Pulled pork 2 years too late

The nice thing about having friends who don’t read food blogs, and only eat out occasionally, is that they are happy when you cook them something tasty even if that thing is horrendously over-exposed.

Two weeks ago I stayed at a friend’s house and she was happy when I suggested knocking up some avocado on toast for breakfast. She didn’t mind that Nigella did it on TV two weeks before that and was reviled for being behind the times. She didn’t mind that we have already been past “peak avocado”. She just liked having a tasty brunch that she might not normally have made.

Today I made pulled pork. There has supposedly  been “too much” pulled pork around since 2014 or so, but in my house (and the houses of people I know) there has not been so much pulled pork that this was unwelcome. In fact I’ve NEVER made it before. I’ve made a lot of things like it. I’ve made slow-cooked duck legs for pancakes, and I’ve made some lovely slow-cooked lamb shoulder that I have inexplicably never written up, but not pulled pork.

So, to make pulled pork.

Get a pork shoulder. This is easy. The pork shoulder that I got described itself as having the right stuff for crackling. That’s great if you are making a Sunday roast, but TERRIBLE for pulled pork. Try to get one without. In this situation it’s like pubs boasting about having brioche buns for their burgers. I don’t want sweet sugary bread for my burger, it’s worse, not better, stop sounding proud of it.

Get up before 9am on a Sunday and curse yourself for planning something slow-cooked for lunch. Pu the oven on to heat up to 140C.

Wrestle the skin off the pork shoulder. This is the hardest bit. Seriously, next time I’m going to go to a real butcher and insist on them taking it off for me. They can give it to someone who wants extra crackling with their roast pork. Roast pork is the worst roast, they need it.

After a long time with your sharp kitchen scissors and cramp in your fingers, you have an ugly-looking lumpy bit of pig. That’s OK. Rub it all over with a bunch of smoked paprika, brown sugar, and salt. Other optional things you can add include celery salt, allspice, chilli flakes, thyme. The friend who gave me his recipe said “if you add oregano it’ll taste like pizza, if you add fennel seeds it’ll taste like Italian sausage”. If you want it to taste like those things, add those things.

Put this into a big tin, one with highish sides because it’s going to make liquid, and cover with foil. No need to add anything else. Seal the foil round the edges of the pan so that it can’t dry out. Put into oven.

Go drink coffee. You deserve it after wrestling with that pork skin.

At least 3 hours later (I gave it 4, probably nothing bad will happen if you leave it 5), have a look at it.

unpulled pork

This is your unpulled pork. There will be loads of liquid. Loads. Don’t panic. You may be tempted to drain the liquid off and do something fancy with it. You can if you really must.

Pull it apart with two forks.

pulled pork

It will magically re-absorb all the liquid.

At this stage you can put the foil back on and put it back into the oven il you’re ready for it, or just eat it. I love food that sits around and waits for you – I don’t want to be a slave to my timings.

Serve with whatever you like. I did sweet potato wedges, coleslaw made with red cabbage (because who does’t like mayonnaise to turn pink?) and BBQ sauce made from mixing up ketchup, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, honey, and soy sauce.

Eat. Not ironically. Just eat it. Because it’s nice. No need to worry about whether it’s fashionable.


2015 Book Challenge – #23 – Gone With The Wind

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

You know Gone With The Wind. Or you know of it at least. Or you think you do. Before reading this I thought I’d better figure out exactly what I knew, and it wasn’t much.

  • Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler – I know their names and I know they are probably in love, if not at the beginning the by the end
  • Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn
  • With God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again (rich girl digs in ground for potatoes or some such)
  • Making a dress out of curtains
  • It’s in the South, there are slaves
  • The film is really long
  • Er…. that’s it

I assumed this was a romance story, but it’s much more than that. Spoilers ahead, if you can say that about a book that’s nearly 80 years old. Under a quarter of the way through the book, Scarlett is a widow with a child. What?! I expected her to be single and flirting her way through the whole thing, even if there was a war on.

