurisdictional separation below stairs.

The Long Hall

The Long Gallery

Above stairs it’s a different story. Spacious galleries with portraits of long-dead ancestors, really old furniture, brilliant tapestries, almost no chairs – I suppose everyone stood except the lord and lady. The long gallery was designed for winter walking exercise. The ceiling is a brilliant maze of plasterwork. We visit bedrooms, dressing rooms, little nooks and crannies and the family dining room. It seems we are not seeing the whole house and suddenly all becomes clear. The family is still living here. We are just visiting the bits of the house they’ve opened to the public.

The occupant is Lord Edward Manners, brother of the current and 11th Duke of Rutland. The family acquired the manor house as part of a 13th Century marriage settlement and has hung onto it ever since. Parts of the building date back to the 11th Century, when it was built by an illegitimate son of William the Conqueror, but most was added between the 13th and 17th Centuries. Whenever it was added, it all seems really, genuinely old. In 1703 the incumbent Duke moved to another of his castles and Haddon Hall was essentially abandoned. That’s what has preserved it so wonderfully. For 200 years it was ignored until the 9th Duke and Duchess took up residence and started restoration in the 1920s.

The upper terrace

The upper terrace

The house is fun, but it is in the gardens that the reconstruction really shines. Terraces tumble down the slope to the river, packed with perennials in herbaceous borders. A medieval knot garden has been started, along with wild flower borders to attract bees and butterflies. On the way out there’s a little gift shop and café in the old stable block. Beside it is a topiary garden with family heraldic devices of a boar’s head and a peacock. I had to read that in the guide book. I thought the fanciful clipped hedges showed a rabbit and a chicken.

We’ve had a good pub meal on the way to the Hall, stopping at Froggatt Edge in the Peak District National Park, where scenes from The Princess Bride were also filmed. Lunch at The Chequers Inn was excellent. I’m stuffed on whitebait and really outstanding bangers and mash with shredded veggies, so we pass on a hike along the top of this stunning escarpment. Fortunately we can get to the top by road, where the views over the heathered heath are magnificent, back-dropped by crags of gritstone. Cutting millstones was a major endeavour in these parts and broken ones can be seen at the bottom of the cliffs if you look carefully.

The mighty Corsa

The mighty Corsa

The mighty Corsa, which has taken us all around England on this visit, enjoys the run to the Peak District and back to our little village in Yorkshire. The next day, our last in England, it expires while I’m backing it out of the driveway. While we’re back in Canada, our friendly local mechanic tows it to his garage and resets the computer. Now it runs fine and is waiting for adventures on our next trip.


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IN SEARCH OF EGGS BENNY

Peccavi leaves the island behind

Peccavi leaves Toronto behind

If every crisis overcome deserves a reward, then we have earned one on this trip. We planned to sail across Lake Ontario from Toronto to Port Dalhousie, which should have been a pleasant 25 mile cruise. The wind was light and fluky at the beginning and then died to nothing. The 35-year-old eight horsepower single-cylinder diesel is a noisy beast, which I normally use only for getting on and off the dock and out of harbour. Determined to make our destination, there was no alternative but to motor across the lake. However, a slight engine coolant problem led to us pumping water into the boat’s bilges when the engine ran. Drifting in the middle of the lake, out of sight of land and even the omnipresent CN Tower, there was no alternative but to get the engine cover off and delve into the engine’s bowels. A mechanic I’m not, but with encouragement from club Fleet Captain Matt on the VHF, the fault was isolated and fixed and so began a long motor into safe harbour. A dinner with a pirate theme awaited us and we had a very pleasant visit with the folks at the Dalhousie Yacht Club.

Rozie's serves a perfect eggs benny

Rozie’s serves a perfect eggs Florentine

The reward came the next morning in the shape of my favourite breakfast – eggs Benedict. One of DYC’s very kind members drove seven of us over to Rozie’s Breakfast Café on Main Street. A companionable meal followed and the eggs Benedict were perfect, with perhaps the best and freshest Hollandaise sauce I’ve tasted in a while, tangy and lemony flavoured, along with really good home fries, tasty and not at all greasy. Complimenting our young lady server, it turns out most of the staff are related, and there really is a Rozie, back there in the kitchen churning out superb breakfasts between 0630 and 1400 hours seven days a week. Our splendid meal set us up for a long motor back to Toronto, with a glassy lake and not a breath of air. Well, if one goes cruising, one has to expect the motoring part of the experience, unless one has the luxury of waiting for beneficial winds.

