Archive for June, 2009

Free-range fire power

Someone foodie once said ‘you can’t improve on the perfection of an egg’, and as yesterdays pelting of nick Griffin shows, it’s still the food-based protest-weapon of choice in the UK. The humble egg is nature’s fragmentation grenade.

Throwing paint, custard or manure is tricky as you need a container to get a good lob, also paint or anything chemical is just unsporting. An egg says ‘I wish to register my displeasure with this projectile, but do not wish to cause any lasting damage’. Eggs stick, meaning victims have to spend minutes scraping off the yolk and allowing photographers to get shots like the one above, it just wouldn’t be the same with vegetables or a brick.

I’m sure when Fathers for Justice threw purple powder in a condom at tony Blair it’s because they couldn’t smuggle any eggs through the House of Commons security. Indeed everyone from the Queen to Iron Maiden has had eggs thrown at them, but the worst example I’ve found is this from John Guy’s biography of Mary Queen of Scots.

On Palm Sunday, 1565, an Edinburgh priest was abducted by Calvinists, taken to the Market Cross and tied up. He was then pelted with eggs for three days. What seems a random act of religious bigotry is revealed as something much more sinister.. Eggs, the Catholic symbol of Easter, were deliberately chosen for what was meant to be a ritual humiliation. The fact that 10,000 eggs were thrown suggests that ‘the attack must have been powerfully backed’, and that the missiles were aimed not just at the poor priest but symbolically at the Catholic queen.

Blimey, 10,000 divided by 72 hours is 128 eggs an hour, or two every single minute for three days. Either way it’s a hell of a lot of egg on the face. I wonder if he suffered any ill effects as this study found that 13 people out of 18,651 admitted to Saint Paul’s eye unit in Liverpool suffered eye problems after being hit with eggs; their conclusion being ‘there is sufficient injury caused by this prank to warrant a public health message’. So the message is go for the body shot, you’ll risk less chance of an injury claim and add to your target’s dry cleaning bill too.

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Tube strike yet again.

Hell’s teeth the Piccadilly line train I’ve just come home on felt like the last chopper out of Saigon.If this strike is about health & safety, there’s nothing to compromise that like a rush of commuters trying to make the last train. And while I’ve a belly full of ire and bile for Nick Griffin, I’ll gladly siphon off a dram for Bob Crow at the moment.

The Tube is such a critical piece of infrastructure that its total shut down for over 48 hours totally holds London to ransom.  Imagine if Thames water said ‘they’ll be no water for 48 hours’ or EDF said no electricity? And woe betide any terrorist threatening the disruption of infrastructure in the capital, they get the full force of the law.

Perhaps it’s time to consider the tube as a critical service, in a similar way to Police and the Fire Service?  While the withdrawal of labour is every worker’s right, I’m really beginning to think that when it comes to the Underground there should be some caveats, like no peak hour striking or work to rule or something.

These ‘all out’ strikes just wind up any potential support form the public, who being workers themselves generally support genuine claims for better pay and working conditions as well as being down on fat cats and fighting injustice, as Lady Lumley of Nepal recently proved. However I think you’d be hard pressed to find an ordinary Londoner who has much support for Tube staff at the moment.

Anyway, this blog will be back to food matters in due course.

In praise of washing up

Sunday Lunch with Rebecca, mike and Neil

When I was younger and extended family came for a visit mum would do a lunch. On the day itself was an air of palpable excitement in the house, extra cleaning had to be done, a special lunch was planned, and no one was allowed to use the loo or make a mess anywhere until the guests had arrived. As the allotted hour of arrival approached me and my sister kept station at the front window listening for the sound of a car in the street outside. Meanwhile in the kitchen the kettle was practically kept at a rolling boil, ready for the cups of tea and a full debrief of the traffic conditions and journey highlights.

