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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cruising Odds and Ends...

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~ Laozi, Chinese Philosopher

   I realized I've been holding on to a bunch of pictures I wanted to use for a general post about living aboard, so here goes, a bit of Odds and Sods as they call it over here--or Odds and Ends as we say in the States!
The Admiral--before his morning tea and cookies!
A thin rime of ice on the water
    Most of our mornings begin with Les rising to check on the fire in the wood stove. He scrapes the ash of night away and adds some wood to bring up the heat for me. Then he comes back to bed for a snuggle. Usually we fall back into a light sleep and rise about thirty or forty minutes later. One of us puts the kettle on and we settle at the dinette for a morning cup of "qwuaffee" (coffee in a Brooklyn accent) for me, tea and biscuits for Les--yes folks, Les begins his day with cookies, not eggs and bacon!
                                                                After the Admiral finally wakes up and we get underway, there is always something amazing to see.
   Last week as we moved along there was a thin rime of ice on certain stretches of the canal as we made our way from Fenny Stratford to Old Lindslade to rendezvous with family. After mooring up we often stay
Our amphibian stowaway!
a few days to work on various boat related projects, or catch up with work (me), emails, and world events.
   All geared up to change the oil, Les popped the lid on the engine hold and discovered to his amusement, a stowaway! It was hunkered down in the compartment which catches drips from the stern gland (for non-boaters this is something that attaches to the prop shaft and comes inside the engine compartment.) Amazing isn't it, what hides in plain sight all around us!
   One afternoon we moored up in time to watch a mated pair of swans chasing away their juvenile! As we watched the young bird tried to get back in the canal and swim back to his parents but they refused to allow it. 
   Specifically the Cobb (dad) who fluffed out his wings in a threatening display, hissing and carrying on. The Pen followed in his wake. Their poor offspring was obviously confused as to why he had been fed, loved, protected and sheltered by his folks only to be suddenly set upon and driven out. 
   The juvenile with his patchy brown feathers not quite replaced by the glowing white ones of adulthood, stood on the towpath, head down, trying to find something to eat as he walked along, attempting to ignore the Cobb and Pen swimming alongside hissing. Eventually his folks started to swim away so Les took some bread out and tore it up for the young bird. He ate with head tucked downward, cleaning his feathers occasionally. 
   Suddenly his mom and dad figured out there was food to be had and swam quickly up--the Cobb hoisted himself out of the water, stuck out his chest, flapped his wings and dropped his head over his chest in the most alarming display of power as he marched down the towpath hissing at his offspring and us. This display changed my mind completely about the beauty of swans. 
Cobb and Pen with wings up and out
The juvenile attempts to eat before his parents come and take it all. Note their aggressive wing posture.

Here they come and Junior cowers near the hedge as his meal is eaten by dad.
Sorry it's blurry. The Cobb marching down the towpath hell bent for leather, intimidating his frightened offspring!
A close up of the juvenile with his brown feathers.
   In fairy-tales Swans are pictured as beautiful near mythical creatures with their white gliding bodies and curved necks. In reality they are mean spirited, territorial birds large enough to break a man's arm with their wings. They open their mouths and hiss like one of those aliens that popped out of people's chests in the movie by the same name. I am completely over my enchantment of swans after watching this sad display against their own offspring.
Sentinel crow
   I'd rather be a crow, which live in extended families and keep their offspring close for up to two years to be sure they are mature enough to fend for themselves and contribute to the colony. Every settlement of crows will have a sentinel posted. This one kept watch while we were moored nearby.
    We eventually settled in again for a few days below Slapton locks. It was just us and one other boat--and quite serene until a horn broke the morning quiet. A hunt was taking place across the field from where we were moored.
   We saw folks attired in the traditional black coats, as well as Gold coats which I assume are the colors of that particular Hunt club. The scarlet coats are now generally worn by the Master of the Hunt, the Master of the Dogs, or other Masters who have earned the appropriate number of buttons (usually 5) illustrating they have helped set up and run many hunts. 