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

I’ve enjoyed many splendid eggs benny brunch experiences. On our first ever Sunday brunch date, Diane and I enjoyed a superb version at Le Select Bistro in Toronto. Œufs Bénédicte, as they spell it on their resolutely French bistro menu, comes with two poached eggs on a croissant, Hollandaise with ham and asparagus. The eggs are from free range Mennonite raised chickens. You can taste the difference and we enjoy knowing the hens are happy birds, not confined in battery cages, but running around in the outdoors.

Joy Bistro is another of our favourite brunch spots in Toronto. They offer several unique takes on the traditional dish, including Hogtown with a cheddar mornay sauce replacing the Hollandaise and smoked cheddar and a jalapeño biscuit as a base for the eggs and ham. Their Leslieville version has peameal bacon, sautéed spinach, Yukon gold rösti potatoes and lemon Hollandaise. My favourite is what they used to call Norwentine and have now simplified to Norwegian: a traditional and delicious offering with both smoked salmon and spinach.

Further afield we enjoy simply scrumptious eggs benny in the Oak Long Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. I’m not entirely sure of the renovations to this classic hotel dining room, but it was packed with the local crowd for cocktails and dinner. At breakfast it’s a casual affair, served at the lounges down the side of the room. My notes from the trip record “an outstanding eggs benny with shaved ham and tiny roasted tomatoes.” We offer our comments to the 72-year-old waiter, who promises to pass our praises to the chef. Their more unusual offering is styled Jonah Crab Benedict with poached eggs, local Jonah crab cake, mustard aioli and lemon hollandaise.

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

On the subject of sailing, I’ve also prepared eggs benny while at sea, cruising in the Caribbean. This is more difficult than it sounds as wave action can play havoc down below with a pan of boiling water. Usually, I ask one of the crew to shout “wave” when a big one is sighted, so I can lift the pan off the burners and avoid slopping boiling water and half-poached eggs on the floor. Boat stoves, you see, are gimballed from side to side, but not for fore and aft action. My culinary trick is to smuggle a pack of English muffins in my luggage (as they are simply not available down south), along with a good quality instant Hollandaise mix. Whatever comes out of the kitchen is usually consumed voraciously as sailors at sea seem to be continuously hungry. It’s something to do with all that fresh salty air.

For an easy Hollandaise recipe see my blog (THE SUBLIME EGGS BENEDICT on January 7, 2013) with my versions of eggs Florentine (spinach) and eggs royale (smoked salmon or gravlax).


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PEACH PIE REDUX

Peach pie reduxThis week’s peach lattice pie recipe was my most popular article in three months with readers, so without any further apologies, here’s another peach pie story and recipe.

We had a wonderful day out in Niagara-on-the-Lake earlier this week and discovered a new restaurant that could quickly become a favourite. Treadwell is the brainchild of fellow Brit, Stephen Treadwell, the former Executive Chef from the town’s Queen’s Landing Hotel. We remember it fondly from sailing trips to Port Dalhousie, where coincidentally we will be cruising again this weekend. At the beginning of the summer Treadwell re-opened in NOTL on the Queen Street restaurant and tourist strip. We are greeted by his friendly son James, co-owner and sommelier. James offers us a complimentary glass of Bubblehead sparkling rosé from John Howard’s local Megalomaniac winery.

It is perfect. Crisp and dry on the palate, with a hint of something to come in the effervescence.