Later we’d all sit down for lunch; probably salad and cold cuts in the summer, or something meaty in the winter. Then with the meal over, the blokes would help clear the table and then move into the lounge or out to check oil in cars and have a crafty fag, while the aunts, mums and grandma did the dishes. Us kids were press ganged into putting away, and I always found that the washing up was where the real gossip, chat and exchange of views seemed to happen. Back then no one owned a dishwasher, and washing up – like shelling peas or licking the cake bowl – was part of the food production process.  I remember the chatter mixing with the chink and clatter of dishes and the tea towels that put in three minute bouts before being too wet to use and had to be replaced by new ones. When domestic order was once again restored, more tea was put on, as was the telly and we all settled down, the world now put to rights.

I mention this vignette from yesteryear because a few weeks ago some old BBC friends came round for Sunday lunch. We had some special sixty-day aged beef that my friend Theo at the Ginger Pig’s Hackney branch had set aside for another customer who’d changed his mind at the last minute apparently; his loss was our gain is all I’ll say. The lunch was lovely, lashings of wine, tasty gravy, cauliflower cheese and roasties.  The spuds for the roasties were Cyprus, a potato I’d never roasted before, and my friends did look at me a little oddly when I told them I had a practice run with one potato last night just to make sure nothing went wrong.

Anyway, with the lunch over I began to scrap the plates and run the hot tap for washing up. This is when my friend Neil chipped in with ‘let me help you with the dishes’. Washing up on your own is dull, washing up with a friend is a chance to confide and talk to each other in a different way.  You’re both engaged in a task, so there’s all the dealing with ‘you’ve missed a bit’ and ‘where does this sieve live?’ stuff. This of course runs concurrent with the big life issues of love and loss.  It’s a sort of duet, a dance; a totally different space and activity on which to host a conversation, different things are said than at the table. Let’s face it, no one ever says ‘ooh let me help you fill the dishwasher’, that’s just boring. You try it next time you have people round, make washing up part of the whole process. It gives both host and guest a chance to talk in a more personal way. You also end up with a nice clean kitchen, and all your pots and plates put back in new and unusual places.

Feed your imagination? I left hungry

What happens when you combine a Collection of THINKERS,
a World Renowned CHEF and a FOOD FUTUREOLOGIST?

P1060705.JPG

The answer is general confusion if last night is anything to go by. Oh where to begin? As a food journalist and an ex-Central Saint Martins graduate the prospect of a food/art event in East London organised by MA students from my alma mater sounded like the sort of hip, urban, fusion event I should attend. And attend I did after an invite from one of them via twitter.

About 7ish I found the venue, and upon entering was given a booklet (more on this later) and told to experience the food, particular attention was drawn to the accompanying green stickers that I was to stick next to each course after I’d tried it – right. The hosts broke the cardinal rule of London event organising by not having a drink ready on arrival, there was one girl pouring out water, no one handing it round, and lots of cocktail glasses and wine glasses standing empty on the table. Confusion seemed very much in charge.

The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small. – Woody Allen

Wandering round this table to the kitchen I heard someone exclaim ‘everyone’s come at once!’ The kitchen obviously couldn’t cope, and that left me, Chris, Lizzie, Helen and Charlie waiting, for what seemed like an entire epoc.  When the food did issue forth from the kitchen there wasn’t really enough to go around.

And so to the menu, which was a prime piece of codswallop marinated in nonsense. I almost resent typing it out but here it is.

  1. Asparagus in textures, cooked and raw, gelee and granite with garnishes.
  2. Young carrots – crisply chopped, marinated whole
  3. English spring peas- on the half shell with liquid gel and flowers
  4. Sprouting broccoli, egg yolk spheres, and warm mayonnaise
  5. Jersey Royals prepared in many ways with seasonal garnishes
  6. Radishes- dug up from the earth, crispy soil
  7. Cauliflower- Couscous pickled and puree. Apple air
  8. Wild garlic with its flowers warm and cold. Vegetable ribbons
  9. Strawberries and rhubarb. Hazelnut powder and reduce milk
  10. Berry bundles

Crisply chopped? Prepared many ways? I tried one dish with slices of courgette on, was the number 8? There were no flowers on it, but there was a sphere of something and a pickled onion sort of thing – I didn’t know where to stick my sticker. I think number 2 had to be the worst. It was a tiny carrot, topped with tasteless foam, next to some frozen carrot pulp, the entire lot tasting of…cold wet carrot.

