Round And Round The Round Pond

The Round Pond in London’s Kensington Gardens has always been one of my favourite places. When I was small my mum used to time me and my sister as we ran round the pond – one clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. In the autumn, after a circuit of the pond, we’d catch lucky leaves as they fell from the Chestnut trees. Catching a leaf before it touches the ground brings good luck for a whole year. Really.

After the run followed by the leaves, there was the ice-cream. I no longer like Fab lollies, or even vanilla cones with a chocolate flake. But I do love this:

Apple Crumble Ice-Cream

The great thing about this is that it makes two puddings – an apple crumble for 6 people, with enough of the crumble left over to make ice-cream for 4

4 large cooking apples

Juice of I orange

1 Teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder

15 tablespoons caster sugar

180g butter

200g plain flour

500ml good quality vanilla ice-cream

Handful of flaked almonds per person

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Place them in an oven-proof dish, coating them in the juice of the orange. Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of the sugar as well as the 5 spice powder.

Mix together the butter, flour and the rest of the sugar – either by hand or with a mixer – and tip the crumble mix over the apples. Put the dish in the fridge for at least 15 minutes – longer if you like, it really doesn’t matter. The point is to chill the crumble before it goes into the oven, so that it doesn’t turn into a soupy mess before it gets the chance to cook.

Bake in the oven for around half an hour or until the crumble is brown and crunchy on top, with signs that the apples are bubbling up from underneath. Toast the almonds in a separate dish at the same time and put to one side for eating with the ice-cream.

Eat a lot.

When you can’t eat any more, fold the remaining crumble – make sure there is some – into vanilla ice-cream. Put it back into the freezer for 20 minutes or so and then scoop it into glasses and sprinkle with a handful of the flaked almonds you toasted earlier.

This week the sculptor Anish Kapoor – whose work I love as much as I love the Round Pond – installed his work Sky Mirror, Red, (2007) in the pond. The huge, scarlet, circular steel mirror catches the pond’s myriad reflections that change so dramatically with the weather and the time of day. Kapoor should be allowed to do anything he likes as far as I’m concerned. But while he goes large, I’m going to go quietly, happily small. So here is the Round Pond to keep in your pocket.

I snatched these 64 pictures before Sky Mirror, Red arrived, strolling briskly around the pond’s circumference to catch every angle. Cut each one of these pictures out, moving across the contact sheet from left to right. Keep them in sequence and clip the pages together to make a flick book. Then you too can go round and round the Round Pond to your heart’s content. If you don’t fancy the scissor-work, I’ve made you a slide show – there it is top right – and guess what, you still qualify for the ice cream. You get the year’s worth of good luck too.

I always love to hear your comments, so do stop by and let me know what you think.

A windfall…

I used to rent a house in Oxford with an old pear tree in the garden. The tree was tall and planted on uneven ground at the back of a herbaceous border. Picking from the tree was hazardous, involving a ladder, deep breaths and plenty of daring. After a couple of seasons I decided the best way to enjoy the fruit was to wait for them to come to me. Whenever I heard a rustle and a thud I’d rummage in the undergrowth to see if there was enough for supper.

I visited Prince Charles’ gardens at Highgrove this week as part of a charity fundraiser. It was hard to imagine, looking at the perfection of his apple trees, that any of them would have the temerity to release their fruit until told to do so. The regiment of trees, each framed at the base in a perfectly square bed of lavender, was loaded with immaculate, unblemished green apples. And there wasn’t a windfall to be seen. The trees were magnificent, but they made me think nostalgically of my disobedient and unruly pear tree that offered up its fruit so noisily and chaotically.

The following day I visited my old house, now lived in by a great friend. We searched the undergrowth for enough of the slightly wonky and bruised fruit to make baked pears with. A windfall in both senses of the word.

Baked Pears With Hazelnut Brittle

Enough for 4

For the brittle:

5 tablespoons caster sugar

1 tablespoon water

50 grams roasted chopped hazelnuts

For the pears:

4 pears

4 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons sweet dessert wine

40 grams butter

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

Make the brittle by stirring the sugar and water together in a saucepan over a moderate heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and continue to stir until the syrup turns to caramel. Be careful you don’t let it get too dark, because it will taste bitter. Stir in the nuts and spread the toffee mixture out on a piece of baking paper – it will be scorching hot so don’t be tempted to touch it yet. Let it cool while you make the pears.

Peel the pears and put them in a dish with the sugar, wine and butter. Bake for around 50 minutes until the pears are soft and slightly caramelized. Check on them three or four times to see they don’t burn and each time spoon the juice over the top of the fruit. Snap the brittle into shards and eat with the pears and the juice.

You may know that I have a thing about eating outside, whatever the weather. I have two loyal and long-suffering friends who always wear vests when they come to visit. But even the most reluctant among you would have enjoyed eating those pears with me. As I walked outside a rainbow appeared in the sky. Even Prince Charles can’t order one of those….

Black garlic – fashion faux pas or design classic

It amuses me to see fashion stores from Zara to Benetton to Topshop packed with rails of military capes this season. How did the cape survive its first outing, let alone get resurrected? I remember pleading for one as a teenager, along with a pair of white pull-on wet-look knee-length boots. I eventually got the cape – still waiting for the boots.

The first thing I learned about wearing a cape is that the restrictive slits give you instant Dalek-arms. In fact, the whole silhouette is startlingly Dalek-like. So, no, I won’t be buying a cape this time round.

