January, pasta and gluten (or not)
Here on Orkney it is amazing how quickly one notices the days getting longer. By the end of January – given that it isn’t pissing with rain of course – the light is noticeable in the mornings and we are starting to wake up a bit earlier as a result. And now we are into February I found myself getting my timing wrong when I needed to put the pot-roast beef in at 4.30 and didn’t because it wasn’t dark.
It’s been an amazingly mild January, witness the fact that my crocuses are out, and I have a daffodil or two that will explode into flower in the next day or two. There have been a couple of storms, but nothing compared to last year’s efforts. And as I write this, it is clear and a bit cold, and Hoy is covered in snow, but it’s been a glorious day with lovely sunshine, meaning that the heating hasn’t needed to come on at all but the office is still a balmy 24 degrees.
I managed to misjudge the wind one day though (well I didn’t look at the weather station which was registering 40mph … (force 8 fresh gale according to the Beaufort Scale), and went to hang the washing out. The two bedside mats promptly unpegged themselves and went into the burn and I had to confess to Mark. Wellies on and he went paddling and fished them out for me, and banned me from putting out washing in anything more than 28 mph in future. Dries well at that though – and smells gorgeous when you bring it in – as long as Tommy hasn’t been by with the slurry wagon that is !!
Three household purchases were made in January – some proper cocktail glasses so that Mark can make dry martinis from the wonderful Orkney Gin – or Kirkjuvagr Gin – or Shetland Gin - or one of the other craft gins we keep finding. And very very good they are too. The gin and the martinis!
The next was a pasta maker – by Marcato – which is not the cheapest but is proving to be excellent. To date I have made the pasta dough and Mark has done the rolling out, but next time he is going to do the lot. And it does make a difference, no question. Even with making the dough from scratch it actually probably takes about the same length of time as cooking the dried variety and the taste and texture are totally different. I did fettuccini with Anna Del Conte’s recipe for her ragu, which actually is cooked with milk (yes truly) and is deeeeeeeeeeeelicious.
And last but not least was a picture - an original - which we daringly bought from a website - Artifinder. It is by a Ukrainian artist called Aleksey Vylusk and we think it looks great in our lovely modern living room !
Nimbus is feeling that spring is in the air and spending more time outside and hunting. He managed to release an Orkney vole in the kitchen (dear lovable cat), and you see Mark trying to spot it and flush it out from under the fridge, excitedly watched by Nimbus. He failed. And Nimbus lost interest. However, next morning as we were at our desks there was a little scratching noise and the vole was trying to open the back door ! He also failed, but Mark opened it for him and off he went, happy as Larry, into the flowerbed outside. Just hope he has learned his lesson.
We had a friend, Alison, to stay last weekend … she suffers from Coeliac disease (for those who don’t know this means that eating even a tiny bit of wheat, barley or rye triggers an immune reaction). I had left food shopping until she arrived as I wasn’t 100% sure what she could and couldn’t eat. My plan of monkfish roasted on lentils was shafted when I got to Jolly’s because … no monkfish. However they did have mussels, and lovely tiger prawns, so I suggested paella which got the thumbs-up. The ingredients label on some “rare-breed Chorizo” was examined and deemed safe, and I knew I had a small bit of monkfish in the freezer at home that could be pressed into service, so that was OK.
As the weekend progressed, however, I discovered that it wasn’t just a matter of excluding bread and cake and biscuits etc. It is far far more than that. Did you know that Oxo cubes contain gluten ? And malt vinegar ? Every label needs to be scrutinised. And – think of this – I do all my own baking. OK so I scrubbed down the surfaces and kept my baking cupboard firmly closed. But I didn’t think of my oven gloves which get my bread, on its floury tins, in and out of the oven and are seriously contaminated. As is my plate warmer where I often prove rolls. It was all quite scary. Especially as there is no quick test – another friend who is allergic (very allergic) to nuts, can touch a bit of food to her lips and tell instantly if it contains nuts. With Coeliac the effects of eating just a crumb of bread aren’t known for about 24 hours when the antibodies kick in.
I did find some good gluten free products though – some lentil pasta which had an interesting texture. I don’t think I would ever substitute it for the real thing though. And some lovely gluten free crackers to go with cheese which were delicious. And our local Coop has started stocking “highland Brie” which had to be tried and was very runny and excellent!
I am very grateful that it seems my scrubbing was effective and Alison suffered no ill effects and hopefully will come and visit again sometime as we had a lovely weekend with her! We took her to see “the sights” of course and were very lucky with the weather – she had a ratio of 3:1 (3 good days, one bad). It would have helped if I hadn’t had a nasty fall on the walk we went on at Birsay, ending up covered in mud (yes, really really covered) and with a badly strained leg but that will teach me not to go walking without one of the walking poles. Well I hope it will teach me anyway. And for now I am limping along and waiting for it to heal.