   Since it is outlawed to actually hunt foxes in England (thank the Goddess), they are usually after a scent trail laid down by a member of the hunt prior to its beginning.
   The next morning we woke to sun! After a week of overcast weather with colder temperatures threatening to descend on us, it was a joy to see the sun...but wait, it's raining! It is sunny as all get out and it is raining! Ah well let's enjoy the rainbow shall we? Soon enough the storm clouds gather in and old Sol disappears as precipitation pours from the darkened sky! All in an hour's time. Time to stretch out in front of the fire with a good book. 
A hard rain falls at Slapton lock
   I found Keith Richards autobiography in one of seven charity shops we visited while in Leighton Buzzard earlier in the week. It came out in 2010 just after Les and I met.
   I heard Keith interviewed on Weekend Edition for NPR (National Public Radio) and I thought he was actually quite thoughtful and interesting. His book was on my list and I finally had it in hand for £1.50! I can say he did not disappoint as a writer. Richards' recall of everything--his early life growing up in Dartford, his grandfather's nurturing of his love of music, meeting Mick, starting the band and all the long road between then and now was faithfully portrayed in a very
Nature's watercolor
honest fashion--miraculous given his long term drug habit.
   I came late to an appreciation of The Rolling Stones' music. I only really discovered them about five years ago! I made a 2 disc set of their music from the very early days to the present and brought it with me from Cloudhouse.
   Another morning dawned overcast but warm--in the high forties Fahrenheit. I took a walk up to the next lock, helping two women out on a day boat through the locks. It was really encouraging to see signs of spring all around.
    Sweet green budlets are plumping up along winter weary stems; Lenten roses droop to the sodden ground, and the last rose hips of winter hang withered on the stalk. I looked for signs that Comfrey was up. Nettles of course are always there!
   Imagine my surprise and delight at finding this sign posted above a sweet patch of herb garden behind the bench at Slapton lock. What a thoughtful thing to do.
   I picked several sprigs of fresh, green rosemary to add to our favorite Potato dish and returned to NB Valerie and my best beloved Les, feeling refreshed and ready to dive into making dinner. We had a lovely Chicken Tarragon Pot Pie and the recipe is included at the end of this post for folks to try. This recipe came out of the Daily Mail Weekend and I tweaked it for my own tastes.
NB Valerie
   Today Les walked into a nearby village to score a Daily Mail Weekend paper for me, and I baked, at his request, a pan of orange cranberry rolls.
   The admiral spent the day splitting wood we scored from a downed tree while coming up Seabrook locks. Our wood box is full and the rest is stacked neatly under a tarp. 
   In my rooftop garden box fresh green shoots of chives are reaching upwards; parsley grows beside them with a pale yellow green fringe of new leaves, and my large pot of mint has developed runners over the winter which now have tiny green flags sprouting from each stem!
   Back inside we are warm, dry, cozy, and listening to the Stones as I write and Les reads in front of the fire. We do live the good life and I am so thankful to have my favorite Valentine with which to share it!

Chicken Tarragon Pot Pie 
 Serves 4
Pre-heat oven to gas mark 7/425 degrees F.
2 T. olive oil
200 gr/7 oz. diced bacon or lardons
8 shallots peeled and cut in quarters
4 large garlic cloves, crushed and diced
2 T. fresh Tarragon, diced
25 gr/1 oz. butter
1 1/2 tsp. Beau Monde seasoning
3 T. flour
3 T. corn flour (corn starch)
250 ML/9 fluid oz. of Marsala wine
600 ML/1 pint of chicken broth, heated
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
200 gr/7 oz. baby new potatoes, peeled and cut in half
300 gr/7 oz. of carrots, peeled and cut into chunky bite sizes
200 gr/7 oz. fresh mushroom, cleaned and sliced into chunky slices
125 gr/4.5 oz. fresh green beans, cleaned and cut in half
100 gr/3.5 oz. fresh petite pois peas (frozen are fine)
100 ML/3.5 fluid oz. double cream (I use evaporated canned milk which works fine. You could also try using Creme Fraiche)
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed, cold and ready to use
salt and pepper to taste

