a good egg

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On Thursday night I went to a lovely party at Tart, on the Gloucester Road, to celebrate the publication of A Good Egg — A Year of Recipes From an Urban Hen-Keeper

Genevieve Taylor is the hen-keeper of the title, and her book is a charming and inspiring diary of a year in her kitchen, her garden and her hen-house. When not tending her hens, she is also a very talented food stylist and cook (you’ve doubtless been inspired by something she has created without realising it, as her work has appeared in many magazines and ad campaigns), and the book grew from Genevieve’s blog, The Urban Kitchen, which she started when her first batch of chickens arrived and surprised them all with their dedicated laying: 3-4 eggs a day, every day, all year. That’s a lot of eggs.

P1210185But Genevieve is clear that A Good Egg is not an egg cookery bible (neither is it a how-to for prospective hen-keepers), explaining that it’s “a seasonal diary of all that I did with my eggs, and the food that I grew and gathered to eat alongside them.” In fact it is Genevieve’s passion for seasonality that is at the heart of the book, informing her writing as well as her recipes. A point she proved with a lovely reading from the 14th March which was all about wild garlic; as she read we were treated to slices of wild garlic flamiche (the wild garlic had been gathered locally, that morning), followed by mini mocha eclairs and tiny rhubarb pavlovas. Delicious.

P1210186And the recipes — nine or ten for each month — despite coming from the kitchen of a very talented cook, are by no means complicated or fussy; rather they are dishes designed for busy family life: delicious, wholesome and speedy. Of course the temptation is to say “Pah!” to seasonality and leap ahead with the help of the supermarket — which in the case of Crisp cannellini bean and Courgette Fritters is exactly what I intend to do. Other recipes to whet your appetite include a Peach and Almond cake with lavender syrup; English Nicoise of Smoked Trout, Jersey Royals and Asparagus; Courgette and Lime muffins; Broad bean, Feta and Mint Omelette… I could go on… and on!

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The book is a rather beautiful object in its own right — a Tiffany-blue-green cloth cover, with an (egg yolk?) yellow ribbon for marking favourite pages — illustrated throughout with wonderful, hunger-inducing photographs, taken by Bristol-based photographer, Jason Ingram (his blog is over there to the right of the screen and well worth exploring).

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This last image I include, because it sums up for me, Genevieve’s un-fussy, straightforward approach to cooking: for who hasn’t failed on the planning-ahead at some point? I am  regularly caught out by the dastardly line, hidden in many a recipe, which runs something like “… and now leave in the fridge for 12 hours, preferably 24.” No! No! No! My friends are arriving in four hours’ time, not tomorrow, goddammit! Though I must stress, this particular recipe does not offer a clever route around the protracted process of making a Christmas Pudding. It’s just that I liked her admission that tradition and rules don’t dominate her kitchen or her recipes — in this case it’s her failure to make the Christmas pud on Stir Up Sunday. Her Carbonara with cavolo nero is probably a better example, not least because she describes it as “inauthentic in the extreme,” though it sounds heavenly.

And finally, as I have already said, although A Good Egg is not a guide to keeping chickens, be warned, it will certainly tempt you to have a go. Last night, as I thumbed through my copy, I found myself considering all manner of bizarre constructions — tree house!? — in order to add a chicken or two to our household even though I know our garden is far too small.

knitting and nanowrimo

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So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.

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Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.

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It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

bribery and corruption

The girls are being a little trying at the moment. Although it’s only been a week or so since they went back to school, the fact is they’re still tired. Christmas is never really much of a holiday is it? Not in the rest sense anyway. So they are grey-faced, grumpy, and would rather be hibernating. Feet stamp, eyes roll, doors slam and voices are raised. But I’ve discovered something quite remarkable: they’ll do virtually anything for a gold coin.

Not a shiny, golden one pound coin, but a cheap as chips chocolate coin in a foil wrapper. The kind that cost £1 for twenty, and taste like chocolate flavoured wax crayons. I found several net bags of these hidden in a drawer, obviously left over from Christmas. I am eeking out the stash as I’m not sure if they are still in the shops – maybe they’re available all year round, I don’t know. Anyway, they are offered in exchange for various things: getting out of bed quickly, eating the vile poison that I’ve served up in place of supper, taking abandoned coats and shoes to their rightful homes and so on.

I use them sparingly, only once a day, and their effect is nothing short of magical.
They live in this over the top Victorian sugar bowl, which seems to add to their allure.

chickens

My little fantasy has taken a step closer to becoming a reality. Perpetual pleading from the middle daughter who wants a Westie, have worn Joe down. I think he sees the idea of chickens as a fair compromise. All three girls are thrilled and have now told all their friends which means that essentially the deal has been rubber stamped. Just got to get the garden sorted so that we can build them a home. Chicken websites have now overtaken plant sites as my browsing of choice. Do we choose regularity of eggs over spectacular plumage, or is it the friendliness of the birds that matters most?