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Mostly Concerning Food

I’ve noticed the birds in the cherry tree, where I hang my feeders, have taken a strong interest in the fat balls this month. They get largely ignored (except by the squirrels) in the warmer seasons but at the moment they need replacing every few days. They know instinctively when they need to change their diet. Soon it will be nesting time and all the feeders will empty daily as they build themselves up for the eternal circle. For the moment, keeping warm is their top priority and they are eating a lot of fat and a lot of fruit. I’m doing the same and for pretty much the same reasons. One, it keeps out the cold and two, I’m programmed to do it. My parents, grandparents and great grand parents did the same. It’s in the blood.

DSC_0065Chicken and vegetable soup to fight off the January colds. I’m touching wood while I type but feel bold enough to say that I haven’t had a bad cold since I gave up smoking over six years ago.. They used to hang around from October to March. I can’t say that it is any more than coincidence. I’ve made a lot of other changes in my life during that time. One thing that doesn’t change is my love of a home-made soup. It’s like bread in that it is simple, wholesome, and as much fun to make as it is to eat. I prefer to keep it brothy rather than blend it. Sometimes it improves it to blend it, mostly, it seems to me, to be making it into baby food. I like to be able to enjoy the different elements. Not that there are too many here; onions, leeks, carrots and chicken stock with any meat that had been left on the carcass after it had already served as main course for two meals.

DSC_0066These are my secret treats. (Not so secret now as T reads these blogs). Bacon, fried eggs and fried potatoes with a mug of black coffee. This is a Hemingway style writer’s breakfast. I face it without Papa’s hangover and talent. The tray cloth suggests that I had minor aspirations to grandeur that morning. The plastic sauce bottles help to keep me grounded.

DSC_0068This used to be a real treat as a boy and a starter in restaurants that had heard of three course meals but didn’t really want to offer the customer too much in the way of clever cooking. Inexplicably people chose to have it. Some restaurants still try to get away with it, cutting it thin and fanning it out. Now that melons are available for under a pound all the year round it is the equivalent of being offered an apple. Very nice but not at £25 a head.

DSC_0069I try to finish whatever work I am doing by 4 o’clock and have a meal ready on the table for when T gets home. I’m currently going through bit of a chop phase. All of this plateful is nice. The Bramley apple sauce is but five minutes effort and adds so much. Freshness is all. The best part of the meal isn’t actually the chops but the baked potatoes with real butter.

DSC_0071The last of the chops pan fried with a couple of sausages (hence the black flecks on the chop) re-heated baked tatties and a greedy helping of grated cheddar cheese. My lunch the following day.

DSC_0074As you can see giving up cigarettes has not left me vice-free. I like my food tasty and I tend to enjoy a generous portion. In my defence (does pleasure need a defence?) my working day does consist of plenty of strenuous labour at the moment. And I don’t eat much for the rest of the day.

DSC_0077This is one of a dozen (at least) meals that I would call my favourite. Some crackers, some good Stilton cheese and some pears. Heaven on a plate.

DSC_0083Hotel room. Not sure why the shaving brush and bowl are there but there is limited space in a hotel room. We share a Danish pastry and an almond croissant. On their own they are nice. With a decent apple, they are even better.

DSC_0112One of my great regrets on leaving Exeter 20 years ago was that we were leaving behind a wonderful parade of shops on Magdalen Road. Some of the best have gone and been replaced by cafes run by people who are about as qualified to run cafes as I am to exhibit at the Tate. The best greengrocer in the West of England has closed since I was last there and that is a nail in the coffin as regards it being a world class shopping street. Happily the bakery is not only still there but hasn’t followed the trends into sourdough and wholesome or fancy. (I like sourdough and fancy, my gripe is against a particular type of cafe and bakery). They bake good bread and sell the same choice of cakes and puddings that they did in the eighties (and probably the fifties). Here we have a plum and almond cake and a lardy cake. Lardy cake was a fantastic treat as a boy and now has almost disappeared. This bakery has stuck by its guns and will outlast all of the fashion following rivals. I like my poetry written by poets, my food grown by farmers and my bread (when I don’t bake it myself) baked by a baker.

DSC_0114Not a traditional way of eating lardy cake. Ayrshire cheese, pears and figs. I don’t care, this was delicious.

IMG_0396These Buxton fish and chips were just about as good as they appear: more filling and thrilling. No complaints but no rush to go back for more.

IMG_0411But here is a fish meal that would tempt me back. Made by David and Melissa and the highlight of our visit to the South West. Baked smoked salmon with potatoes and a really delicious combination of vegetables flavoured with honey, balsamic and other ingredients. Very special indeed.

IMG_0418I’m not against well-meaning middle class people with the ability to bake from opening their own cafe. Amongst the many dreary efforts in Exeter are one or two that are superb. One goes under the cheerful but corny name of Cake-a-Doodle-Doo! It is on the Palace Gate end of Cathedral Green and is everything you want in a cafe. A limited choice of first class cakes and simple but tasty meals. (Too much choice is a great mistake in small cafes). All freshly made and served in a cheerful and tasteful atmosphere by the people who baked them. I was halfway through my coffee and walnut cake before I remembered that T had a camera on her phone. Also on view are the remains of a rich chocolate (gluten free) cake and the bottom third of a slice of Victoria sponge. Imagine you are able to sample the wares on the final day of the Great British Bake Off and you won’t be far out. Oh, and they served proper tea as well not a bag seeping in an aluminium pot.

DSC_0117Another meal that is a contender for my very favourite. Good bread, butter, cheese, ham, tomatoes and nothing else. Scientists have recently concluded that vanilla yoghurt is the food of happiness. I can only presume they forgot to test this plateful.

DSC_0120A bought Christmas pudding. One of many I’ve eaten this year. This one is made to look fancy by being topped with lots of glacé cherries and whole almonds. The almonds are ok but glacé cherries are no longer anyone’s idea of a treat. Just give me more plum pudding and don’t stint.

DSC_0010I’m not the biggest fan of supermarkets. I can’t see the little bits of good they may have done, in widening tastes and making foods available, has even come close to cancelling out the huge harm that they are responsible for. But they are here now and they aren’t going to go away. (Though I’m proud of the efforts of British people, in protesting about the market leaders showing that all they really care about is profit and dividends, and giving them a bloody nose). Tesco and Sainsbury’s have pretty much lost my trade until they show that service (to both supplier and customer) comes before the balance sheet. Waitrose bribes me (successfully) with free tea and coffee to go with a decent range of treats in their cafe as well as a free newspaper, but if their shelves didn’t hold better food than their bigger rivals I don’t think I’d bother. I’m still with the new guys. Not simply because they are cheap but because they have more exciting products. My current favourite is Lidl. The one I go to is in a run down part of Sheffield and my fellow shoppers are the displaced from the UK and all over Europe and beyond. It is the friendliest shop I know. It never fails to give me something I’d be prepared to travel a long way for if it wasn’t on my doorstep. Here are some delicious crayfish tails. I’m the only one in our house who likes shell fish. It allows for feastly portions. I made up a little creamy dressing to complete these sandwiches. I must have been a good person in a previous life.

DSC_0012Lidl also provided a tray of venison for the price of a pint of Guinness in a London pub. I know which I’d prefer. They were packaged as if they were steaks but on cooking they fell into these lumps. It said haunch of venison on the box but was more like hunks of venison inside. Still very tasty but not quite the Robin of Sherwood feast I had in mind.

DSC_0013Everything goes well with new potatoes and peas. No fruit and very little fat (venison is an extremely lean meat) to finish the post.

Bon appétit!