Treadwell - tucked away behind Starbucks - needs better signage

Treadwell – tucked away behind Starbucks – needs better signage

But I crave a martini and ask James if his bartender would understand if I ordered a Gentleman’s Portion. Indeed she would, he claims, and Jamie the bartender delivers. My vodka martini on the rocks, in a rocks glass, with a twist of lemon, very dry and of sufficient size to quench my thirst, is exactly what I want. It’s well after the lunch hour when we eat, having been looking at houses all morning, so we share a nice green salad and both order fish and chips. All the food at Treadwell is locally sourced. Our fish is delicious and we follow with a spectacular and refreshing peach Melba (one portion, two spoons).

Good comfort food, as we sit on the patio and watch the passing parade of mostly obese American tourists. The way we’re eating, we might be joining them. I know the biggest lady we see is American. She’s got the American eagle and a stars and stripes flag tattooed right across her ample chest and bosom. I hate to think what else she has pictured, hidden away among the dimples of cellulite and rolls of fat.

Fortunately we are not driving but walking about town, having dropped the car off at our helpful real estate agent’s house earlier in our exploration. Patient Glenn from Sotheby’s nearly finds us a house, in what is billed as Ontario’s prettiest town. The cottage is cute beyond belief, but for various reasons we can’t close a deal. Back at his lakeside house, his charming wife Nancy pours Diane another glass of Bubblehead. Nancy’s an even hotter real estate agent than Glenn. We’ll be back, we tell them, as we head off to the highway and town, thanking them for their hospitality.

Treadwell's peach Melba

Treadwell’s peach Melba

With memories of peach Melba fresh in our heads, we pick up a ripe basket of very fresh Niagara peaches. Tonight they become the basis for another peach pie.

First, let’s talk about Peach Melba. It’s named after Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba and is shamelessly colourful. She was performing in an opera in London in the late 1890s and the Savoy Hotel’s French chef Auguste Escoffier created this dish to honour her. The blend of poached peaches, raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream creates a transcendent taste sensation.

Peach Melba
Serves 4
Preparation time 20 min

Ingredients
4 ripe peaches
1 cup simple syrup (dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of boiling water)
1 cup raspberry coulis (see my blog URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE DUCHESS on December 18, 2012 for the complete recipe)
Thin wafers or cookies of your choice
Vanilla ice cream

Preparation and cooking
1. Plunge the ripe peaches into boiling water for 30 secs, remove with a slotted spoon, then cool in icy water. The skins should slip off easily.
2. Cut the peaches in half, remove stones, and poach in a cup of boiling simple syrup for about 5 min. Remove from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside on a rack to cool. Once cooled, slice into eighths.
3. To serve, spoon the peach slices into a bowl or parfait glass (see photo for Treadwell’s take), cover with a good dollop of raspberry coulis, top with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and inset a triangular wafer into the ice cream. Finish with more raspberry coulis. Treadwell added crisp  chocolate cookies which were delicious, but made the whole thing a bit sweet. I prefer the traditional wafer, but it’s your choice. Anything crispy will suffice.

Peach Pie Redux
(See my blog ROADS LESS TRAVELLED on August 11, 2013 for my original recipe)
Following my effort earlier in the week and with some follow-up research, I’ve made some small changes to the recipe, which I offer here. See if you prefer the difference.
Some cooks feel the bottom pie shell should not be blind baked if a top is to be added, even a lattice. So this time, I roll out the pastry as before, but after pushing it well into the corners of a lightly greased pie dish, simply add the juicy sliced peach pie filling. One difference is that I don’t trim the pie yet.
Second change: after filling, I roll out the second half of my pie pastry recipe, moisten the edge of the bottom pie with milk, and lay on the top. After trimming all the way round with a sharp small knife, the pie top is crimped onto the bottom with a fork, to make a decorative edge. The left over pastry is rolled up and rolled out. Using the sharp knife, I cut out five small decorative peach leaves, score them to make a leaf pattern, moisten their backs with milk, and press them gently into the centre of the pie. Between the leaves, I cut slits to allow the steam to escape.
Third change: then I brush the whole pie with a thin layer of milk.
First, the pie goes into the oven for 20 min at 425°F (220°C). Since the edges are browning more quickly than the rest of the pie, it’s advisable to cover the whole edge of the pie with thin strips of foil.
Reduce the oven to 375°F (190°C) and cook for a further 30 min.
Remove and cool on a rack for a minimum of 3 hr before serving. It really does make a difference to the thickness of the sauce inside the pie.
Store lightly covered in the fridge and enjoy with vanilla ice cream.


