Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hop Festival

The end of August means one thing in East Kent.
Hops.  Not the Tigger variety.  The beer variety.  It's the time of year where it is OK to wear garlands of verdant green hops tied around your head and shoulders to celebrate the harvest.
For the last 25 years the little market town of Faversham has been transformed into a revelry of celebration for the humble hop, and 50,000 people descend upon the high street to drink, eat and dance their way through the first weekend in September.

The Hop Festival is a mish-mash of lots of different things.  It has beer, but it isn't a beer festival.  It has live music, but it isn't a music festival.  It has Morris dancing, but it isn't a folk festival.  It has children's rides, but it isn't a funfair.  It sells food, but it isn't a street market. 
It was born as an idea in the head of the one of the founders of the Rochester Sweeps Festival, and has grown every year since it's initial inception in 1990.  It is now one of the key events in the East Kent calendar, is internationally renowned, and is a real community activity, organised and run by the people who live in and love Faversham.

Now (surprisingly for me) I haven't been before.  I've been meaning to, but life just kept getting in the way.  Not this year though; I was fully determined to partake in all the glory that the hop festival had to offer!
So it was that I found myself skipping down Faversham high street, hops in my hair (and falling in my eyes), beer in my hand (pint of Golden Braid from Hop Daemon at the Old Wine Vaults) and on the hunt for something for lunch with Sarah and Sally. 
It's a little hard to describe the experience of the Hop Festival.  Imagine if you will a high street taken over with street stands selling every conceivable item of food.  There are burgers and hot dogs (ostrich burgers and bison hot dogs mind you), Greek tabbouleh stands, bhaji's by the dozen, ice cream and milkshakes and cream pies and drinks.  Drinks to sink even the stubbornness of battleships - home brew and speciality and artisan beers and ales and ciders alongside flavoured gins and fruit vodka's and floral cocktails.
Everywhere you look people have hops in their hair and a huge amount are also in fancy dress.  We saw smurfs and Arabian sheiks, ballerina's and 80's disco dancers.  There were Pearly Kings and Queens from London parading next to Morris Dancers and Belly Dancers and Folk Dancers. 
There are four huge stages packed with a full programme of live music from around Kent and the surrounding areas, from dawn until dusk, with musical styles ranging from Rock to Folk to Comedy. 

Well spotted, that is Green Diesel playing on the Market Stage in the bottom picture with their very own Hop Festival Song.
Hops have always played an intrinsic part of British life and there is evidence of Hops in Faversham from as early as 900AD.  It's no surprise then that in the last 1100 years we have really grown to know and understand these wonderful little feminine flowers that add such complexity to one of our national drinks.  Faversham has been growing and trading in its own hops since the 1520's and it has become a major part of the Faversham economy ever since.  Shepherd Neame was founded in Faversham in 1698, making it the oldest brewer in Britain and their headquarters (and brewery) are still based in the town to this day.
We drank and sang and danced our way into the early evening, stopping only for some food (Scotch Eggs and quiche's from a local farmers market) and the occasional toilet break.  This normally took a while as most of the pubs close off their seating areas and only allowed access to the bar.  This is the one problem with the Festival - nowhere near enough facilities and nowhere to sit down at all.
We just staggered on through - smaller ones had their own creative solutions.  I must admit, the Hop Bed did look comfortable!
There is a huge amount of entertainment for children, including jugglers and Chinese dragon dancers and a complete Fairground with rides, shooting games, bouncy castles and tombolas.
After admitting defeat on the music front by having the music stages close on us, we headed off with some friends to a local pub for a couple of pints (again, absolutely packed!), and then made our way to one of the schools in the area where they were having, of all things, a ceilidh!
There was a ceilidh band playing and attempting to shout out the instructions to us at the same time.  I wish I could say that everyone looked graceful and elegant whilst completing the ancient, ritualistic dance moves, but sadly this was not the case.
If anything we tripped and stumbled our way, looking around wildly for our next partner, and sprinting to where ever we were supposed to have ended up.
Strictly Come Dancing this was not.
Absolutely bloody brilliant it was.
Can it be the last weekend in August all the time please?

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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

You shall have a fishy on a little dishy

This is not my creation.
I don't think in a million years my brain would have been wired to consider this as a meal.  The combination of ingredients just sounds so strange together, and yet, weirdly, like strawberries and balsamic vinegar, Parmesan and pears or cayenne pepper and mango's, it just works. 
Actually this is one of Steve's concoctions.  He is a much more creative cook than I am - I tend to go for a recipe or a dish I have tried before and adapt it.  He just lets loose and experiments.  Sometimes this results in us having to order a pizza (like the ill-fated time we didn't have any tinned tomato's when he was making cottage pie so he substituted baked beans instead.  Turns out that just cos something is in a tomato-esq sauce doesn't mean you can substitute it for tomato's).  Other times, like this time, his evil genius just works.
This is toasted buttered bruschetta, layered with warm tomato and pepper salsa, a slice of lightly fried fresh monk fish, homemade crispy seaweed and a poached egg.
Weird and wonderful and surprisingly easy. 

