Locusts for tea anyone?
I went shopping the other week – not a regular pastime, I am bound to say – and happened across a toy shop. Well, I say toy shop but it had as many gadgets and gimmicks as actual toys. We were looking for small pocket-money toys that would suit a young child (they were to go to a children’s charity) but also browsed round the shop. To my surprise (in the “joke” section) I found that they were selling boxes with things like dried mealworms and sugar-coated crickets. The idea was to dare people to eat them – or to trick them into eating them, I suppose. Yes, insects! How gross, I thought; and then I thought, this could be a handy visual aid for talking about John the Baptist (crickets resemble locusts, which he ate). After all, there have been articles recently suggesting that insects are a good source of protein and we could help reduce any global food shortage by eating them. Whatever the wisdom of eating insects, I am a bit too squeamish to do so and in the end I did not buy any of them.
Why, then, did John the Baptist eat honey and locusts? Was it a special diet to show his separation from the rest of society? Was it to “mortify the flesh” – that is, to do something physically unpleasant as a self-discipline? It occurs to me that it might have been simpler and more profound than that. John the Baptist was eating off the land, relying on what he could find and trusting God that he would not grow hungry. He did not have the time to be a farmer and produce food; nor was he in any kind of paid work which could have bought him food. He was totally dedicated to the task given him by God. He did not go hungry, so far as we can tell, but neither did he let any luxury get in the way of what he was called to do.
And that task was to urge people to turn, to return, to God; to live lives worthy of God’s children. His work prepared the way for Jesus when he appeared later.
I do not think God wants us to deliberately hurt our bodies; but I am aware that luxury and comfort can be a great distraction from getting on with the tasks that God has called us to do, whatever they may be. I do not want to eat locusts but there is something to be said for taking a leaf out of John the Baptist’s book, from time to time, eating simply and not having too many large Christmas meals, for example.
A prayer for the third Sunday of Advent
God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son. Give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 3)
We had some Euros left over from our foreign holiday from a couple of years ago so I decided to use them up on a brief trip of a couple of days in Brussels capital of Belgium. I say I decided as I was the most eager from our family to make this trip. I had visited many years ago and had fond memories not least because my godmother used to live there.
So we took the Eurostar the day after the great storm put our watches forward and arrived in Brussels.
My “must see” was the Atomium which is north of the city centre quite close to the Heysel football stadium (it’s the same Metro station). Judging by the number of photos I took I think it was my favourite place – at least from the outside! I think it fair to say that the rest of the family were largely underwhelmed and I could see why. Built with optimism in the late 1950’s the exhibition space had a clunky feel to it. I found that I was more interested the structure of the building – intended to resemble 9 iron atoms in a crystal layout – with its reflections of the surroundings and of itself. The contents felt dated even though the theme was ‘innovation’.
Nearby was “Mini Europe” which delighted the rest of the family but it just wound me up. It was a park consisting of various models of famous buildings and locations chosen to represent all the countries of the European Union. The other two delighted in the work and enjoyed finding things out about Europe. The models were as good as anywhere else and the booklet was very informative. School children could profit from spending a morning there. I took a couple of photos but the first page in the information booklet put me out of sorts. You see, it said that Brussels is the capital of Europe.
Now, I like Brussels, and Belgium generally. On a spectrum between Euro-skeptics and Euro-enthusiasts I am somewhere in the middle, perhaps more pro than anti. However, Brussels is the capital of Belgium just as London is the capital of the UK. OK so the European Parliament is in Brussels (see below) but sovereignty still resides with the constituent countries of the EU. The result was that I looked at this “fun” park through a lens of mistrust that was not entirely fair. It was noticeable that not all countries were treated equally – I half expected the original six members of the Treaty of Rome to feature prominently. Actually the larger countries with the larger populations had more space so it seemed relatively fair. I realise I was being petty and took it in my stride when I accepted that there was no intention to give a balanced view about the merits of the EU – controversies were for elsewhere. The park was about explaining and celebrating the European Union; and that it did quite well .
