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Mostly Concerning Food

Occasionally Saturday morning takes us to Waitrose. It’s always been the supermarket that I’ve allowed in after Aldi. It serves good food at acceptable prices and seems to have a more enlightened approach to employment. The problem is the customers. Educated types, bearded in the old fashioned way; which largely means without sense of fashion (and bloody proud of it) with a young son or daughter who they are training to shop. You don’t get married couples. You do get a lot of the wrong shades of orange and pink and green. Aggressive, unpleasant women pushing their trolleys at you in an  assertion of superiority; students with up-market, designer, low slung  trousers, same sex couples and lots of very, very old people, who you take pity on, until they shove their trolley into your ankle. On the surface they look so benign. I used to fall for it all the time. “Oh they’re just a bunch of people who’d rather have nice food and are keen to get up early for it. Where’s the harm?” After three aisles I’m muttering darkly under my breath.

These are people I have something of a problem with.

T has a solution. She pushes the trolley round and I go into the café and enjoy the free cup of coffee that my temporary membership card brings me: and today I have a Cumberland sausage cob to go with it.

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The café (you can’t call it a cafeteria … this is Waitrose Sheffield … it’s a tiny home counties colony … more of a bridgehead… in the north. From here special forces of highly trained, highly cultivated people spread out unseen and introduce the steel city residents to air dried ham and those marvellous Puy lentils) has its share of aesthetes in situ. This used to be a Safeway and a place to sit next to a woman with no teeth in a navy pac-a-mac scraping the remains of her four hour old lasagne from a not quite clean plate. Things have changed. Every aesthete has collected the newspapers that are provided. Not just one section, but the entire Saturday parade of supplements. They guard these jealously; shooting glances at anyone who so much as looks as though they might want to borrow the sports pull-out. I help myself to a weekly review  without asking and settle to my coffee and sausage sandwich. I am very happy with this arrangement.

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We move into the city centre. T has a hair appointment. I sit in the Winter Gardens and cannot resist the offer from the little café there. Any cake and coffee for £2. I don’t often have two coffees in a day let alone in an hour. The coffee is, if anything, slightly better than the excellent coffee I had in the supermarket. The carrot cake is even better than that. Forty minutes pass most pleasantly. Genuinely nice people come into the Winter Gardens. Often families with young children who share unfeigned excitement at seeing colourful moulded snakes in among the palms and ferns. They practice kindness and caring and sharing. Add to that the wonderful aroma of growing plants and the well chosen architecture of the place and you have truly found an oasis of goodness in a (mostly) good city.

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It’s the first week in June and the weather has been a mixed bag. It rained for four of the days without stopping once but the other days had more of a feel of summer. We ate in the garden. We ate well. Strawberries featured at least three times. These are strawberries picked with the sun on them not from some poly-tunnel where they have been forced. They taste as good as they look and they look very fine. These with a little Italian gelato (I forget the brand but it was very good) and Amoretti biscuits.

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A Marks and Spencer passion fruit Swiss roll provides a suitable interlude to  wondering whether Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey will get it together; while all the time knowing the answer. If there is anything that makes a pot of tea and cake taste better it is a fine June day in the garden and a Dorothy L Sayers novel.

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We stay in the garden all day. It’s the first of June and T has completed her meat fast for May. She’s had a fancy for Slopppy Joes but we don’t have any buns. We do have some good sized potatoes and baking them is a garden friendly activity. You just put them in the oven and go and read in the sunshine for a hour. The meat sauce is more or less a Bolognaise sauce if you are not a purist. (The purist will insist on beef flank, unsmoked pancetta and absolutely no garlic. I never have been a purist in anything and I see no sign of conversion).

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The Swiss roll was fine by itself but it comes to life the next day with fresh pineapple, coffee ice-cream and Amoretti biscuits. More detective fiction is the order of the day.

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It’s back to school on Monday for T and I’m left unchecked in the kitchen. There is bacon in the fridge. I restrict myself to two thin rashers and load the plate with courgette and chestnut mushrooms. I listen to Start the Week on Radio 4 and read the food pull out section from the free Guardian (Waitrose) where Henry Dimbleby tells me all about the rules for making Bolognaise. I also start reading up for the forthcoming football world cup.

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Having a dog who likes to dig up the garden has restricted what we grow. I have managed to position a few gooseberry bushes where Jolly can’t get at them. I look forward to at least one good pudding from them in the next few days.

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More strawberries. With bought meringue nests and double cream. Perfect.

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It’s actually been a simple and rather frugal week food-wise. A whole week’s collection of photographs down-loading from the camera tends to paint a picture of plenty. The reality is that most meals this week have been simple. Typical is a toasted muffin with butter, a little Marmite and Red Leicester cheese.

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On Wednesday I have the car and take myself off to Sheffield again. Breakfast is a croissant and coffee at a well known coffee shop that doesn’t pay much tax.

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Lunch finds me the only solo diner in Cosmo. It’s a Pan Asian eat all you want buffet that attracts couples who take it in turns to over-load their plates and business men who sit in groups of three and eat with their mouths open. I have a bowl of gloopy soup with an assortment of Indian style snacks … well, it is pan Asian.

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And a very acceptable lamb rogan josh with pillau rice and a little chutney.

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The photograph of the Black Forest Gateau (yes you can still get this in Sheffield) hasn’t come out well as I’ve had to change sides of the table as I had just about enough of watching male open mouthed mastication.

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By the end of the week I’ve got to make sense of this year’s nominees for the Carnegie Medal for the best children’s book. I’ve really enjoyed four of them. If one of the other four win then there has been an injustice. My favourite is also the one I regard as the best book. Not always the case. This year I think the prize should go to Rebecca Stead for Liar and Spy. It compares favourably with the other contenders and holds its own with many of the previous year’s winners. Half of these books are better than last year’s winner.

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Friday finds me making ice-cream. Strawberry of course. It’s early in the morning and the kitchen smells of good things. The iPlayer is giving me the Carol Kaye story and I’m singing along to the remarkable set of hit records that find her either playing guitar or bass. I’ve been a fan for quite a number of years and am happy that her name is becoming better known. You may never have heard of her but she’s probably playing on your favourite song whether it be You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling, Homeward Bound, Nutbush City Limits, Good Vibrations, The Way We Were or the Theme from M*A*S*H. Or a couple of thousand more. It’s a perfect way to start a day.

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Once the ice cream is in the freezer I make a hot-pot using a packet of lamb chops from Aldi, a couple of pounds of Maris Piper potaoes and a couple of white onions. A half pint of beef stock and some salt and pepper are the only other ingredients.

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This is the greatest comfort food of them all. The potatoes cook like a well-flavoured Dauphinois, the onions are soft and sweet and the meat melts off the chops. Served with a generous dollop of beetroot chutney from the stock cupboard. Impossible not to want seconds.