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Mostly Concerning Food

 

Simplicity has been the watchword of the week. Simple meals to put together; simple combinations of flavour and texture and the simple pleasures of good food enjoyed in good company.

Our weekly trip to the bakery fills bags with cakes and loaves and we get this home in nice time for the arrival of Charlie and Sam. The only thing on the lunch table that takes any making is the tossed salad. I love the boost that the combination of apple and orange bring to the usual suspects of lettuce, salad onion, cucumber and tomato. It’s a combination that my mother used when we were very little to get us to like salad. She needn’t have bothered with special ways  to get us to eat it. We were always keen on salads however they were served. But she did well because this is simply a fabulous combination. If you get the dressing just right you get all the bells ringing. Nothing other than some good bread and butter is required; though cheese and beetroot go down well.

I always used to boil my own beetroot; often growing them. Jolly would dig up any vegetables planted so we’ve gone over to lawn. Some of the pre-packed beetroots are pretty good. You can’t experiment with spices quite as much but the combination of brown bread and butter, beetroot and cheddar is a winner. As I said, we’re keeping it simple this week and we’re doing it well.

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Because we’ve got guests and because it’s Mothering Sunday weekend we have cakes and biscuits for dessert. I’m developing a taste for gingerbread men and can eat just about as many fresh cream cakes as you can put in front of me.

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I gave up smoking just over four years ago and am around a stone and a half heavier. No sirens going off. I feel, like many a good boxer, I’ve simply gone up the weights a little as I’ve got into middle age. I’m still not far off what I would describe as my fighting weight and wonder if I was actually a little underweight during my smoking days. You certainly see an awful lot more undersized folk with a fag than otherwise. I’ll leave the appetite suppressant versus growth stunting arguments to one side and settle for the fact that I feel healthy, fit and enjoying my food.

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The no meat diet has survived another week. The diet is actually settling down. I’d eaten rather badly in the weeks leading up to Lent and so the simpler foods, allayed to the lack of surplus protein has been a bit like a health farm. There are few better examples than the bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon and a few salad leaves seasoned only with black pepper and lemon juice. Smoked salmon may be a rich food but you don’t have very much. It’s like Marmite. It may well be far too salty for a healthy diet but you use so little of it that it really doesn’t show any effects. And it is so tasty.

The whole idea of bagels is rich with connotation as well. New York delis and the Jewish tradition. The Great British Bake-Off claimed the bagel as originally an English thing. They had a food history slot every week which felt like watching children’s programmes. I’m sure the research was accurate as far as it went. I can’t eat bagels without thinking of watching the Neil Simon play Laughter on the 23rd Floor in London some years ago. The three things I remember about the play were the happy eating of bagels, a brilliant performance by Gene Wilder and the fact that the old London theatres (This was at The Queens) give you very little leg-room for a very lot of money.

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I wonder if my liking for smoked salmon is because it was always cited as proof of affluence in the same way as being a brain surgeon was proof of brains. The price has dropped largely due to the farming of salmon. There is some poor quality stuff around. On the whole, the old rule of you get what you pay for applies.

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I’m unsure whether bagels should be served open like a smorgasbord or lidded like a sandwich. I prefer one and T the other. It wouldn’t do to agree on everything.

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Being alone during the week and not eating meat makes reaching for the seafood a necessity. T really doesn’t like it and my last supper would probably be a really good ‘fruits de mer’. Here I make a hearty soup (what is the difference between soup and chowder? Are they intrinsically different or is it that the two words simply come from different languages?) This soup (or broth?) has onions, celery, carrots, potato and peas and is almost ready before I add a cup of frozen squid, mussels and prawns. Once they’ve cooked I enjoy a bowl with bread and then I enjoy another and a third. It is a very good soup. The remainder (I really struggle with portion controls for one) goes into the fridge.

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Sunday night T comes back from a visit to Frances with four freshly laid eggs (supplied by Clara and Pertelotte). Supper is sorted. There is no substitute for the real thing. These are some of the first eggs that I can absolutely pass as organic, free range and high welfare. The difference is there in the taste and the texture. With or without the smoked salmon it is a fabulous supper.

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Once again the majority of breakfasts have been of the cereal and banana type; alternating muesli and Shredded Wheat. This suits down to the ground when I manage to take breakfast at 7 o’clock. Some days it’s later and my tummy asks for something a little more. Beans on toast was described by George Orwell (not that he was renowned as a nutritionist) as almost the perfect meal. He received hefty support from Professor John Yudkin. As Yudkin was also the man who was warning us against sugar before we ballooned, he would be pleased that I use the low sugar, low salt type and enjoy them very much.

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Spring has come at a pleasing speed for the buds and the undergrowth. The blackthorn has been in blossom all week and the first signs of buds bursting into blossom on the cherry trees is taking place as I write. On Monday and Tuesday I was able to have lunch on the lawn. It was a ‘jumpers on’ sort of picnic but there is nothing to beat good food, fresh air and bird song. On Wednesday and Thursday Britain was under a cloud of pollution that they tell us came from The Sahara and picked up southern Europe’s petrol fumes on the way. It all felt a bit grotty. Not sure if a few grains of African desert will change the ph of my soil.

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On Thursday I used the iPlayer to put on Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show and settled into the kitchen to make a fish pie. This followed the simplest of recipes. Some haddock, some hardboiled eggs, a decent white (béchamel) sauce and lots of floury mashed potatoes. If anything, I was a little mean with the sauce. It made a good sit down midweek meal. (We try to have at least one every week).

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There was plenty left so on Friday we sit down again but this time I’ve made a pan of parsley sauce to add enormously to the eating pleasure.

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The baked beans came out of one of those fridge friendly pots. They need using up. My Thursday and Friday lunches were respectively; poached eggs with beans and smoked salmon on toast, and fish cakes and beans.

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It all looks rather extravagant. It wasn’t. I’ve barely spent any money this week and each meal has been eaten in moderation. I’m not one for climbing on the scales too often but know that shirts that were getting a little tight a month ago are hanging a little looser. I may not be exactly at my fighting weight but I’m a happy eater.