You need:

1 loaf of fresh bread
2 tomato's (chopped)
1/2 yellow pepper (chopped)
1/2 green pepper (chopped)
1 red chilli (chopped)
1/2 onion (chopped)
Olive oil
Bag of spring greens
Brown sugar
2 fresh fish fillets (firm white fish that won't fall apart on the griddle)
2 eggs
Oil for frying

You do need to do all of this at the same time so that everything comes together at the end and is still warm.

Slice two hefty pieces of fresh bread and turn the grill on, then toast the bread on both sides until lightly golden.  Remove and butter.

In a saucepan combine the chopped tomato, peppers, chilli, onion, a good glug of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and allow to heat through on a low temperature

Heat the oil in a large wok, deep fat fryer or saucepan and, when hot enough, very, very carefully throw a few handfuls of the spring greens in.  Step back - the high water content in the spring greens will spit hot fat everywhere so keep your arms covered.  When the spitting subsides, use a spider or a slotted spoon and remove the spring greens to some kitchen towel to drain.  Keep frying until you have enough for your meal, then lightly sprinkle the spring greens in a little brown sugar.

Lightly griddle the white fish in a little oil and seasoning skin side down until the skin is crispy and golden.  Flip and repeat on the other side.

Poach two eggs, keeping the centres soft if you like them like that.
To assemble, layer the bread with the warm salsa, then the fish, the seaweed and then the poached egg.

Serve immediately, cracking the egg so that the yolk dribbles over the brushetta (which is amazing for mopping up the leftovers with afterwards.
If you try this, let me know what you think! I'll pass it onto Steve!
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Friday, 19 September 2014

Wise Words: Once Upon A Meadow

Feeling utterly relaxed after a wonderful time in the Garden Tent, I went for a wander into the meadow.  It was quiet, peaceful and full of insects and butterflies.  There was a bit more than that though.  This patch of wild garden had been transformed into every young child's nursery ryhme dream
Following the signs, you were greeted by book birds, dangling from the branches of an ancient everygreen yew tree, it's poisonous crimson berries looking beguiling tempting.  Each book was a literary classic, a tale that everyone should have heard of, and should try to read at least once in their lifetime!  The pages were folded beautifully, creating accordians from words.
Over the river little origami boats floated, ready to set sail on a voyage of discovery as old and young alike learned how to make them in a master class on the banks, brows furrowed in concentration with each complex fold and turn.
Venturing past and into the meadow proper was like entering a world of whimsy and wonder.  Wise Words have always been experts at attention to detail, with lampshades hanging off trees, glass tea parties amongst a trees roots and signs encouraging you to think and debate and laugh, but even knowing this and what to expect, they still manage to take me aback every time.  It is just beautiful - like our own private Wonderland.
Artwork by Jack Cant was displayed in a little woodman's hut and also scattered under the shade of the trees. 
By now you may be thinking that this all looks very nice, but what on earth the point of it all was?  Well now.  This was the setting for an adventure.  At 10am and 3pm every day at the weekend (and that includes this weekend coming, the 20th and 21st September) children could see their favourite nursery rhymes come to life.

With the aid of a song, dance and frolic from the nursery rhyme characters themselves!

This crew of young actors draw children into a world where the sheep have disappeared because Little Boy Blue lies fast asleep and Little Bo Peep needs help to find them.
A dreamland where Mary Mary Quite Contrary collects dreams and helps them grow. A world where Humpty Dumpty and three little dicky birds sit on the wall watching three ships go by. But beware, they warn the children,  don’t go too close to the edge or they may just have a great fall!
If all this sounds far too exhausting then Pretty Polly has a cups of tea on standby and the Queen of Hearts has scrumptious tarts – as long as the Knave hasn't stolen them!
So if you are at a loose end this Saturday or Sunday, and are wondering what to do with the little ones, come down to the Meadow and let Little Bo Peep and her friends invite you into their world. 
There will be things to see, people and animals to meet and lots of activities all day, including family art and craft workshops
All performances are free but spaces are limited so do turn up early and pop your name on the list at the door.  You can reach the Meadow by going to the Greyfriars Gardens, opposite the entrance to the Old Brewery Tavern and by the Abode Hotel in Canterbury.  Family art and craft workshops, like the origami boat making, are £4 per child to cover the cost of the materials used.

It's a wonderful way to get your child's imagination fired up and exploring new and exciting worlds.
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