Festive Flapjack

festive flapjackI’m not planning on making a habit of this, but I have just cooked my best thing ever and I need to share.

To go with the Xmas food this year I’m cooking a couple of things to share memories of my month of semi-self-sufficiency in October. There will be a side dish of chestnut stuffing with the main meal (made with foraged chestnuts) and a special Festive Flapjack in memory of the numerous batches I made in October to keep my carbs up. The Xmas theme for the flapjack was daughter Eve’s idea and it’s fabulous (though we say so ourselves) – so good that I’ve made an extra batch to hand round at work on Xmas Eve. The mincemeat and cinnamon give a Xmas-ey taste that is unmistakable. As with all flapjack it’s easy, cheap and quick to make:

  1. Preheat over to 200C
  2. Mix together 250g of porridge oats (not jumbo oats), 125g light brown sugar, 125g butter (easier to mix if you microwave it for 30 seconds), 3 tablespoons of golden syrup and 3 dessertspoons of mincemeat. Mix together by hand or with spoons (not in a food processor or it will become too dense)
  3. Line a baking dish with baking paper (so it doesn’t stick and to make washing up easy later)
  4. Spread the mixture into the dish. Firm down with the back of a spoon, including around the edges. Sprinkle cinnamon powder over the top
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for around 10 to 15 minutes but don’t just go by the time. It’s important that you leave it baking until it is just about to start burning. Look at the flapjack every minute from 10 minutes onwards and leave it in for as long as you dare. Get it out and have a proper look in the light if you need to (but close the oven while you’re doing so to minimise the heat escaping). Only take it out when the edges are starting to go seriously dark brown. Be brave. The more brown it is, the tastier and crunchier it will be
  6. Cut into squares with a sharp knife while still in the baking dish and put the hot dish somewhere where it will cool down quickly (so it doesn’t carry on cooking). A good place is on the mesh of the grill pan on top of the cooker. When it has mostly cooled down, take it out of the dish (still on the paper and still together) and put it straight onto the mesh of the grill pan so it can finish cooling down. Only break it into squares once it has reached room temperature

The photo is of a fresh batch straight out the oven, and the remains of the last batch next to it. Happy Xmas.


Back to normal? No, not really

I won’t pretend otherwise. It is wonderful to be re-united with coffee, curry, McDonald’s and tomato juice with Lea & Perrins. But I am some way from reverting to my pre-October food life.

I am making bread and yogurt. I am using fewer processed ingredients. For today’s lunch I nipped to Tesco Metro and bought a can of chopped tomatoes, some spices, some Chorizo and heated them up in the microwave. It tasted nice and felt creative (although it would have benefited from liquidising).

I am limiting the caffeine. After the surprise of caffeine withdrawal this time last month I am now allowing myself no more than two caffeinated coffees a day. I’ve bought decaf Nespresso capsules (they taste no different) and am having more tea. I will not be slipping back to the seven or eight a day that I must have been downing pre-October.

I think I am “achieving” more. Having spent an hour or more preparing food every October evening, I am finding time to tick a few things off the to-do list each evening before crashing out in front of the telly.

I am thinking about what comes next. I will probably do something similar next year and it would be nice to pin down a concept that can be described in a sentence rather than a paragraph. Next time I will plan lots of menu items in advance and prepare luxuries like pasta, wine, a range of frozen soups, cordials, jams, puddings, cakes, potatoes, garlic and a wider range of fruit and vegetables. We’re going to need a bigger freezer.

Thank you to everyone who sent me messages of support, encouragement and ideas. Every one made a difference, especially in the dark days towards the end of the first week. And even greater thanks to friends who dropped in gifts of wine, vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, nuts and fruit. These provided a variety that I had failed to prepare myself. And to Pippa and family for the loan of the bread machine.

I’m going to keep this blog open and occasionally post with thoughts and preparations for next year. Since a few people have asked, I lost three pounds over the month (from 14’13 to 14’10) although that was never an objective.

Thanks for being interested. It helped.


ian tt

Celebratory pint

A reminder that I will be celebrating the successful conclusion of Bactober from 9pm this evening in the White Hart. If you can bear to listen to me going on and on about it, it would be lovely to see you.

I also said that I would be serving leftovers at home from 7:30pm. I stand by that but be warned that there’s precious little left so don’t expect much or plan on it as your evening meal – we’re talking a slurp of overproof wine, some home-baked bread and a tomato “soup” with precious little else in it (which pretty much sums up the first week of October for me).

