Tag Archives: ramblings in a time of crisis

The Pig Guide: where we’re at

Around 10 weeks ago (March 22, to be precise) I published a Pig Guide news story that, looking back on it now, was actually a cry for help for me, for you, for all of us who where were suddenly watching the world around us shift and change in a way that none of us had ever seen it shift and change before. Pretty much anything else on the agenda for the ‘normal life’ that we all so blithely took for granted had literally locked down, literally overnight. How would we cope? What was going to happen next? What shall we do?

Scroll forward 10 weeks…

While our everyday lives are still about as far removed from life as we knew it at, say, the beginning of this year, a new kind of rhythm and energy gradually began to replace the ominous feelings of downbeat dread that dominated those dreadful days at the end of March. Community spirit, perseverance, support, determination and kindness came to the fore and, in my little world, a whole new modus operandi was launched.

The Pig Guide’s Lockdown Larder – which started life as a tiny little bulletin aimed to support six local businesses who simply refused to lock up shop – grew, throughout April, to become the regularly updated 5,000 word behemoth that it is today, viewed and shared by almost 26,000 people to date. The Our Lockdown Life series was a natural spin-off from the Lockdown Larder; the personal stories shared by five local businesses (Thoughtful Bakery, Larkhall Butchers, Yak Yeti Yak, and both The Grapes and Chapter One pubs) served as an inspiration for individuals and other local businesses alike, and again attracted thousands upon thousands of click-throughs that sent the stats for this little local business into a tailspin. Meanwhile, at the personal PG HQ cliff face…

With so much time on our hands and no restaurant bookings to punctuate the week, dinner time became even more of an event than ever before. As food sources became increasingly problematic, I became a mistress of the art of the ‘foraged feast’ (I wrote a little feature for The Bath Magazine on this subject towards the end of March – you can read it here, if you’re interested.) And then, as grocery delivery services became more and more established and supplies began to stabilise, I attempted to replicate familiar restaurant experiences at home (“This evening, Mr Pig, we are dining Marlborough Tavern/Clayton’s Kitchen/Yum Yum Thai/Chez Dominique style, etc etc”) to varying degrees of success… or otherwise.

Fortunately, a handful of pro kitchens came to the rescue – in click’n’collect/home delivery format at least. Over the past few weeks, we’ve chowed down and tucked in to a fabulous Tasting Menu (the Tour of India feast, no less) from The Mint Room, glorious fish and chips from The Scallop Shell, Jimmy Muffins from Eveleigh’s Cafe, pizza from The Pizza Bike, Nepalese curry and momos from Yak Yeti Yak and a ready-to-go Sunday roast from Homewood. And while not eating…

I took care of my 91-year-old dad and delighted my agent by writing almost all of a short story collection (45,000 words to date.) I found ways to cope and deal with a family tragedy at a distance; I found other ways to help others cope and deal with similar experiences. I celebrated my birthday in fine, lockdown style… but still haven’t mastered the arts of yoga, sourdough or cleaning the bathroom. And despite grim thoughts I may have harboured to the contrary, The Pig Guide remained open all hours; as the weeks rolled along, it became clear that we wouldn’t be closing our doors anytime soon.

A whole host of businesses we supported and promoted on The Pig Guide Twitter feed and in the Lockdown Larder pledged to sign up for annual membership on fully reopening – a heartwarming bonus that we never once asked for, but gave us further impetus to keep calm and carry on.

Our ongoing collaboration with the Bath Echo went from strength to strength as our regular weekly Pig Guide column – in online, subscription newsletter and, as of a couple of weeks ago, back in print again (good work, guys!) – further expanded our reach.

Ellie – proprietor of The Grapes on Westgate Street – instigated a virtual pub quiz, hosted by MC extraordinaire Matt Donovan (many of you will know him as the supervisor at The Raven), raising much-needed cash for Thoughtful Bakery’s COVID-19 fund and featuring a Food and Drink round hosted by this little piggie (if you want to join the fun, it takes place every Monday evening at 8pm – DM @TheGrapesBath on Twitter to pay the £1 entry fee and collect your Zoom sign-in link.)

Lovely Somer Valley FM presenter Richard Burgess offered me a regular slot on his Drivetime show (every Monday between 4-6pm) – as anybody who knows me personally can probably imagine, I keep Richard talking for far longer than he originally envisaged; who knows where this will lead?

And it’s clear that there’s more – not less – to come. The tiny green shoots of recovery are sprouting fast (some say too fast, but only time will tell) as, following in the footsteps of takeaway outlets, coffee shops, ice cream parlours open air markets/farm shops and delis are slowly but surely (and safely) opening their doors, and the once-deserted highways, byways and thoroughfares in and around the city centre are poised to welcome fresh footfall.

So: we’re all where we’re at, and the world did – and does, and will continue – to turn. Hang on in there, Piggies! And remember…

  • Shop local: support as many local businesses as you can, as often as you can

  • Keep yourself updated on all the relevant information

  • Be kind, stay safe, look after yourself and other – we’re all in this together.

