Saturday, 17 November 2007

I love faggots!

Sunday roast was a must. Always meat, potatoes, gravy and two veggies. We’d buy a joint of meat on Saturdays - leg or loin of pork, rolled beef brisket, sirloin of beef, or shoulder or leg of lamb. Mum would prepare the meal on Sunday mornings, cutting up vegetables, par-boiling the spuds, and slowly roasting the meat as we went to Church.

Joints had much more fat, and after Church, Mum would set the par-boiled spuds alongside the meat in the roasting pan, maybe with some par-boiled parsnips too, and baste them with the fat until they were crispy on the outside, and fluffy inside. The parsnips would caramelise.

Veggies were Savoy cabbage, or broad beans (fava beans) , or brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. Peas of course in abundance. If we were eating beef Mum would make Yorkshire puddings, baking them in cake tins so that they were served like American popovers. But you need good hot fat to make the real thing!

We didn’t have dessert. We had “afters”. Afters might be rice pudding, made with creamy milk which created a semi-burned brown skin - the best part. Or we’d have home made apple pie served with evaporated milk, or with hot custard. Better even than that “blackberry and apple pie”, or “blackberry and apple crumble”.

Mondays were washing (laundry) days, so leftovers would be served. Maybe “bubble and squeak” - the leftover roasted potatoes, mashed with leftover veggies and fried in a skillet with the fat from yesterday’s meat. Maybe a slice of cold meat if any remained, and if not perhaps some “bangers” (sausages).

Sometimes we would save the beef or pork drippings, and spread them on a piece of white bread as a snack. With a sprinkling of salt it was tasty indeed.

Meat and potatoes were the rule through the week too. We often had belly of pork slices, or breast of lamb, each roasted so well that the fat (and there was a lot of it!) would be all crispy and delicious. Or there might be liver. Usually during the week the potatoes would be served boiled or mashed - roasted potatoes being a Sunday treat. And we would have bangers and mash, and occasionally my mother’s tour de force - a mixed grill with lamb chops, bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes and grilled mushrooms.

Mum’s other speciality was her fish and chips. She’d fry the fish (usually cod) in a frying pan - coated in flour, (but never battered), and make the best chips you could hope to eat - cooked in lard a deep fryer. Fish and chips eaten of course with a splash of malt vinegar.

On winter Saturdays we’d have home made meat pie, or stew.

The meat pie might be made with beef, but best of all was when Mum made “Steak and Kidney Pudding”. This is made with beeefsteak, kidneys, onions, veggies and gravy, all steamed in a basin which was lined with “pastry” made from suet. Oh so delicious. (There is a British ‘pub in SRQ which makes a mean steak and kidney pie - always my choice when I eat lunch there).

If it were lamb stew I’d have been sent off to the butchers’ shop to buy “best end of neck of lamb”. The stew was loaded with onions, parsnips, potatoes and turnips (ugh!). Beef stew would be topped with “doughboys” - (dumplings). Lots of carbs in those pre centrally heated homes, with “shanks pony” or bicycles as the principle means of transportation.

Best of all, in memory, was the first spring lamb, served with new potatoes and garden peas straight from the pod.

And the faggots! I love faggots. They are hard to describe, and Americans find them to be as unfathomable as haggis, so there is a recipe below.

My American friend Paul visited with me in England in 1979. A foods company, “Brains of Kingswood” was advertising their new frozen faggots with the slogan
“take a faggot home for lunch”. “My” said Paul, “you are very liberal in England!”


Faggots in gravy
Serves 4
By Mark Hix
Published: 13 September 2003 in the Independent Newspaper

Not the most fashionable food around, but I'm sure faggots are due for a revival. When I was a kid it was compulsory to go to the fish-and-chip shop after youth club or swimming; faggots with chips and gravy served in a polystyrene tray with a wooden fork was my favourite. Kebabs and pretend spring rolls seemed to have taken over in most chippies. Perhaps faggots are just too strange to count as fast food now. With minced pig's liver inside and a covering of caul (pig's or lamb's stomach lining), it's not exactly a dish for beginners to attempt, but if you really want to get into mincing (and have the right food-mixer attachment), try it out. If you can't find caul, replace half the pig's liver with pork belly or the mixture will be too wet to manage. Then roll the faggots in flour before you roast them.

for the faggots

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tsp chopped sage
Vegetable oil for frying
500g pork liver, deveined and coarsely minced by the butcher or with an attachment, or finely chopped
300g pork belly, rind removed and coarsely minced
70g fresh white breadcrumbs
A good pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of celery salt
120g caul fat, soaked in cold water for an hour or so

for the gravy

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
60g butter
50g flour
1tsp tomato purée
Half a glass of red wine
500ml beef stock (a cube will do)
1¿2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat a small roasting tray, that will fit the faggots, in the oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme and sage in the vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Mix with all the other ingredients for the faggots, except for the caul fat, and season with salt, pepper and celery salt. Mould the mix into four equal-sized balls. Wrap in 2-3 layers of caul fat, overlapping and remoulding into even shapes. If you haven't any caul, roll them in flour.