Eventually one chap then started making something to drink other than the water. A single shot of vodka was measured out slowly from a solitary bottle, added to a ladle of lychee juice and then divided into four glasses. I’m no a ligger or a lush, but the bare minimum when you invite someone to a food and drink ‘event’ is to provide plenty of those two very things. I was offered a berry bundle. It was a raspberry (from Tesco’s across the road according to the packet in the kitchen) wrapped in jelly, unsurprisingly it tasted like a raspberry.

Misspelt muddled manifesto.

And so to the accompanying booklet. As Chris said ‘I’ve read it three times and I still don’t understand it’. I had a read, I tried to get into it, I really did – look at the concentration. But my eyes kept sliding of meaningless words and pointless graphics.

Evocative Foods

Take this for example.

“We felt that ‘we’ as a whole have lost our capability to be enchanted by the world that surrounds us. To re-establish the once magical connection between our Selves [sic] and different interactions that compose our universe”

What on Earth does that mean? That makes no sense whatsoever. Over the page were more bonkers graphics, such as this.

P1060749.JPG

Mind. Body. What if… mind and body were joined? Hands up who’s mind isn’t joined to their body?  But the best of all was the following on the ‘who are we’ page.

“A group of CSM’ers on their Masters, who’ve been given a project to do and attacked it with vigour. Creative, Inquisitive, Curious, Hopeful and sometimes blinded by Enthusiasm, we are students and proffesionals, [sic] who just like you…
Have ideas.”

So far I can forgive the random caps scattered throughout the book, but of all the words to misspell professional is very much not the one (The other howler was characteristics in the paragraph above). I went to art school so by default I can’t spell either, but if I was getting something printed I’d at least get it subbed.

If you can’t say anything nice…

Making anything is hard work, I know that, but these are MA students doing a masters for heaven’s sake. If they’d spent more time on the food and the organization and less time on the navel gazing arty nonsense it could have worked. As it was it was just really unclear what exactly we as an audience were supposed to be doing; and eating a raspberry does not make me re-establish a magical connection with the Universe. Art and food have a long and close relationship, from the Last Supper to Sarah Lucas’ two fried eggs and a kebab. This however had the feel of an event put together by a losing team in an early round of  the Apprentice.

What’s more they charged people for this event, and once you’ve asked folk to put their hand in their pocket and pay for something they expect to get it.  If this had been a free event (though it was to me) I wouldn’t have minded so much, I would have said ‘well done for trying’. But my friends had paid £30 to be there it took alot of beers and lovely Vietnamese food in Old Street afterwards to get rid of the bitter taste of disappointment in our mouths.

Something Brewing in the East End…

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Leyton, where we lay our scene.

Brodie's Beers Leyton
The families of both CAMRA and Slow Food came together last Thursday for a tour of East London’s newest brewery. Brodie’s Beers was set up a year ago round the back of the William the Forth pub on Leyton High street. It run by brother and sister James and Lizzie Brodie, James was a Home Brewing enthusiast and Lizzie has a degree in Biological Sciences.

Their beers are available in the pub next door, but also in the Crossed Keys in Covent Garden, The Hermit’s Cave in Camberwell, and the King Charles I in Kings Cross. The first beer James produced was an IPA to a recipe he used to make for himself in his bath. It’s available now in bottles, but I’m keen to try some of what’s on tap. First off Brodie’s Red, it’s a chestnutty brew, plenty of flavour. Later I move on to Sunshine; lighter and more golden it’s a perfect summer pint.

Tonight James is letting 23 year old brewery student Tom Unwin use the equipment to make a brew to his own recipe, which is very nice of him. Tom’s not thought of a name for the beer yet, and so I suggested that Londonist readers might come suggest one, use the comments box on the Londonist version of this article for your suggestions.

Finally Boris’ tube booze ban applies to alcopops and louts right? Not real ale enthusiasts like this chap here…

Brodie's Beers Leyton


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I've left it here for historical purposes. Please visit my new blog at www.foodjournalist.co.uk

DISCLAIMER

These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
June 2009
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