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ROADS LESS TRAVELLED

Overlooking the Niagara River

Overlooking the Niagara River

We are driving around in the Jag, top down, having a spectacular day getting lost in the Niagara region and finding ourselves, quite by mistake, atop the Niagara Escarpment. There’s a spectacular view over orchards and vineyards with Lake Ontario stretching into a blue haze in the distance.

On a little country road, we almost run over a chicken crossing in front of us. It wants to get to the other side. We pull into a driveway and a bronzed farmer and two very cute blonde children come out of the house to see who has arrived. The farmer has a strong Manchester accent. Diane, who is from the North can tell immediately. She asks him how come he’s here and he tells about emigrating to a better place for his family and starting a farm. The chickens are completely free range, he says, confirming the obvious. His eldest sub-teen daughter collects the eggs every morning, diligently washes them, and gets the revenue from egg sales as pocket money. We buy a dozen rich brown eggs from her, all different sizes, but very clean.

He’s also got baskets of ripe peaches for sale and we buy two of those as well. We put them in the tiny trunk of the car, which is lined with a hand-made Persian carpet, as are the foot wells in front. The former Lancastrian finds it hard to believe that a Yorkshire lass can do so well as to have luxury carpets for mats in the car. He says so, but we are oblivious to the irony and are off out of his gravel driveway, tires spinning and a throaty growl from the exhaust, back on our journey to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We descend the Escarpment on a windy road and end up in the flat alluvial plain that leads down to the water.

We’re thinking of selling our Toronto townhouse and moving to this quaint small place. We meet with a real estate agent and look at properties. Nothing quite suits today, but perhaps something will be perfect on our next visit.

Home again, I look at the peaches, pick out eight perfectly ripe ones, squeeze them and smell their fragrance. These puppies are just right for a peach pie, I decide. And so to work. The classic peach pie needs only peaches and sugar. I add a very small measure of cinnamon and nutmeg to enhance the flavour, but nothing more.

PEACH LATTICE PIE

Peach lattice pie

Peach lattice pie

Serves 6
Preparation time 30 min
Cooking time 40 min
Cooling down time 3 hr

Ingredients
5 cups (1.25 L) or about 8 medium ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
(NOTE: for a sweeter pie increase sugars to 1/3 cup each)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
9 in double crust pastry recipe (see my blog of January 25, 2013 – THE LIFE OF PIE) or use frozen pastry

Pastry toolPreparation and cooking
1. I’ve written before about making perfect pie pastry, so I will skip this stage, except for one hint. I have quite warm hands, which makes pastry blending difficult, so I have discovered a perfect tool for mixing in the butter (illustrated). It has made life much easier, without a sticky mess adhering to my hands.
2. Once you have the bottom layer of pastry pressed into the 9 in baking dish, preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Prick the bottom of the pie with a fork to allow air to escape and blind bake for no more than 10 min, or until the shell is a light brown. Cool shell completely before adding filling.
3. While that is going on, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Dunk the ripe peaches into the boiling water and remove after a minute with a slotted spoon. The skins should slip right off. If they don’t, allow the peaches to cool and then peel with a small sharp knife. The problem is probably that the peaches were not quite ripe and you may want to add more sugar to your mixture to compensate. Slice the peaches into quarters to make pit removal easy and then slice again into thinner portions.
4. Put the sliced, skinless peaches into a large bowl, add the lemon juice, and toss to coat.
5. In a small bowl or measuring jug, mix the two sugars (you can increase the quantity for a sweeter pie), cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch well. Pour over the peaches a little at a time and toss gently so the peaches are well covered.
6. Pour the peach filling into the cooled pastry shell. Then roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into strips about ¾ inch wide. Arrange the strips in one direction, then fold every other strip back on itself. Lay the longest remaining strip down at 90 degrees and cover with the folded strips. Repeat until the lattice is complete. Now crimp the strips to the edge of the pie and if necessary glue them down with a little water.
7. Sprinkle some sugar on top for effect and bake in a 425°F (220°C ) oven until the crust is set and beginning to brown, about 20 min. Reduce the heat to 375°F (190°C) until the filling is bubbling, about 30 to 40 min. If the edge starts to brown too quickly, cover with little strips of aluminum foil.
8. Cool your pie for at least 3 hr before serving. The longer you leave it the better it will taste and the filling will set nice and thick. Store, lightly covered at room temperature or in the fridge.