   Heat oil in a heavy bottomed dutch oven or deep sided saute pan. Gently cook the bacon until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
   Add shallots, crushed garlic, mushrooms, and butter to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on medium low until the shallot softens and the garlic gives up its perfume. Be careful not to overcook or use too high a flame, otherwise your garlic will turn bitter! The mushrooms should be lightly browned on the edges.
   Stir in 3 Tablespoons of flour and turn up the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two to remove the raw taste of the flour, stirring all along.
   Slowly stir in the Marsala wine and heated chicken stock. Bring to a simmer as it thickens and add chicken, bacon, potatoes, carrots, and green beans. Cook for 20 minutes.
   Stir in the cream or canned evaporated milk, and season with Beau Monde, salt and pepper to taste. If you want your gravy thicker now is the time to take 3 Tablespoons of corn flour and mix with a little cold water to form a paste. Stir this into your pan and let it simmer while you stir. Your gravy will thicken right up.
   Why use flour previously and corn flour now? The flour used earlier in the recipe actually absorbs all the remaining bacon grease, olive oil, and butter and incorporates their flavor into the dish. I found corn flour (starch) used at this juncture gave my gravy the thickness I wanted.
   Add the peas and fresh Tarragon and stir through gently. Pour your casserole ingredients into whatever heavy casserole dish will stand up to the high oven heat.
   Top with a sheet of thawed puff pastry, cutting it to fit if you need to do so. Place in top rack of oven and set timer for 20 minutes. Turn pan when timer goes off and let it cook until your puff pastry is fully risen and crispy browned. 
   to serve, cut into the pastry top with a knife and remove a square to a place. Scoop out the contents underneath with a serving spoon and carefully place the cooked pastry on top. Serve!


Nev Wells said...

Great post Jaq, gives a great flavour of living afloat, very envious.


Anonymous said...

Jaq...query for you.
Any differences in your baking between the NW US and being on Valerie in the uK?

And sadly have ben bannedfrom eating anything containing gluten; have had some nasty allergic reactions and it
has been narrowed down to a gluten intolerence. And I like pastires and the like, yes there are gluten substitutes however nothing like the real thing. One advantage, my knees are no longer painful.

Spring is happening sooner there than here!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Nev,
Someday you and Rachel will get there too. Consider yourself too young to live as full time CC'rs just yet! Maybe that will help a bit?? :)
Jaq XX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
Good thing your allergy was correctly identified. You could make this recipe as a stew and only thicken it with corn starch--or some cooked, riced potatoes stirred in.

Yes indeed there are differences! I spent months searching for corn starch only to find it is called corn flour here; same for molasses! It is treacle on this side of the pond! There are no graham crackers here; also no saltines--and nothing remotely like them. No corn tortillas, no canned mild green chiles and no real Mexican food. there is Spanish food and Brit-Mex I will call it, which is canned Enchilada sauce that tastes sweet, with jalapenos in it and a version with BBQ flavoring. :( So no real Mexican food here. Just Spanish near!
Baking soda is called Bicarbonate of Soda, and the heat settings on the ovens are in gas marks rather than in Fahrenheit which they do no use over here. An example is gas mark 4(350F).

Another difference is dessert which is called pudd here! Brits like their desserts very sweet and with custard our cream over nearly everything which seems like two desserts to me!

Brits are excellent cooks in general and I've not really had a bad meal here unless it was at a restaurant attempting to fix American food! Hamburgers come to mind. Brits make delicious dishes such as Hunter's chicken which is chicken breast baked in BBQ sauce with a slice of Canadian style bacon over the top of the breast. The last 5 minutes they put a lovely melty cheese on top of that. Yummy! Very different combination that one would find Stateside, but really excellent. And no one can touch the British for their treatment of fish and the humble potato! May I never eat another American fry again!

Salads are different too. N. American salads are robust with greens, tomatoes, cukes, radishes, avocados, onion--tossed in a bowl and dressed with your choice of dozens of dressings. Over here it is more a mini buffet plate with a couple of lettuce leaves, some celery sticks, some red pepper sticks, slices of onion and no dressing or salad creme--which is the equivalent of Miracle Whip!

Bacon sandwiches are just that--2 slices of bread with fried bacon and catchup. BLT's can be had but the tomato is likely to be a tomato chutney type of spread and way too much mayo on the bread.

British sandwiches are about good bread with very thin filling. N. American sandwiches are about bread--usually good--with lots of filling!

I love the differences, except for the things I cannot get which I miss, but one manages and there are trade offs. N. American strawberries can never measure up to their British kin, which are small red jewels bursting with strawberry flavor instead of hug red bags of water.

Blackberries grow everywhere and are there for the taking every fall!

Stay well Bryce and may spring arrive to your neck of the woods soon!
Jaq XX

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs