On Walking – Monday 4th November

We’re walking up the Hornton Road – marching really. There’s a sly wind that keeps nipping rudely beneath my blue woollen skirt, and despite my stripy beanie, I’m cold. The dogs grumble as I drag them past favoured wee spots. From the Jackie Chan I can see sunshine spilling like treasure from behind the huge, dark holly tree on the edge of the churchyard.

We’re going so fast, I hardly pause at St Ethelreda’s horsechestnuts. Barely a week ago they were gorgeous; their leaves dipped in tumeric, in smoked paprika. But now their branches are bare and vulnerable, awkwardly crooked. A few mustardy leaves cling on, but the rest are on the pavement, rasping their exhaustion against my welly boots. I’m gone – I want to be over Bramshill, the panacea to the heavy black-poker pressure of stoves-in-before-Christmas.

It works every time. I perch on the stile, looking and listening; drinking deep of the peace. The frantic trapped-bird of my brain, that flutters and bashes against insolvable problems, finally begins to still.

Pants and Dora near the Spinney

Ahead of me, I can see the smart stripes of the new wheat, shooting pale-green through the  rough stubble. That sly wind is ruffling its way through the beech woods now; the young beeches beneath me are are darkly copper in the sun, now sage, now dun. To my left curves the dark arm of the Scout Woods, and as I watch, the sun races across the grazing beneath the wood. For a moment, the distant grass is luminous; a  glorious, wild, velvet emerald. Even as I reach for my phone, it’s gone, the magic raced onwards, beyond.

I slide down the stile, galumph down the slope, vault the fence to prove I still can. As I go through the spinney, I hear the clown-in-a-box laugh of the ducks from the ponds.

I whistle the dogs, climb out of the trees and slog up the long flank of the wheat field to the crown of the hill.  I keep my head down, tucked away from the wind, keeping the moment when I reach the break in the hedge, and the valley spills before me; all for me to savour.

God, do I savour. I see brown-and-white cattle in the crease, the neat patches of maize, the biggest rhododendrons in the world surrounding the pheasant pens. And above it all, arching blue sky, strewn with sharp-edged clouds.Bramshill's Valley

Pants, bored of my mooning, canons into my legs, then runs away laughing. I glare, but walk on. The stile onto Clump Lane is broken, its top bar loose from one side of its moorings. It’s lethal, crotch-wise, for anyone who puts their weight in the wrong place. I step over, careful of my sensible, thick tights.

We start walking up the Clump, towards Horley, the dogs weaving, play-fighting around my legs. I shout at them to go off, to go away, but then I shout to come on, faster, let’s go, come on. I’m chasing them up the hill, hooting to wind them up. My coat’s undone, my hat off. Warmed through. Happy.

Crispy Pheasant Risotto

Shot_for_the_Pot_Logo_02_RGB_688We love pheasants. Silly, happy birds with gorgeous feathers and hang-over eyes. However, we like them best on our plate. All through the year, we seem to have a couple of brace lurking in our freezer, and they’re completely  brilliant for those days you can’t think what to cook, but  know you cannot face another mouthful of pasta.

Anyway, I just read about a recipe using chorizo and pheasant, from the very fabulous Mrs Smarty Breeks, and I thought I’d share my own. I’ve also realised that I’ve just missed Shot for The Pot week (http://www.gametoeat.co.uk/) , so this is my (late!) contribution.

This recipe for pheasant risotto was born out of desperation a few years ago – we had no other carbohydrate in the house apart from a packet of pudding rice.

Ingredients

Two pheasants (cock and hen, or three hens. Actually, probably doesn’t matter)

Liquid (see Method)

olive oil

Arborio rice (1 ramekin per person. Two and a half ramekins for family of four with small children.)

x2 onions (finely chopped)

x2 garlic gloves (finely chopped)

something green, vegetable wise (I use spinach, French beans, peas if I’ve nothing else) (chopped in fork-size pieces)

Fresh thyme or rosemary, on stalks

Maldon salt

Method

Put two pheasants (cock and hen) upside down in a heavy casserole dish. Slosh in some liquid a third of way up birds. Liquid can be beer, cider, red or white wine…I’ve even used vermouth. Top up with tap water. In fact, I’ve  done them in just water (with an onion) before, and still tasted good. Not worth using stock, incidentally, as you’ll be turning liquid into stock in a bit.