Serving suggestion
Enjoy with whipped cream, or ice cream.


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FÊTES AND ICE CREAM HEAVEN

Betty, Vintage Scoops restored ice cream van

Betty, Vintage Scoops restored ice cream van

There’s been a lot of chat recently, in the old fashioned print newspapers that I read, about artisanal ice cream and the crazy and interesting flavours the hand-made ice cream crowd dream up. Me, I’m a chocolate ice cream guy. Diane is ready to try any new flavour, but I stick to my old favourite, and I’ll always head for the richest, darkest, chocolatiest chocolate offering. She’s convinced me to try mango ice cream (President’s Choice mango ice cream is pretty good) and as I love mangoes, that’s a natural fit. Sometimes we have it, on top of sliced ripe Ataulfo mangoes, topped with the mango coulis we buy at the Chatsworth Farm Shop near our cottage in England. Not for me the gin and tonic, or elderflower flavoured stuff I read about today in The Globe and Mail.

Home made chocolate ice cream

Victoria serves home-made chocolate ice cream

At a summer fête in the south of England in June, I came across a wonderful 1950s style restored ice cream van that was selling home-made mango, rhubarb crumble, mojito and other flavours. But when I got to the head of the line, the adventurous spirit left me and I asked for a scoop of chocolate on my cone. And what heaven it was: rich, smooth and essentially chocolate. And with my scoop, I got a smile from the girl with huge blue eyes, a Betty Boop hairstyle and an armful of colourful tattoos. Turns out the van is called Betty, the girl is called Victoria and their business is called Vintage Scoops. I hope Victoria, her mum Jo and Betty have a wonderful season at fêtes and fairs across the south of England this summer.

Fêtes are a wonderfully English institution, often held in a small village on the green, or a field next to the church or some such public area highjacked for the day. They are usually organized as an annual fund-raiser, for a local charity or the church restoration fund and are as much a part of summer as ice cream.

DSC01441The fête I am attending on a glorious June day, when warm weather has finally arrived in damp old England and it looks like a Brit is actually going to win the men’s tennis at Wimbledon, is in aid of the Waterloo Bonfire Society in Lewes, East Sussex. Diane and I have just become members, but I am alone for this visit. The morning starts with a fortifying whisky at The Lamb, where the Society meets. Already at the bar are some large men in kilts. I assume, correctly as it turns out, that this is the core of the Waterloo Bonfire Society Pipe and Drum band. They welcome me as a new member and I chat about this and that with Pipe Major Hayden, drummers Sean and Donald and bass drummer Paul. After a pint or two of the local brew, they head out to the courtyard to practice. Sean is a true Scot and I like him immediately. His wife Sharon is kind and gives me all the inside scoop about the Society and what’s what.

The Waterloo Bonfire Society Pipe and Drum Band

The Waterloo Bonfire Society Pipe and Drum Band

As the formal procession starts to form up, I realize that although I’d just come for information, I’m going to be in it. A banner carrier dressed in the Society’s official smuggler’s uniform of red and white striped sweater and white pants, leads the way, followed by the band. The Mayor and Councillor come next. It seems the Major is also the head of the Society, a useful political connection. Then there’s a rag tag bunch of followers, some in costume, many not, with most of the latter wearing red. I’m wearing white, so I suppose I’m half right. I walk with Sharon and she tells me who’s who. We process down the lane, round through the centre of town, back past The Lamb and along to the Paddock behind Lewes Castle. There are more people watching and taking photos than are in the parade. But we attract a good crowd, who follow us into the fête, where two smugglers with donations buckets extract entrance fees from the public in a good spirited manner. Tents and marquees have been set up on the grass and the band leads us straight into the refreshment tent, where I have another whisky and pour a neat one into my Scottish drummer friend.