Instead what I found was almost a story about another world, with its own rituals and expectations and gender roles. Particularly gender roles. Then there’s a war, and the world is turned upside down. Everyone’s training in how to survive in their old world is positively counter-productive in the new world.

If the science fiction or fantasy that I read has as good an explanation of the world in which it is set, I am happy.

I also didn’t expect it to be FUNNY. Rhett Butler is wonderfully sarcastic at all turns. The discussion of how women should pretend to be in order to bag a husband is both painful and hilarious. Sometimes the narration appears to be what Scarlett thinks and believes, other times it’s a general announcement of “the way things are”. I chose to take it as a cutting commentary on the generally-accepted beliefs, in the style of Jane Austen, rather than thinking it being said in an approving manner.

It was all written so smoothly and naturally that it was almost possible to ignore the fact that at no point does any slave say anything or act in any way to suggest that they are not keen on slavery. Seriously. Nothing. They are all “one of the family” or “like children who need looking after”. Slaves are proud of the family that they belong to, house slaves look down on field hands, and they all look down on “poor whites”. The way their speech is written just emphasises the difference between the “white folks” and the “darkies”. If this were a science fiction book I would assume them to be a different species altogether. And most of the scifi that I read has an appreciation that it’s wrong to enslave any sentient species.

Best quotes:

“The only difficulty was that by being just and truthful and tender and unselfish, one missed most of the joys of life, and certainly many beaux.”

“A gentleman always appeared to believe a lady even when he knew she was lying. That was Southern chivalry.”

“It doan make a gempmum feel lak mahyin’ a lady ef he suspicions she got mo’ sense dan he has.”

(Remember how I don’t like speech written in dialect? This was too good a line to miss even if it does hurt the brain.)

“After all, she was nineteen and getting along and men had a way of chasing silly young things”

“There was something unbecoming about a woman understanding fractions and business matters… should a woman be so unfortunate as to have such unladylike comprehension, she should pretend not to”


2015 Book Challenge – #22 – The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas David Mitchell, not Mitchell and Webb David Mitchell, although I like him too and I’m particularly impressed at his marrying Victoria Coren) was mentioned in the article that promoted me to read The End of Mr Y. Apparently “Mitchell has an untroubled relationship with the devices he borrows from genre science fiction and fantasy”, and I think I’m OK with that.

The book passes from 1984 – just a little out of my memory, past us and into the future, where I enjjoyed the unforced use of futuristic slang. “I’ll device him”. “These slates are threaded”.
In contrast to the traditional “Yer a wizard, Harry” early-book revelations of what is going on, The Bone Clocks gradually lets us see things that are happening, switching points of view to allow us to piece things together as we go, with no promise that our current protagonist will discover the secret themselves (or even necessarily survive).
The end is, er, well, not necessarily the best in the world, but I enjoyed the journey so I don’t mind so much. A deus ex machina is tolerable if you’ve known all along that there are deuses around.

2015 Book Challenge – #21 – The End of Mr Y

The End of Mr Y by Scarlettt Thomas was another Twittter recommendation, like Station Eleven
“What happens when a terrific novelist misses her big shot?” asked the tweet. A terrific novelist, you say? I’ll have a look at this. The article describes the book almost in horror-story terms, ” the narrator… discovers a copy of a famously rare, cursed book by the Victorian writer who’s the subject of her thesis, a work reputed to kill everyone who reads it”.
Slate books tweet
The result is not a horror story but a nice real-world-based fantasy story, and one in which the characters all have desires and interests and thoughts and features beyond “I am a person who has just got caught up in a fantasy story”.
Once I’m finished with my challenge I intend to seek out more by this author. The article almost warns against reading her next book, saying “You can see why Thomas might want to write a novel like this. It’s harder to see why masses of people would want to read it, especially if they have been primed for thrills by the mind-blowing escapades of The End of Mr. Y.”, but I am just as interested in the way she builds characters as the way she builds magic.