View from the Atomium
Model of the cottage where the first European treaty was conceived
Model Grand Place, Brussels
Naturally we visited the Grand Place and enjoyed Belgian waffles (there are two basic types), frites (the Belgians are said to have invented them, not the French) and chocolate.
Other places included the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, the Comic strip museum, the Natural History Museum (science) and a view of the European Parliament. Unfortunately our last day was spoilt because we didn’t realise that it was a National Public holiday (nor had our travel agent realised this) which meant we didn’t see the Smurfs nor did we visit the Magrite Museum.
I wouldn’t mind going again but there are other cities and countries to visit first.
Herge style mural
In the Grand Place
notice that the arch and the windows above do not line up
Destination moon …
a view of th European Parliament
“WHITE SUGAR INGREDIENTS: sugar
NUTRITION INFORMATION: per 100 g as sold: Energy 1700 kJ, Energy 400 kcal,, Protein Nil, Carbohydrate 100.0 g, Fat Nil
CAUTION: May contain milk”
That is exactly what it says on the sachet of sugar. Make of it what you will.
… and thank you to Mandy who made it. It is fair to say that I am fairly fussy about what fudge I eat (not keen on the glucose syrup which is often used in commercial types and which I think ruins the texture). However, this particular homemade fudge with its unusual ingredient, beetroot, worked well both in taste and texture. Had I not been told, I would never have guessed that there was any vegetable in it.
Unfortunately, I do not have the recipe to share with you.
So the sun actually shone for another Bank Holiday weekend. We pottered around in the garden in the morning – earthing up potatoes and tackling some of the bracken. What to do in the afternoon? Well a local magazine advertised “Festival of County Life – Lamport Hall” so we decided to give it a go; children under 11 admitted free was a bonus.
Basically, what we found was a medium-sized country fair in the grounds of Lamport Hall. There were a variety of displays, entertainment, local food, craft stalls and the like: enough to occupy us for most of the afternoon. Highlights for us included the falconry display, the shire horses, “99” ice cream (that’s an ice cream with a chocolate flake), “bunnies ears” (ice cream with two flakes), the rural life museum and a stall which sold “proper” fudge.
For some people the main attraction was the chance to see various vintage vehicles and steam engines. Among them was a “Green Goddess” – so-called because of its colour. That was the nick-name given to army fire engines including the old one we saw. Meanwhile, in the Rural Life Museum, they ran some early examples of mechanised farm machinery. These days we tend to cover up moving parts (presumably for health and safety reasons) so it was a novelty to see how they worked.
I don’t usually give machines a second thought but one of my companions remarked on the fact that they required some work and ingenuity to make and to get working. That is a fair point. If we see the end product of someone’s work it is all too easy to take it for granted. This is true of the machines and gadgets we use as well of the food and produce we buy. If you “grow your own” you might get some sense of the time and effort it takes just to grow a few potatoes, for instance; and maybe we’ll spare a thought for the potato farmers next time we buy a bag. I’m a townie so the countryside is a place I visit rather than one that I inhabit. It is as well to remember that “the countryside” is more than a tourist destination but a place where people work hard to produce things we all need and rely on.
Meanwhile, we had a pleasant afternoon and here are a few photos of it:
water pump at Rural Life museum
Rural Life museum – petrol driven and a bit smelly
“Green Goddess” fire engine. AFS = auxiliary fire service
Fred and Mary – working horses
Northampton countryside as seen from the car park
Will this really make composting more interesting?
Well, the rain didn’t wash away all the snow but at least the blue sky and the temporary appearance of the sun cheered us up a bit. So we dared to get in the car and venture out to Warwickshire for the members’ day of “Potato Day”. It is not as arcane as it might sound but we have been in previous years so it was not so much of a novelty this time. However, I like the fact that you can buy potatoes singly and choose from dozens of different varieties.
After last year’s poor performance I have gone back to salad blue and kestrel.
We have limited space so we do all our potatoes in bags and/or large pots and have to be careful not to overcrowd them – that is counter-productive in terms of yield. However, I couldn’t resist trying out a new variety called “purple majesty”. These are, as the name implies, purple in colour. We’ll see how they go.