Put the faggots into the roasting tray with a little vegetable oil and roast for 25 minutes, turning them 2 or 3 times.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Fry the onion in the butter, stirring every so often, on a medium heat until lightly coloured. Add the flour and continue cooking on a low heat and stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato purée and Worcestershire sauce and gradually stir in the red wine and beef stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

Take the faggots out of the oven, drain off the excess oil and pour the gravy over them. Cover with foil, or a tight-fitting lid. Turn the oven down to 175ºC/Gas mark 4 and cook the faggots for 1 hour 15 minutes. If the gravy is not thick enough, remove the faggots with a slotted spoon and simmer the gravy in a saucepan until it thickens.

Serve with mashed potato or chips and peas - mushy preferably, which you can buy in tins.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

When it's hard to be good

I’ve been hanging my hat at two parishes. First at St. David’s, Englewood, where I help out twice a month. Second at St. Boniface, here in SRQ. I was not at all impressed with St. B’s on my first visit, but have grown to like it.

St. Boniface, with our Bishop’s permission, had invited Bishop Gene Robinson to give a series of lectures next January.

I was overjoyed, both for the Gospel message which Bishop Robinson gives and lives, and because he and I have been friends for about 25 years. We made plans to have lunch next January.

Then our Bishop, succumbing we believe to conservative pressure, has asked Bishop Gene Robinson to withdraw his consent to St. Boniface’s invitation. I heard about this earlier today.

I like our Bishop. His name is (The Rt. Revd.) Dabney T. Smith. He was pretty cool with me when I met him in order to be licenced to serve in the Diocese of South West Florida. I “outed myself” as a gay Priest, and it seemed to be “no problem” to him”.

So I felt pissed off when I heard this morning’s news. I am due to assist at St. David’s Englewood this Sunday, and Bishop Smith will be there.

My first instinct was to ‘phone St. David’s Rector, Arthur Lee, and tell him that I could not countenance being there with Bishop Smith (not because I disrespect his office, but because I feel angered at his decision to effectively block Bishop Gene Robinson’s visit).

But I held my fire. ‘Twas just as well, for later in the day I heard that Arthur Lee’s father had died. How dreadful if Arthur had received an angry e-mail me from me just after his father’s death.

So I’ll be there on Sunday. There for the people of God. There for Arthur and his wife, daughter and mother. There because a Bishop is a Bishop is a Bishop, even when I despise her/his decisions.

There because the following Scripture has dominated my mind all day. I quote it in the Authorised/King James Version, for that is how I committed it to memory.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Up to Junior School

At aged 9 my twin and I left Greenbank Infants’ School and moved up to Eastville Junior Mixed School.

I was placed in Mr. Richards' class. On my first day he asked “who knows how the alphabet got its name?” Up shot my hand to give the correct answer. Henceforth I was one of his favourites.

Mr. Richards led a school choir. I sang of course, and was introduced to the treasure trove of British folk songs, and to the classics. Mrs. Richards played the piano, and I remember singing Shubert’s “The Trout”.

The BBC came to audition us, and I was chosen, with a couple of others, to introduce our pieces. I struggled with the name “Mozart”.

We were chosen as the first Junior School ever to broadcast in Great Britain, and we recorded our music in the old Bristol Empire Theatre, “down Old Market”. Glory!

One morning I was refused permission to use the toilet. I wet my trousers, there and then in the classroom. At lunch time I ran all the way home, tears streaming down my face. For some reason Mum was not there, but Nanny Povey was. She helped me to clean up and found clean underwear and trousers.

All the way back to school I prayed “Please God, may the puddle have dried up, or may the Caretaker have mopped it during lunch”. God did not answer that prayer. Shame!

During one term Mr. Richards had a student teacher. She introduced us to "The Wind in the Willows", and we staged a little play with scenes from the book. I was selected to be the Narrator whose script linked the scenes. That was all very well, but I really wanted to be en-costume. So I wore one of my sisters' red beret, with a sign pinned to the top reading "Narrator".

One day, whilst lined up, a boy shoved me, causing me to shove another boy. I was hauled out of line by a teacher, and made to bend over for “the dap”. This was a sharp thwack on the rear end, using a “dap” - the local word for what others called plimsoles.

I got the dap, and I cried. Not for the pain. But for the sheer shame of it!

We discovered that Mr. Richards first name was Sidney. So we referred to him as “Old Sid”, thinking ourselves to be very daring. I chatted with one boy about Mr. Richards’ singing voice, and he said “ old Sid is nothing but a crooner”. I thought that was one of the most shocking things I had ever heard.

My pal was Colin Powney, and he and I struggled with using ink pens. (Ink wells on each desk, with ink made from powder, and “dip-in” pens”.

“Sid” said that Povey and Powney had spiders in their inkwells, such were the messy scratchings we made.

The Head Master was Mr. Ken Lewis. He was fair, and never to be feared. In his spare time he was a referee for amateur boxing, and we all thought that to be very exotic.

