Hot Stuff and Caning – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog isn’t what you are thinking – –

I’m a great fan of Indian curries and have attempted over many years to learn how to make them at home with mixed success.

But, about eight or nine years ago Wendy and I taught a week-long course of ballads and folktales at John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. In addition to being paid and getting bed and board, we were also able to sign up for free for any other week long courses within a year after the one we taught.

We surveyed the catalogue and Wendy saw a course on chair caning, something with which she had also had mixed success. (extra points for no preposition at the end of that sentence). I had a look and saw there was a course during the same week on Indian cooking!

My classes were taught by a lovely woman from India called Ruby, and it was a wonderful experience. She took about a dozen of us through everything from pakoras and samosas, and through a variety of curries, to delicious sweets and drinks.

I have to admit that I only remember some of the recipes, but I do remember her advice to taste as you go and to adjust things like vinegar, lemon juice and sugar to balance sweet and savory.

But, even so, I was still trying to recapture the taste of restaurant curries, while Ruby’s food was more domestic. That was when I discovered that the curry houses make a big batch of ‘base sauce’ and then they add whatever they need to that just beforehand to make anything from tikka masala to vindaloo.

So that’s what I do now and we have many Ziploc bags in our freezers and jars of canned sauce waiting for use. That’s just the start, though, because it’s fairly bland and still awaits all of the necessary spices, veggies and chicken or shrimp.

Despite that I remember Ruby’s lessons and check the taste carefully and often.

As for Wendy, she’s become known as a chair caner and done a roaring trade in barter and cash seats, of course. You can check out her Facebook albums for some of her favorite chairs. Ironically enough, we never seem to keep any of them….

Cooking the Books


Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store


Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).


So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!


But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?


Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.


1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.


2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.


I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.


I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!


I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.


The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.


(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).