I like chocolate a lot but I wouldn’t say that it is something to get overly excited about. However, at breakfast as I perused the latest edition of the Radio Times and I come across an advert declaring “from now on, every pack of Maltesers will be Fairtrade certified.” I am delighted. I have supported and bought Fairtrade goods over many years – to the point of trying to avoid companies with a poor track record for workers’ rights, environmental responsibility etc etc. Unfortunately, it has also meant fretting over some of my favourite chocolates which are not Fairtrade certified. I either don’t buy them (and feel mildly resentful) or, if I do give into temptation, do get them but do not enjoy them as much. It is hard to stick to ones principles when the alternative tastes nice.
So I am really pleased that one of my favourite chocolates is now Fairtrade certified.
I needed to do something constructive (a distraction from a situation which was winding me up quite nicely – I was “irritated” – please note that was British understatement).
So I undertook an experiment with chocolate. You see, these days I find I still find plain (dark) chocolate too bitter for my taste but most milk chocolate not chocolatey enough. I have, in the past tried melting some of each, perhaps with a tablespoon of water or a knob of butter, but with varying degrees of success. This time I decided to melt the chocolate into an already-warm liquid, namely marshmallow and milk. I doubt if I’m the first with this idea but it did work – at least other members of the family agreed. They don’t like marshmallow so the idea of the recipe did not appeal to them but when they tried some their only critical comment was that the chocolate was ‘sticky’ rather than just ‘soft’ – and then they took another piece.
Here’s what I did:
Into a microwaveable glass bowl I put four pieces of marshmallow and a splash of milk (it was what was left over in the bottle so I guess it was about three tablespoons’ worth). I microwaved it on ‘high’ for 30 seconds – that was all that was needed. Then I added a knob of butter (about an ounce? 30g?) and stirred it about a bit. Next I added eight squares (50g or nearly two ounces) each of plain chocolate (50% cocoa solids) and milk chocolate (30% cocoa solids) and stirred them in until it was obvious that the mixture had cooled a bit. I heated the mixture for a further 30 seconds (that was enough) and stirred it again until it was smooth. The mixture was soft but not too runny. I poured it onto some baking parchment (anything non stick would have done, foil even) in a tin and left it to cool. It was kept in the fridge – at least it was until it was “discovered”.
One lesson I have been learning is that it is OK to do something you enjoy without having “deserved” it. That is not a licence to be selfish but permission to take a step back from our troubles from time to time. Hence this recipe. It has the virtue of having worked and is easily repeatable.
We didn’t know that they were having a chocolate festival until after we got there – honest! We arrived at the end of the weekend so I wonder whether we did miss some stuff. There was a kind of market with various stalls including small-scale businesses that made chocolates as well as a franchise offering melted chocolate to drink or poured on cake or fruits. I tried some of that melted chocolate and although it was nice it didn’t take too much to have enough. Under a marquee there was a demonstration (and tasting) of chocolate truffle-making. Although we arrived part way through the demonstrator was happy to answer our questions as well as catch us up with the bit we had missed.
Meanwhile, when we visited the Castle Museum in York (incidentally rather better value for money than the Jorivc centre even with the joint ticket to include DIG) we saw chocolate being tempered and had an informative talk about the right temperature for melting and working with chocolate. That’s the sort of thing an amateur cook might like to know as well as any chocophiles present. Elsewhere in the museuam there was also some interesting social history as well as some obvious pride in the role the Rowntree family played in making poverty an issue that had to be and could be addressed.
The view from the city walls allowed us to see the top of the old “Terry’s of York” chocolate factory.
One of the best places for us was the National Railway Museum. Entry was by donation but even if it had been priced like the Castle it would still have been good value for money. As well as trains, locomotives and carriages etc from the early “Rocket” to the modern “Bullet” train, there was a miniature railway, a science show for children, and a short play that told the story behind a huge painting of Waterloo Station in its hey day (1967). Worth a repeat visit I would say.
Although we were only there for a couple of days, we enjoyed our visit and would like to go again.