The food equivalent of the over-rated cape has to be foam. To my mind, eating foam is no tastier than lying on the beach, swilling the frothy water’s edge around your palate like a whale sieving plankton. I’m not 100% convinced by anything ‘en croute’ either, since it’s little more than a posh pie with a swanky name.

I’ve just been to a food fair and I bought what was described as ‘the next big thing in food’. It’s black garlic – standard white garlic fermented for three weeks and dried for another week. Black garlic tastes like liquorice crossed with raisins with a back flavour of cooked garlic. It has a consistency that reminds me of chestnuts or even fruit pastilles. It’s reputed to have none of that fierce, pungent aftertaste that lingers. My daughter ate a whole clove and pronounced it to be like ‘eating a candy’. And it turns out the manufacturers are telling the truth – there’s absolutely no lingering.

But is black garlic just a military cape in disguise, or is it pure Chanel – elegant, timeless and exquisite?

This was my fashion experiment…..

The Recipe: Beetroot and Black Garlic Bruschetta With Goat’s Cheese and Walnuts

Enough for 4

1 beetroot

4 slices sourdough bread, toasted

8 cloves black garlic

150g goat’s cheese – the soft, creamy kind

Balsamic vinegar – the syrupy kind

Handful of chives

Handful of walnuts broken up with your hands

Cut the stalk off the beetroot and place in a pan of simmering water. Boil for half an hour or until tender. Remove from the water and once cool enough to handle, peel the outer skin off. Slice the beetroot and put to one side while you toast the sourdough bread.

Rub one clove of black garlic onto each slice of toasted bread. It will disintegrate as you rub it in. Spread each toast with the goat’s cheese followed by the beetroot. Slice the remaining four cloves of black garlic and heap onto the beetroot. Add the walnuts, a trickle of balsamic and a drift of chopped chives.

The Verdict

I would definitely buy black garlic again and I would certainly prepare it like this again. It’s still not quite Chanel, but Chanel wasn’t Chanel in the beginning.

Exercises in Scones

The French poet Raymond Queneau’s sensational literary experiment, Exercises in Style, recounts the same incident 99 ways. He repeats the story endlessly, but in different styles. The narrative goes like this: it’s midday and a man on a crowded No 84 bus accuses another passenger of deliberately trampling his feet. Later he is seen again, being told by a friend to add another button to his coat. Each of the 99 versions is no more than a page or so long and some are much shorter.

This is the start of the Gastronomical telling of the story:

‘After slowly roasting in the browned butter of the sun, I finally managed to get into a pistachio bus which was crawling with customers….’

The Interjections version of the incident is 3 lines long in its entirety:

‘Psst! H’m! Ah! Oh! Hem! Ah! Ha! Hey! Well! Oh!

Pooh! Poof! Ow! Oo! Ouch! Hey! Eh! H’m! Pffft!

Well! Hey! Pooh! Oh! H’m! Right!’

and the Mathematical story starts like this:

‘In a rectangular parallepiped moving along a line representing an integral solution of the second-order differential equation:

y” + PPTB(x)y’ + S = 84′

If you’re still with me, you’re going to have to take a leap of faith here. Because the very funny Exercises in Style, first published in 1947, got me thinking about scones. I always imagine that I’m going to like scones and jam more than I do. But the pale, chalky crumbs of the scone and the over-sweet, livid redness of the jam are so often a disappointment. So why not, like the great Queneau, tell the same story a different way? So here it is: Exercises in Scones, the Savoury chapter…..

Exercises in Scones – Mushroom, Smoked Ham and Cheese Scones with Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly

For the Jelly – these quantities make approximately 6lbs

6lbs of crab apples or other tart-tasting apples

6 pints water

1 large orange

2 generous sprigs of rosemary about 20 cm long

1lb of granulated sugar to every 1 pint of juice

I shook my crab apples into a blanket from a friend’s tree. There’s no need to chop or peel them, although washing them is a good idea. Just put them in the preserving pan whole. If using larger apples, cut them in half, but don’t remove the skin or cores. Add the peel of the orange, the rosemary and the cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the apples have turned to pulp. Pour the whole mushy lot into a jelly bag and allow to drip through overnight – the usual rule applies of not forcing the pulp through to avoid clouding the jelly.

Measure the juice and for every 1 pint of liquid allow 1lb of sugar. Add the juice, sugar and strained juice of the orange to the pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir thoroughly until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn the heat up to a boil and allow to bubble for ten minutes without stirring it. Skim the surface, pour into sterilised jars, top with waxed paper circles and seal.

For the Scones – these quantities make around 12

1 medium onion, chopped finely

100g mushrooms, chopped small

Small handful fresh thyme leaves

360g plain flour

2.5 teaspoons baking powder

250 g grated Cheddar cheese, or other hard, salty cheese

220ml semi-skimmed milk

1 egg

60g smoked ham, chopped finely

Seasoning

Heat the oven to 170 degrees C.

I adjusted this recipe from a muffin recipe made by the Hummingbird Bakery in London – this is a muffin/scone crossover really.

Melt the butter and fry the onion and mushrooms until soft and starting to colour. Stir in the thyme leaves, season and put to one side.

Put the flour, cheese and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix the milk and egg and pour gradually onto the flour mixture. Combine, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Add the onions, mushrooms and chopped ham and make sure they’re mixed through well.

Put a generous splodge of mixture into paper cases, place on a baking sheet and cook for about half an hour or until gold on top and cooked through. Slice in two and serve with butter and a dollop of crab apple and rosemary jelly.

Eat while reading Raymond Queneau’s Haikai chapter of the story, which consists of no more than this:

‘Summer S

long neck trod on toes

cries and retreat

station button

meeting’

Perfect.