Leaping Morris dancers

Leaping Morris dancers

In the centre of the field is a performance area and stalls have been set up around the perimeter. All types of foods are on offer, goods are for sale and there are rides and slides for the kiddies. For the adults, there’s an old-fashioned test-your-strength machine, a coconut shy and a booth where you can throw hard wooden balls to smash plates and work off any residual aggression. After walking around and trying an assortment of sausages, veggie patties and the aforementioned ice cream, I return to the refreshment tent and spend much of the afternoon in the company of a very merry local dentist. His wife is cross with him for being drunk, but to me he just seems mellow. Perhaps I am too.

Together, we watch another performance of some traditional pipe tunes from the band and demonstrations from local groups such as teenagers showing off their martial arts. We have a lot of laughs, especially while watching the Morris Dancers, who are in black, a Welsh border style, not in the more typical white of Dorset dancers. Sussex boasts no indigenous Morris dancers of old, though this troupe hails from a local village.

Busy beer tent

Busy beer tent

By mid-afternoon the grounds of the old Paddock are filling up nicely, the bouncy castle is at capacity and the beer tent is doing exceptional business. A very young girl folk singer and her not much older guitarist are entertaining in the tent and it seems like a good time to make an exit. My last task is to pick up (and pay for) our smuggler’s costumes, custom hand knitted for us by a Bonfire Society lady. I buy official knitted red hats as well and only have to get a couple more items to complete the authentic look.

Having a smashing good time

Having a smashing good time

When Diane and I return in November, we’ll join in the fun on November 4 at The Lamb and walk in costume in the Bonfire Night parade on November 5. Officially those dressed as smugglers are called Bonfire Boys and carry flaming torches. The pioneers break down into several groups, including Mongols, Greeks and Romans, Tudors and Victorian Military. The Society will have two floats, one with the effigy of Guy Fawkes, who once conspired to blow up Parliament and was burned at the stake for his efforts. The other will be a closely guarded secret until the night. A few years ago the effigies of Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein were burnt. I wonder who we’ll roast this year?

The six bonfire societies in Lewes put on five separate colourful parades with up to three thousand people taking part and up to 80,000 spectators attending, in a town with a total population of about 15,000. After parading together through town, the different societies split off to their bonfire sites for a grand burning and spectacular fireworks. If I survive, I’ll be reporting back.


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SUMMER SALADS

Hungry sailors ready for the feast

Hungry sailors ready for the feast

We’ve been invited to a pot-luck supper, and because there’s a sailing trip involved, I want everything prepared in advance, with no cooking on arrival. Just some last minute assembly, which I can organize in the cramped galley on the my sailboat. I’ve had compliments on my potato salad before at Harbour City Yacht Club events, so why mess with success? But I need another quite different salad as a companion. Hunting through my tattered and stained recipe card collection, I come across two recipes, one for a spinach salad and one for a beet salad. I’m torn between the two, so I decide to take a risk and incorporate the best of them both into one salad.

The key ingredients for salads will overnight in the fridge, allowing a good time for the miracle of marinading to work its magic. Then, with well secured lids, they will travel to the boat in cooler bags packed with ice, thence into the boat’s ice box until needed. Anything with eggs and mayo needs to be handled with extra care, and kept quite cool, or there’s a risk of spoiling.

The potatoes and beets are prepared and cooked first and then completely cooled before being incorporated in the recipes. The spinach is sorted and washed and re-bagged and taken separately. The mayo and sour cream sauce was made and integrated with the potatoes overnight, but the dressing for the beets and spinach was left until last minute. Hard boiled eggs, chopped spring onions, chopped candied walnuts and chopped goat feta were transported in separate containers and added at the last minute.

Since the outward bound journey threatened rain squalls, nothing was packed in glass. Smart salad bowls were left behind, in favour of a couple of 5 quart stainless steel bowls, which cool better and can withstand rough handling, possibly banging about in the icebox.