Recipe: Pig Guide Pasta

As long as you’ve got pasta, cheese and mushrooms to hand you’ll never go hungry. But of course, it’s what you do with – and add to! – this classic larder staple triumvirate that makes all the difference to the end result.

This satisfying, speedy pasta dish combines a velvety mushroom sauce with earthy, fluffy goats cheese (or a cheese of your choice – see below), piquant sun-dried tomatoes and tender spinach, offering the perfect bridge between cosy fireside supper and brighter springtime lunch.

To give a lighter touch to what could, in its classic cream-based form, be an over-rich dish, I’ve used crème fraîche to bind the textures and flavours together, but bear in mind that using the reduced-fat variety will give the sauce a slightly runny consistency. Adding a splash of wine to the mushrooms just before they brown and spritzing a squeeze of lemon juice across the finished dish at the finish adds further vibrancy.

I’ve used farfalle as my pasta of choice here because those lovely little bow tie shapes hold the sauce so well, but fusili – or even macaroni – will do the same job. Don’t like that distinctively grassy goats cheese flavour? You’re not alone! Feta, blue cheese or mozzarella all work well in this dish.

What goes in it (serves two; can easily be doubled up to serve four)

150g farfalle

200g closed cup brown mushrooms, sliced

125g sun-dried tomatoes

150g spinach, lightly steamed

170g goats cheese, chopped (or whatever cheese you choose to use)

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

200ml crème fraîche

1 clove garlic, crushed

1tbs each of butter and olive oil; a splash of white wine; lemon juice to taste

How to do it

While the pasta is cooking (you want it to be just below al dente, usually around 10 minutes) cook the mushrooms in the butter and olive oil until they start to release their juices. Add the crushed garlic and the stripped sprigs of thyme and cook for another two minutes, then splash in the wine and allow it to reduce for around a minute.

Pour the crème fraîche into the pan and allow it to heat through before adding the sun-dried tomatoes.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce (never the other way around!) with a little bit of the cooking water to help thicken the sauce and bring it together. Stir to coat, then tumble the chopped goats cheese and separated strands of spinach through the whole mixture.

Spritz with lemon juice and serve immediately, in warm bowls.

Nice nuts!

Right now more than ever before, there’s something really wholesome, satisfying and creative about meat-free suppers. If I’m preaching to the converted, then forgive me for such an obvious statement. But of late – with time on my hands and limited produce/ingredients to choose from – what I thought was already a fully-stoked obsession has been subject to an intense reinvigoration. I didn’t know how jaded my palate had become until I ditched the familiar flesh in favour of food that was inestimably fresher and far less gory to prepare; the process of rehydrating pulses or grinding nuts coupled with the rekindled realisation that aubergines, courgettes and even the humble cauliflower can provide the thrust of a whole meal, not just a supporting role, has reminded me what real food is all about.

Although a perfect steak, a fragrant sliver of pork or the scent of slowly roasting lamb all offer an appeal that I’m not prepared to give up entirely, taking a break from carving my way around gristle, bone and sinew or justifying my bloodthirsty appetite by paying a small fortune for a dead animal that enjoyed a Brideshead Revisited-style upbringing before it died for me is putting me back in touch with a far more tasteful aspect of my foodie self.

As I was brought up pretty much vegetarian, I’m spending many long hours of my flesh-free days experiencing an extended sense of déjà vu, fondly recalling suppers created around potato cakes, marmite, peanut butter and wholemeal bread. I can clearly remember how weird it seemed to consider eating the real-life version of the toy animals I snuggled up in bed with every night. At the age of 16, a rebellious moment involving a hot dog dragged me off the path of righteousness; decades on, a hazelnut, leek and cheese burger is leading me back towards the light.

Saturday

Yesterday – Thursday? Friday? Wednesday? Who knows? – my daily, speedy trip to my local Co-op was made all the more worthwhile for the following tail-end-of-a-conversation I eavesdropped while waiting (at a safe distance, of course) in the queue at the till:

Mummy One to Mummy Mummy Two (exasperated): “…but then again, she’s the sort of person who always dries all her clothes in the tumble dryer.” M2: (aghast!) “Oh god, really? How dreadful. I’m glad we’ve actually got a real excuse not to see her for coffee tomorrow!” I’ll just leave that snippet of useless information there…

Aaanyway: alongside all the basic necessities that are keeping PG HQ going at the mo, I found digestive biscuits, butter, condensed milk, eggs and lemons, all of which have been made into a glossy lemon tart that we’ll tuck in to after the lasagne we’re having for supper this evening. The lemon tart took 20 minutes to throw together and 20 minutes to bake; I used the baking part of the process to watch last night’s Gogglebox, because for some reason, there’s something really comforting about watching people you don’t know (but feel as though you do) watching TV programmes you won’t watch (but now probably might.) I made the lasagne last week with a glut of fresh veg from Stokes in Moorland Road, so that’s in the freezer pretending to be a ready meal.

I’ve ticked pretty much every box on my to-do list, and it’s only just gone 9am. Oh, how I wish I could invite you all around for supper! When we’re all allowed to re-join the human race, remind me that I said that; as long as you don’t dry your clothes in a tumble drier, you’re definitely on the guest list.