2015 Book Challenge #20 – The Bell Jar

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Things I knew about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath before reading it

  1. It’s by Sylvia Plath
  2. If you want to fake someone’s suicide,  put a copy of this book on their bedside table with bits underlined
  3. She was married to Ted Hughes
  4. She killed herself (head in oven?)
  5. She left out bread and jam for the kids when she killed herself
  6. Gwyneth Paltrow cycled an old-fashioned bike near the library here I was revising while pretending to be Sylvia Plath

Things I did not know

  1. Where/when it was set
  2. Anything about what happens
  3. Whether the character actually does kill herself

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. It is quite describey, and Plath uses a lot of adjective phrases. I’m not sure of the precise term for them, but the first page alone has “google-eyed” and “country-wet” and “mirage-grey”. Too many of these drive me mad (see Suite Francaise and the pre-war parts of Birdsong) but in this case it added a tangible feel to the descriptions without making me impatient for action.

I would have happily read some more of the story of a college-aged girl in the 50s (?) who has a summer internship on a magazine, even without the rest.

I liked that there was no attempt to explain WHY she felt as she did. She just did. That’s what mental illness is like sometimes. It’s not always caused by a childhood trauma. It’s sometimes just how things are.

2015 Book Challenge – #19 – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

This was recommended by a colleague, who neglected at first to mention that the author is FASCINATING.

First, the book.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James TipTree Jr is a collection of SF short stories from the 70s (ish).

I am not usually a fan of short stories – I find the format very tiring as I need to adjust to a new world anew characters every few pages. My preference for a book is that if I like it I want it long, I want lots of that one book so I can get the maximum benefit out of my effort in getting into it. That’s probably why I like a long series (e.g. Wheel of Time), and why I enjoyed the doorstopper The Pillars of the Earth.

So I found this book a bit difficult, but in most cases it was worthwhile. The stories often deal with sex, gender, violence, and the state of being human. The colleague who recommended it, on hearing that I was actually reading, commented “they are a bit depressing”. It’s true. And the nature of the stories makes it entirely unsurprising to me that James Tiptree Jr was a woman. (go look her up). Apparently many other writers of the time were very surprised.

So, recommended but not “easy”. Only if you are in the mood to feel challenged (and a little disgusted, in a few cases).

The Artisan Gin Maker’s Kit – review

This is in the same “homemade” camp as sloe gin – I’m obviously not distilling my own spirit, just flavouring some existing booze.

gin kitThis is the box, I got it for my birthday

gin kit contents

Contents: vodka, empty bottle, funnel, tea strainer, and two little tins. One has juniper berries, the other has “aromatics”. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to pick and choose my aromatics, and that the individual dried flowers and seeds were not named.Cardamom was definitely involved. Possibly fennel seeds. Some flower petals. And some other stuff.


gin kit step 1

I put the juniper berries in, shook the bottle, waited a bit (maybe longer than I was supposed to), then added the other seeds and flowers and things.

gin kit step 2Filtered through the tea strainer into the bottle, this is much yellower than most gin.

Side note – how many other people were disappointed on discovering that Bombay Sapphire was in a blue bottle and not actually blue?

gin kit testing

This definitely tastes of gin. Quite strongly fragranced, with mainly spices. One for people who like a robust gin.

Verdict: This is a good gift. You don’t “get your money’s worth” in terms of ingredients, but the box and setup and giftyness makes it nice. And I do have some nice gin now.

One thing I’d change: Split the aromatics into a couple of tins and let people choose to infuse them for different amounts of time to vary the flavour.

Make it yourself: You could get a bottle of generic vodka, a selection of seeds and flowers (juniper mandatory, everything else optional), a tea strainer, a funnel, and a pretty bottle and put into a nice gift bag. It would basically work just as well.