Pot-lucks are always a challenge for the organizer, as one never really knows what to expect, but club social director Lynne managed brilliantly. A waterfront gazebo had been set aside for our party, which in the end numbered more than 30 people travelling on 11  boats. A propane BBQ had been borrowed from The Oakville Club, kindly organized by their outstanding dockmaster Larry. Long tables were set with pristine white cloths and the food was brought ashore from the assembled fleet of boats. Fortunately there were no burgers to tempt us (we are off red meat at the moment) but plenty of delicious chicken. I counted chicken prepared four different ways, but there may have been more, all delicious. There were appetizers galore, plentiful salads, and cup cakes and butter tarts for dessert. Stuffed, and quite tired after an exhausting sail through the squalls, I hit my bunk unusually early, but the rest of the party went on until the small hours.

Red Skinned Potato SaladSalad 2

Serves 12
Preparation time 15 min
Cooking and chilling time 3 ½ hr

Ingredients
3 lb (about 15) unpeeled cooked red potatoes, cut into chunks
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 dill pickle, chopped
2 cups celery stalk, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 dash hot sauce
1 tbsp dried dill weed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking
1. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl to cool. Cut into cubes.
2. Place the fresh eggs in cold water, salt well, and bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 min. Cool the eggs and leave in their shells until ready to garnish.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, pickle, celery and hot sauce. Season with dill, garlic powder, onion salt, salt, and pepper. Pour over the potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Chill at least 3 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
4. Garnish with chopped eggs and chopped green onions.

Beet and Spinach Salad with Goat FetaSalad 1

Serves 12
Preparation time 10 min
Cooking and chilling time 45 min

Ingredients
8 medium cooked beets – scrubbed, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 (10 ounce) package mixed baby spinach leaves
1 cup (295 ml) frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat feta

Preparation and cooking
1. Place beets into a saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool, then cut in to cubes.
2. While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup. Cook and stir until evenly coated, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make the dressing. Add a little dressing to the completely cooled beets to allow them to marinade.
4. To assemble, put the spinach in a bowl, add the balance of the dressing and toss well to cover. Add the beets little by little and mix in well. Garnish with the goat feta and broken up candied walnuts.


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WHISKY TRAVELS

Swiss single malt whisky

Swiss single malt whisky

The big whisky discovery of the past few weeks has been not only that the Swiss actually distill whisky, but that it’s not bad. They changed the laws in 1999 permitting spirits distilled from grain, so allowing for a legal minimum of eight years maturation in the barrel, these whiskies are coming of age now. The one I sample at Kunsthalle in Basel is called Säntis Malt/Swiss Highlander/Appenzeller Single Malt and is, according to the label, matured in old oak beer casks. Nowhere does it call itself a whisky, however, their Appenzell Säntis Malt Dreifaltigkeit has been nominated “European Whisky of the Year 2010” by leading expert Jim Murray. We would call the Swiss “highlands” the Alps, and they claim extra purity from using pure alpine water.

I’m amazed they can get away with calling it Highlander, especially after the Canadian single malt Glen Breton Rare was ordered to cease and desist using the Glen nomenclature. Actually, the Scottish Whisky Association, who fought the copyright case right up through the Supreme Court of Canada, eventually lost in June 2009, so perhaps their grasp is slipping.

Before heading out on our recent European trip, when I knew I would be buying some fine single malts in duty-free, I had a little Scotch nosing of my own to check out a couple of new purchases. My former colleague Jim, with whom I have shared a fair number of pleasant Scotch drinking experiences, mostly our favourite Johnnie Walker Black , has been invited along to sample these new blends. Jim is a fine public speaker, executive rock band leader and all round good guy. During my time as an event producer, it’s been my pleasure to work with him on numerous big occasions. I’m not sure where the tradition started, but at one early morning event there happened to be a bottle of Johnnie Black lying around in the green room backstage. Jim and I thought we would have a wee dram, a heart-starter if you will, before the proceedings got under way. He was even more loquacious than usual, and I like to think my contribution to the show was above standard. That was about 15 years ago, and we kept the wee dram thing going. So who better to help unravel the mysteries of my two new additions? After a leisurely dinner Diane and Jim’s wife Deb retire to the living room and we get down to business.

