The May Day weekend brings a celebration of potato salads and a Wiltshire weekend away.
What a treat to be invited to a lunch party, sitting under dappled light from a blossom-laden apple tree, surrounded by banks of snowdrops, tall exotic greenery and blossom, the rain holding off and the sun just giving just enough warmth for comfort. Lunch began with a stupendous seafood platter. I could have eaten a whole plate of the Swedish herring, slightly sweet and very tender, jostling next to fine orange roe, smoked salmon with thin, Swedish crispbread or baguette as we negotiated the different flavours. Our hosts offered Whispering Angel rose or aquavit, no takers for the later. The main course was a splendid buffet, The B, whose carving skills are renowned amongst family and friends, was requested to carve the Cornish topside joint bought back from Cornwall for the occasion. It was perfectly cooked, pink and deliciously tender with good rich flavour. Mustard and horseradish were on offer and choices between Jersey Royal potato salad (the butt of a few jokes about the latter’s price; how The B and I laughed wryly a few days later when we bought Cornish earlies in Chippenham for nearly double that price). I also piled beetroot and one of those lovely mixed tomato salads onto my plate and couldn’t have been happier. I love this time of year when new potatoes flag up the start of early summer vegetables and pic-nics and al fresco treats to come. If, like me, you love potato salads, have a look at some of my favourites: A Simple Potato Salad, Tzatziki Potato Salad and Smoked Mackerel and Lemon Potato Salad. There was a fine selection of fridge-denied soft and hard cheeses and then the piece de resistance; ice cream from www.hackneygelato.com whose ice creams I’d been longing to try. Do check out their website for stockists (including Ocado, Tesco and Waitrose plus many independent cafes) for this chef-led outlet, winner of several Great Taste stars; several for Pistachio, Almond & Lemon, Bronte pistachio and Peanut butter. Gorgeous. Watched the finale of Line of Duty with supper of favourite Sunday night supper of scrambled egg on toast (Hedone brown sourdough).
There’s no such thing as a May Day holiday for freelancers, not, that is, unless you chose to take the day off. For me, it’s a busy day writing, trying to catch myself up with the backlog of My Week in Food. The B has headed off to Chambers to shuffle papers there. At about 6.30 I start to consider supper. I’ve defrosted some chicken thigh fillets, have leeks in the fridge and not much else apart from a stock pile of lasagne. Last week’s lasagne went down so well, I decide to make Chicken and Leek Lasagne and was pretty impressed with the result. Onion and leeks are softened in butter and olive oil, small chunks of floured chicken stirred into the veg, then a creamy, thick gravy is made into the pan with white wine and stock, everything layered up an dredged with grated Parmesan. 30 minutes later it comes out of a hot oven golden and filling the kitchen with wonderful smells. Highly recommended.
Another day bent over my computer and not in the mood for cooking supper. After a long, hard stare into a not very interesting freezer stash, I spy the remains of a bag of prawns and decide they will do nicely. Once defrosted – this can be speeded up by a quick soak in water – I fry them briefly in olive oil flavoured with finely chopped garlic and a little chilli and final shower of chopped flat leaf parsley. With asparagus, Jersey Royals and peas, this was a happy tumble of delicious food, no embellishment.
More writing then dog walking with a final segue past the fishmonger. I’m hankering after a couple of Dover soles which are always so good (bought from Newlyn) but there are a few sea bass of various sizes on the slab. I buy one of these handsome fishes, one that will feed two comfortably. I cook it bundled up in a foil parcel, the gut loaded with slices of lemon and rosemary (for a change). We eat it with Jersey Royals, asparagus and peas all muddled together with mayonnaise on the side.
Flurry of activity today shopping and packing up for a long weekend staying in a converted tractor barn on a farm just outside Chippenham in Wiltshire (www.thebarnatwoodfarm.com). We arrive just in time for a glass of wine on the patio/yard behind our barn, catching the last of the sun before we tuck into skirt steak cooked in one piece, rested then sliced across the grain and wolfed down with M&S frites and asparagus with a glass of red. What joy to be breathing country air and no sounds off save the odd bleat from the nearby field of sheep, occasional tractor rumbling past and faint smell of grass being mowed.
One of the pleasures of staying somewhere unfamiliar is the food shopping possibilities and we set off for the Allington Farm Shop at Chippenham to buy what we need for the rest of our stay. The shop is amazing, more like an Aldi version of Harrods Food Hall in that it’s a bit rustic but fantastically well stocked with local and no-so-local fruit and veg, strung garlic and onions from Brittany, well chosen oils and condiments, a bakery section, terrific butcher and much besides. We are stocking up for a couple of days and son Henry might be arriving for supper tonight on his way through from Herefordshire. We buy a huge chicken, superb looking big, fat, long chipolatas, cabbage, Cornish early potatoes (at a stunning cost but boy they were worth it), Breton garlic and onion strings, bread, wine and cheese. I walk Red the blessed lurcher dog around the huge car park and garden centre while The B packs the bags and wheels the trolley to the car. I beckon him back to check out the fish stall, a boater-clad monger who tells me he gets seafood from Skye (sent down overnight by plane; a lucky consequence of the Brexit problems) and Cornwall; we buy 4 small Dover soles for a very good price and a humungous scallop shell full of dressed crab for lunch. Supper is roast chicken, a slightly lumpy bread sauce, spring greens, Cornish early potatoes with white wine gravy.
Seriously bad hangover this morning but the chickens have laid 4 eggs, so we have boiled eggs for breakfast. My goodness, they are good. I wish I could have chickens, they are such darlings and their big golden yellow yolks so delicious. I don’t remember lunch – probably just bread and cheese – but do remember supper; those gutted but un-skinned Dover soles cooked on foil (for easy clearing up) in the oven with leftover oil-tossed, roasted Cornish earlies and asparagus. Delicious, simple, simply the best supper.