Monday, 12 September 2011

Fast Friday Friendly Hug

Little Juniper on my cosy Norwegian blanket
I have a Norwegian Blanket on my bed. This deserves the capital letters I give it. Norwegians know what they are doing when it comes to blankets. My blanket has polar bears on it. It is made of Norwegian Sheep Wool. I think Norwegian Sheep are special because I have never been so toasty cosy warm as when I am in my blanket. It hugs.

I mention all of this, in part, because I have been meaning to write a post about the Bishops of England and Wales bringing back Friday Abstinence. I have been meaning to think of something profound about penitence, penance and fasting for days. No luck though. It seems I am not talented at that sort of thing. My general praise of my best blanket kind of illustrates this point. I am creature who values comfort.

As it happens, there has been no hot water in my house. We are trying to get this fixed as soon as possible. This is penance enough for me. I have been braving freezing cold showers for the best part of a week. The worst part is washing your hair. I can just about cope with getting wet enough to get the shampoo and conditioner in, but rinsing it out is an act of determination. I get out of the shower shivering cold, put on pyjamas, wooly socks, a jumper and a fleece, then wrap myself in my blanket and set about making hot milk for cocoa. I nurse my hot chocolate gratefully on the sofa, and thank my lucky stars for the warmth it gives. I always, always appreciate being cosy and warm again.

This Friday (16th September) the Bishops of England and Wales have officially asked all Catholics, from now on, to abstain from meat every Friday. It is hardly a big ask. This is the re-introduction of a public tradition marking the memorial of Jesus' crucifixion. Christians have always marked the day of Christ's death by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a good tradition. I was not really aware that it had fallen out of fashion. It is certainly a practice that helps people like me, comfort seekers, to appreciate the good things we take for granted in life. The act of consciously choosing something different to eat has a remarkable effect. I am not someone who eats meat everyday, or even nearly everyday. I was vegetarian for 20 years, or thereabouts. However, thinking about what to eat on a Friday Fast Day brings a certain element of simplicity to my choices; it highlights the difference between need and want.

I am a sucker for good comfort food, particularly on chilly autumn nights. Take last Friday, for example.  I came home exhausted. I had promised faithfully to make dinner for my flatmate. My flatmate is a saint, who cooks for me so often I am embarrassed. She is also not a Catholic. I explained to her ages ago about not eating meat on a Friday. I am still trying to persuade her that vegetarian food is fun and exciting, and that a tradition of fasting every now and then can bring great joy. She remains accepting but unconvinced about the culinary wisdom of such a practice. So, I come home and need to magic up something quick, comforting, warming and Fast Friday Friendly: a culinary hug that will impress my flatmate. She does not like fish or seafood. For this type of mission, let's face it, you can't beat a good pie.

I reckon the new rules in the UK about Friday Fasting are a gift. They provide an opportunity for us to think more simply about the food we eat. And, being the comfort seeker I am, I do not believe that leaving meat off the menu means I have to miss out on the culinary equivalent of a hug in a Norwegian Blanket.

Potato, Leek and Smoked Cheese Pies

Just Roll Puff Pastry (yes, you can make your own, but you are not going to on a Friday, are you? No. So, shut it.)

400g Potatoes peeled and cubed
large knob of butter for frying
1 onion, finely sliced
2 leeks, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
200g smoked cheddar (I used Applewood), coarsely grated

Boil the potatoes in a large pan of salted water until soft, and then drain.

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion, garlic and leeks and fry until softened. Season well and drain on kitchen paper.

Combine all the fried vegetables with the potatoes, cheese, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. I use lots of wholegrain mustard, more than I recommend in this recipe. If you are a wholegrain mustard fan, go wild! Leave to cool.

Roll the pastry out to desired thickness, and cut into rounds using a saucepan lid.

Into the centre of each pastry round, place a spoonful of filling mixture. Brush the edges of the round with milk, fold over and seal using a fork. The end product should look kind of like a Cornish Pasty.

Place each pie on a well oiled baking tray, and bake in a pre heated oven at 180C for approximately 15 - 20 minutes.

Serve with salad, walnuts, pickles, beetroot, watercress, etc.

Or with beans and chips (you know you want to).

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