Right, Pot-roast an hour or so at 160 (done when legs move freely and no blood shows on a knife) , strip meat whilst still warm (absolute bugger to do when cold), and put all bones back into casserole with a quartered onion, couple of cloves and the woody stems of any herbs you might use later. Put it to boil.

Now make risotto. Soften onion in olive oil until translucent, add garlic. Give a stir, put in arborio rice, dry-fry for a few minutes, add couple of slugs of whatever booze you added to your cooking liquid. If you used water, well, add a shot of vermouth. Start adding boiling-away pheasant stock. Keep adding, stirring, adding stirring.

Right, when rice retains a slight bite, turn off heat and add some grated cheese. We like Parmesan, or Cheddar. Give it a stir, put the lid on. Tell everyone to get the table ready, dinner is five minutes away.

Now, heat a frying pan until scarily hot. Add a little olive oil. If a piece of pheasant dropped in sizzles, then put all of the pheasant meat in. Add generous amount of salt and thyme leaves and stir a little, letting it get a bit burnt and crispy.

When it’s all hot, check risotto. If looks a bit stodgy, put in a splash of hot water. Take risotto to table with pheasant crispy gorgeousness in separate bowl with the grater and more cheese. Let everyone dive in.

Serves 2 adults and 2 children for a main, or four adults for a lunch with a green salad.

Awesome gamey-goodness. Watch out for shot…

On Dog Walking 6th April 2013

Decent Saturday dog walks are hard fought. Ordinarily, Saturdays to us are work days, with Stevie doing endless Go-Sees, and the daughters dancing, then off to little buddies’ houses, or little buddies coming here, and I have to feed them all, and generally present myself as A Good Mummy.

I did slide off though, today, at about five, with Dora. It feels like the first proper day of Spring, after the longest winter imaginable. Swathes of snow still lie incongruously beneath hedges, like sheets that flew off some giant’s washing line.

We walked the Bottom Meadows, Dora sending up pheasants from the stream. Their frantic Ee-full ee-full ee-full and ungainly, neck-stretched flight always make me think of fat ladies running for the loo. They also makes me think of shooting, and how I wimped out of my first game shoot.

Dora also sent up a brace of ducks, the mallard flashing green in the low sun. They both flew silently, and low, with none of the panic of the pheasants.

Along the first of Dave’s big fields, I stopped to examine the skeletons of giant cow-parsley type stuff, which I need to look the name up of. They are hollow and the children like snapping them down and using them as ineffectual weapons. They make a good swish sound when whizzed through the air.

Normally, I love walking with the children, but today I’m relishing just being with Dora. She doesn’t moan when I get fixated by an interesting piece of lichen. Nor does Dora stir up the brook so I can’t see the bottom and try to look for stickle-backs. I really want to see some stickle-backs in our stream, but I never have done.

I cross the stream into Emma’s meadow, and admire the new mole hills by the stream. Dora insists on weeing on every single one.

I’m supposed to be taking the children to Hornton for a sleep-over, so I up my pace to cross the meadow and swing round to the bottom of the village.

But then I bump into a Horley beauty, walking her gorgeous Labradoodle, Ted. We pause to speculate whether a funny little white-flowered plant by the brook is chick-weed, or something more exciting.

And then we’re catching up on gossip and eyeing up the sweet, strangely dressed Frenchman who walks briskly by.

Eventually, Dora and I wander on, totally forgetting about taking the children to Hornton, and I find a whole wall by Pete Miers’ cottage, frothing with green aubretia leaves, tiny scraps of violent and purple hinting at the show to come.

Dora decides to crap on a verge and I don’t have any bags left in my coat. Luckily, there’s a drain, so I flick it down with my welly boot.

We climb over into the cricket field, and the instant I see Jess flying down on her scooter I remember we’re horribly late. All the lovely peace of the walk is lost in the desperate scramble to pack pyjamas, and Rabbit and Lamby, and to stop everyone walking in the new puppy wee.