Maybe see you later.

white hart

Day 31: My last supper

It’s the final countdown and a thought crossed my mind this afternoon. “Shall I just carry on?” The thought disappeared again one second later when I remembered that (i) my store cupboard is all but empty, and (ii) I am really looking forward to coffee, tea, curry, Tabasco, garlic, potatoes, whisky and the pub. But it’s a good sign that it even occurred – it’s more than I felt on day four.

For lunch I had the final slices of venison in a sandwich and my last pickled egg. As I type this I’m sipping the dregs of my second barrel of home brew. Dinner tonight (picture below) was mushroom soup (foraged at the weekend) with a dollop of homemade yogurt, toasted bread (first batch from the new bread machine) and a pint of home-brew. Not a life-changing meal but a decent summary of the last month.

I’ll ponder the meaning of life here once the month is complete. But when I used to run marathons, people used to say to me afterwards “Did you enjoy that?” My answer was generally something along the lines of “No, I don’t think enjoy is the word. But there is a sense of achievement and it’s nice when you stop.

last meal

Day 29: The rise of the machines

With victory within sight my thoughts are turning to “What happens next?” I expect I’ll muse more on this in a few days’ time and it’s likely that I’ll do something similar next year, but for the moment I pondering what to carry on doing immediately after the 31st October. Home-made bread and yogurt top that list with support from these little helpers:

Yogurt machine: This (picture below) is the 1970s Yogomagic that my mum found in her attic. It makes lovely yogurt but the process has been a bit of a faff – bringing milk to the point of boiling, then cooling, then putting it in the machine with a few spoonfuls of starter yogurt. While researching whether today’s machines are able to shortcut that process (they aren’t) I found that you can cut out the time-consuming boiling-and-cooling bit if you use UHT milk. This is a revelation and I wish I’d known it a month ago. I rather like the taste of UHT milk so the marginally different yogurt taste is no hardship. So the plan is to continue to make yogurt for the foreseeable future.

Bread machine: The bread I’ve had for the last month has been so much better that its sliced supermarket cousin that yesterday I splashed out on a second-hand bread machine (a Panasonic SD-2500 from Facebook Marketplace for £50) and returned the borrowed model to Pippa and Pete (for which many thanks). The big step forward had come when I accidentally bought Allinson’s Seed & Grain White Bread Flour instead of ordinary bread flour. It’s all I’ve bought since and I will continue to make loaves with it after the month-end. Homemade pizzas with the machine’s pizza-dough function has been excellent too (I use normal bread flour for that). My new machine also has a Jam setting so I’ll have a crack at that next year.

I also discovered on Friday evening that a local friend has bought a water distilling machine that I believe can be used for other purposes (which are probably not legal) so I may be quietly investigating that too…


Day 28: At last – mushrooms

Foraging for mushrooms has been on the to-do list since Day One. Yesterday Bronwyn (dog) and I finally wandered into local woodland to see if I’d left it too late. After an hour of picking through the more overgrown sections with almost no luck and having turned for home, I hit the motherload. I filled a carrier bag (I could have filled two) and came home to do the important bit – identification. Our country has a number of poisonous mushrooms so you have to be careful.

The results of my research (Mushrooms by Roger Phillips, plus WildFoodUK website) were not quite as positive as I’d hoped. It seems that they are Clouded Agaric which while tasty and fine for most people, give one person in five a stomach upset. The advice seems to be to try a small amount, wait for 24 hours and see if you are one of the unlucky ones. So I fried up a couple around Saturday lunchtime and ate them. They were delicious.

I then made three cartons of soup with the rest, having boiled them in water first to reduce any risk – and discarded the water. As at Sunday morning I can report no ill effects. If I’m still OK at lunchtime then I’ll know that they’re OK for me.


Day 24: Fennel

A few days ago Pete gave me a couple of fennel (fennels?) I’ve been using the leaves to infuse a hot drink, rotating with spearmint and lavender, and this evening I cooked the main bits. I split them almost into quarters, added some butter and a finely chopped chilli, wrapped them in foil and baked them at 200 degrees for around half an hour. They were gorgeous – so good that Alison tucked in too. Thanks Pete. They’re going on the list of stuff to grow next year (I’m not sure the photo does them justice).