Sunday, 30 May 2010

That's what it's all about isn't it?


Feet in the sand, chugging chips on Crooklets Beach and watching the sun go down. Mrs Campervan living asked me to take her somewhere special for our 9th wedding anniversary. So I did. Of course next year we'll go somewhere even better. Like Summerleaze. I might even buy her some onion rings. If she's lucky. Oh yes, we know how to live alright.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Thanking our lucky stars. One amazing journey.


Today, of all days, is very special indeed. Today is the day when my dreams come true. My book, The Camper van Cookbook, hits the shelves of bookshops all around the UK. In many ways I still can't belive that the book I had inside me could be made into a real book. But there it is, with pages and pictures and a cover and an index. And look, there's a box of them in the corner!

It's been an amazing year. Last May I began talking about bringing this book to life with my publisher. But I still refused to belive it could happen. Then I raced around the UK in my van taking pictures, coming up with ideas, making it happen. And it has. We camped in Mart's garden. We sheltered behind Dave and Sam's house in a storm. We chugged Bolly at Solfest. We talked campers at Dubs on The beach. We blagged a good spot at Dart Valley Park. We kipped in a holding site in Blackpool. We ate corn chowder in a storm on the seafront in Maryport. We cooked a chilli for a contest in Bude. We ate our way through a pile of delicious recipes. We made sunshades and kites and sundials and hammocks. And we had an absolute blast.

What could possibly top that? Today, maybe. It's the day when we show it to the world. And we hope they like it. So far the reation has been great. Somehow we're right there, in the moment. The timing could well be perfect.

The BBC seem to think so, which is why next week I set off on an amazing journey around the Uk to find out a whole lot more about our beloved country. We'll be shooting 10 half hour episodes for BBC2 starting with North Devon. I'll meet foragers, fishermen, producers, growers, artisans and cooks. And I'll learn something from every single one of them. The surf's looking good too.

I can't wait.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Going overboard for a few fresh greens


The produce in our fish crate garden is really starting to come on now that the weather's changed. We've got rocket and lettuce already, are on the verge of gathering our first spuds, and not far off frying up the pak choi. It's very satisfying. Not only because we love our garden greens but also because fish crates make such good beds.
All ours have been picked up from the beach near to where we live. They come from all over the place. We even have one from Dunmore East, the place where Jo and I tied the knot. It's in southern Ireland. Others are from Scotland, Cornwall, Norway. All over.
It was Dave and Sam who first turned us on to the idea of collecting these lost receptacles for planting. Not only does it take them out of the marine environment but it also stops them from going to landfill. So instead of going to a hole in the ground or decaying into hundreds of bits of toxic plastic that will continue to float around the planet, they find another use. And if that use can supply us with really tasty, freshly picked, home grown greens, then I'm all for it. They might have travelled hundreds of miles across the oceans to get to us but, now they are here, they have a second chance to be useful. From here to September we'll reduce our shopping bills by a couple of lettuces, some rocket and a few spuds a week. It's not much, but it's something.
So, thanks fish crates. We'd rather you stayed on your fishing boats but if you must go overboard, float your way to our beach. We'll keep you busy. Just don't let on to the fisherman's co-op.

Drying, not waving

Poor old Ted. It's a hard life being you isn't it? First you get ravaged by the Bob the dog and left for dead in the garden. Next the kids don't care enough about you to miss you at all during the three difficult days that you were missing, then you get shoved unceremoniously in the washing machine with all the other smalls. And then you get left out to dry. Literally. Mind you, you're looking clean. And I am sure that it's better than being the Duchess of York right now.
Thank heaven for small mercies.
Who's your friend, Ted?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Are you ready for the summer?

How are things round your way? Down here in Bidefornia things are brightening up. It's still a little chilly at night but not enough to stop us from taking off in the van as soon as the sun pokes its head out from behind the Friday afternoon cloud. And that means being ready to go. At a moment's notice. Prepared for anything.

So into the van they go. The snorkels and the masks, wetsuits, towels, sleeping bags and pillows all find their own little cubby holes where they will wait patiently for the signal from the house: "Fire up the van. The forecast is looking good and the road is clear. Let's go!"
The salt and pepper shakers, the family pack of pasta and the cornflakes will all be lurking at the back of some cupboard or other. And the tins of tuna, tomatoes and artichokes that I packed a while ago will still be waiting for their hour in the sun (pan). I'll find them when we get there.

Last thing to do is pack the cooler with a few perishables, swing by the egg lady's house and pump a few gallons of moving juice into the old girl before putting the foot down and driving. Can't wait to get there and get the dinner on.

The tin opener, in case you were wondering, will be in the cutlery drawer. At home.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Ouch! That soup tastes great...


It's not easy doing the chopping with gardening gloves on. But it is worth it. And, amazingly, the kids even tried the results, a rustic nettle soup, camper van style. The only thing that was lacking, we felt, was a dash of cream. Never mind, when the main ingredient of our new favourite soup grows in every hedgerow you could ever look in, it's not going to be a problem finding it again.

As soups go, it wasn't half bad either, especially once we'd added some smoked bacon lardons. And yes, the family tried it. And said they liked it. So the whole experience was a success: getting Maggie and Charlie to try something alien and new, eating fresh, seasonal and local food (measure it in food feet, not miles) and trying out new techniques.

The way we made it was as important as the ingredients. We wanted to stay true to camper van cooking principles and make a really great soup without using a blender. As it turns out it wasn't so hard. We fried an onion, a clove of garlic and a cubed potato in a little oil for a few minutes. Then we added a couple of big handfuls of very well chopped young nettle leaves (just the tips of the plants - without any stalks) and a pint of vegetable stock. This we boiled for 10 minutes and then mashed as much as we could. Then we put the whole lot into a sieve and drained off the liquid. The pulp we mashed again and then reunited with the juice. A little black pepper, sea salt and then the fried lardons to finish it off and add a little extra salty flavour. Not bad! And only a few stings along the way.


TASTE: 8/10 for nettleness

CONSISTENCY: 9/10 for rustic charm. Good with a doorstep.

HANDINESS: 10/10 for being fresh and more local than anything. Totally sustainable.