The time came to leave Sid’s class, and move up. Our teacher the next (academic) year, was to be Mr. Thorne. We were scared, such was his reputation for strictness. In the end our fears were groundless. He was strict, but he was a great teacher. Even though we were ten years old Mr. Thorne (or “Thorny” - we never discovered his first name), would read aloud to us at the end of the day. He loved Mark Twain, and thus it was that I was introduced to Huckleberry Finn.

That was the year for the “eleven plus” exam’. I took it, and many weeks later received a letter at home to say that I had passed. I was pretty swelled headed about this. But I was secretly pleased that my friend Clive had also passed, and that he and I would attend the same Fairfield Grammar School. (Grammar Schools in England were the equivalent of American High Schools). For I already had a crush on Clive.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Things done and left undone

My friend T died yesterday. He and I are/were about the same age.

His death came too soon after Bruce’s death on Oct 2nd.

I first met T about ten years ago. I was a candidate for the Rectorship of a Parish in Ft. Myers, FL, and he was on the Search Committee. He was one of the two token liberals from an otherwise very conservative Parish.

I withdrew from that search, and it was just as well. Soon after they called a new Rector, the other liberal ran away with a prominent parish member. She and he have never been heard of since.

But T and I stayed in touch through the years. And we were each delighted when I retired to this neck of the woods last year.

The Rector whom they called is a most generous man. He asked me to “supply” for him earlier this summer, which I was honoured to do. That I did and T and I had a lovely lunch after service.

T was one of the saddest people I’ve ever met. Through a combination of a miserable up-bringing, some bad choices, and some rotten luck, his life was dominated with bad health and a multitude of neuroses. Nothing went right for T.

But he was always supported by the generous brother; by a a caring Rector; and by L (who grew up at St. Stephen’s, Pittsfield, and has a generous heart).

T went into liver failure about two weeks ago. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I had planned to visit him. But I shilly-shallied about the 90 mile drive, and left it too late. He died before I got to see him. I wish that I had made a more determined choice to drive from SRQ to Ft. Myers. But I did not.

Our liturgical confession prays for forgiveness for “things done and left undone”. I left my visit to T “undone” and I am pissed off with myself.

Monday, 12 November 2007

My ditties

After seeing Manatees at Apollo Beach

I wish I were a Manatee
Decked out in lovely gray.
If I could be a Manatee
My cares would wash away
Down through the channel, cross the beach, out to the ocean blue.
If I could be a Manatee, then you could be one too.

After a Mexican Dinner at St. Boniface Church

Mexican Hats were the table centre-pieces. My table companion Adrien Swain writes ditties, and he and I wondered if we could each write one including the words "Mexican Hats". This is my effort.

I’ve seen Mexican mats, and
Mexican cats,
and Mexican hats by the score.
But none can compare
with the Mexican fare.
at St. Boniface Church near
the shore.

Reflecting on one of my character defects.

He proffered advice, whether wanted or not.
That people have minds he often forgot.
He spewed forth opinions
By the thousands and millions.
Which mostly were sheer "tommy rot".


Sunday, 11 November 2007

Grumpy people

Voting in Florida is a bit complicated. First you have to show a picture I.D., and sign a sheet affirming your address and identity. That enables you to receive a “chit” which you take to another desk. You sign that “chit” and then receive a ballot to complete for the optical scanner.

The woman ahead of me at that second desk was displeased. She had been handed a felt tip pen to sign her name, and she let it be known in no uncertain terms that she hated felt tips, and that no-one would ever recognise her signature..

The volunteer clerk was a cheerful as a person could be, but despite all his efforts, the woman was determined to be displeased.

I bit my tongue, and when my turn came, I told the volunteer that I liked felt tips. It was a bold face lie. I am a fountain pen man, but I wanted to encourage him in his good cheer.

“Why”, I wondered, “would a person get so bent out of shape about a pen”? “What about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?” I There’s something about which I get grumpy!

Last evening I was with my friend Ben Morse at a concert given by the Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra. I loved every minute. After an overture by Rossini, a 19 year old woman was the soloist in the marvelous Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

I know if a soloist is bad. What I do not know is if that soloist is good, fabulous or brilliant. Ne’er mind. I was entranced.

The intermission came and the woman to my right asked “What did you think?”. “I loved it”, I replied, “I was almost in tears”.

She frowned. “Tears?” she asked. “Yes” I said, “this is the first time I’ve ever heard the concerto live”

Discretion being the better part of valour I asked for her opinion. “I thought that she (the soloist)”, came the reply “was a bit weak”.

Not ready for an argument I took myself outside for a cigarette. A couple passed me. The man said “that Mendelssohn piece has no melody”. His wife told him that it was filled with wonderful melodies. “Well, I did not hear them” he said.

It turned out that a newspaper critic had said of the Friday night performance that the soloist was weak. That’s where my seat companion had gotten her unshakable view!

I can be grumpy at times. But I try to be of good cheer.

I am glad to be able to vote, whether or not I like the pen.

And I loved being at a Symphony Concert.

Why should we in these United States be so fortunate, and yet so ungrateful?