Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Angels of Mons" by Carl Leckey MBE

Shortly after writing Great Britain Eats Tons of Chicken Tikka Masala, my beautiful bride wondered if her cousin, who lives in Northwest England, enjoys Indian food.

My wife’s cousin, Carl Leckey, had worked on tugboats in the busy Mersey River for many years. After that he was a lock-keeper for the British waterways. In 1985, Carl was awarded a Churchill travelling fellowship to study ports and harbour services in the USA and in China. Subsequently, Mr. Leckey undertook a series of lectures on his findings, and in 1995 was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the queen for services to the British waterways.

Suffering from arthritis, he underwent hypnotherapy to relieve the pain. A side effect was recalling events in his past all the way back to childhood, where Carl recalled listening to his grandfather and fellow vets discussing the horrors of World War I. A fascinating subject discussed by Carl’s grandfather and friends was an incident that happened in Mons, Belgium. The British and German soldiers allegedly witnessed a group of angels hovering in the air above the battleground, perhaps trying to stop the slaughter or give solace to all involved.

Carl’s book, “The Angels of Mons,” is about an underage member of the “Labour Corps” and his mates who drove the ambulances and dealt with grisly matters on the front lines. It is fact-based fiction that will open your eyes to the horrors of the Great War.

Mr. Leckey has written two additional books since then. In stark contrast to the gritty yet sometimes humorous “The Angels of Mons,” he has written a funny story about his time working on the British canals with zany characters that will entertain you. It is titled, “Tales of the Cut.” He has also written a riveting sequel to “The Angels of Mons.”

You can find his books at or direct from the author in the UK. Check out Carl’s web site for details.

My beautiful bride asked Carl and his lovely spouse Rose for a couple of his and her favourite recipes. Here is one that I knew would be terrific before I even cooked it. As a former homebrewer I appreciate beers, ales and malt beverages; hoppy and malty. This recipe uses a stout porter of worldwide renown, Guiness. If you ever find Guiness stout on draught, try some, it is wonderful. If you cannot find Guiness, then get a dark, malty porter. If you can’t find that, then move. Anyway, Carl and Rose call this:

Food Fit for a King

1 lb shin beef (I used Chuck, good collagen makes nice gravy) cubed into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, sliced thickly
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 bottle of Guiness stout (or a dark porter)
14oz can of tomatoes, crushed or pureed
Salt and black pepper to taste
Beef stock

Season the beef with lightly salted and peppered flour. Shake off excess.
Sauté beef in oil thoroughly to brown all over.
Remove beef and sauté the onions, garlic, celery and carrots a minute.
Place beef and vegetables in a preheated casserole dish.
Pour on the Guiness and the tomatoes and simmer with the lid on.
Make sure the beef is covered, if needed add some beef stock

Cook about 45minutes or so till beef is tender.

Make dumplings and half an hour before serving add them to casserole. Again, be sure you have enough liquid.

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 cup of milk (perhaps a little more)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Cut in butter and mix
Stir milk lightly into the flour with a wooden spoon
Make sure the dough is moist

With the liquid at a gentle simmer (not boiling); drop the dumplings into the casserole by either teaspoons or tablespoons. Now cover the pot, they need the steam. Check after 5 minutes, they should be almost done. Leave the lid ajar and the dumplings will crisp up slightly.

Serve in bowls with a couple of dumplings in each. Don’t tell Carl and Rose this, but if you don’t care for dumplings, you could peel and cube a couple of potatoes and cook them with the other vegetables.

By the way, you can make this in a slow cooker on low for about 6-8 hours.

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