Three more Johnnies

Three more Johnnies

We first tune our taste buds with a nosing of Johnnie Walker Double Black. As I’ve written before, this is Johnnie Black only more so. It’s a blend of  Caol Ila and Lagavulin (from Islay), Talisker (from the Isle of Skye),  Glendullan and Mortlach (from Speyside), a few more besides, topped up with grain whisky from Cameron Brig.

We note it has a big nose, it’s smooth and smoky and has a lighter finish.

Next we open a new bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve. This is a rebranding of the old Gold 18-year-old without an age statement. It’s a blend of more than 15 single malts, aged between 15 and 18 years.  It’s lighter on the nose, sweet with honey notes and a big finish.

Finally, we try Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection – The Spice Road. This is the first of three Explorers’ Club blends to be released and then only in duty free stores. We both agree that this is an excellent Scotch for those just getting into appreciating whiskies. It’s zesty on the nose, mild and smooth.

The famous Scotch bucket

The famous Scotch bucket

We reward our efforts with a visit to the Scotch bucket for a fine single malt. I thought I had illustrated the bucket before, but have apparently only described it. This is where all the opened bottles live, and no new ones are opened until there’s a gap to be filled. Primitive inventory control, but effective.

Very recently, at the duty-free shop at Manchester airport, I’m offered a taste of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label. This is a blend of 18-year-old whiskies and only recently available. It’s classic Johnnie Walker on the nose, very fruity on the palate. I’m trying this around breakfast time before boarding my flight, so I might be biased, but I really like it. I’d like to buy a bottle, but even in duty-free it’s expensive. I settle for two single malts, one unknown to me – Benromach, a Speyside 10-year-old – and one I’d only been introduced to a few days before – Ardmore, a Highland whisky, mainly used in blending Teacher’s.

In England, I’ve met up with Stephen and Ben, who’ve both expressed interest in appreciating Scotch more fully. Ben has quite a collection and he offers to bring over a selection for us to taste. I offer to crack open a virgin bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. We tidy up the little cottage and set out trays of nibbles, delicious offerings from Marks and Spencer’s food halls, one shop we really miss in Canada.

A hard night's work

A hard night’s work

Our tour of Scotland starts, as before, with a small nosing of Johnnie Walker Double Black, which we agree is smoky, smooth and mellow with a good finish. Then we sample three of Ben’s collection of single malts:

–          Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia Selection named for the iconic Scottish singer and composer, who hails from Caledonia naturally. This is a 12-year-old from Scotland’s smallest distillery, Edradour, in Pitlochry, where only three men produce a mere 12 casks of whisky a week, so it’s hard to find. We find it smooth, with floral and oaky taste notes, a creamy texture and perhaps a hint of smokiness.

–          Ardmore Traditional Cask has no age statement, but is offered at 46 percent, stronger than most whiskies. We sip it undiluted and then again with a drop of water to release the flavours. The distillery claims it is the only one that still uses the smoke from natural highland peat to dry the barley, and the peatiness clearly comes through. At full strength we experience the explosion of rich flavours, and after a touch of water is added find the fruit notes. We enjoy this very much and I determine to add it to my Scotch Bucket, hence my purchase above.

–          Bowmore Legend also has no age statement. It’s from the oldest distillery on the island of Islay (pronounced eye-la) where the single malts are renowned for their peaty smokiness. This is very smooth, we get a hint of saltiness from the sea air and a slight peaty taste.

It’s a fine tasting trio of single malts and we toast Ben for his contribution. We are in grand form when we crack open the Johnnie Walker Blue Label in its silk lined box and get down to some serious enjoyment of Scotch whisky. Not too late, Stephen and Ben head out for a nightcap at The Parish Oven our friendly local pub at the end of the lane, very close to Stephen’s house and where Ben’s ride home awaits.

PS: Also at Manchester Airport duty-free, I purchase two perfect little whisky glasses, called the Glencairn Glass. I’ve yet to try them out, but I’m impressed that this glass won the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2006. Any glass that makes Scotch taste better is to be treasured. They’re available online.