Posts Tagged ‘food’

How long did it take during your Christmas/New Year break to discover that you really couldn’t face one more chocolate, marzipan fruit, mince pie, trifle or slice of cold turkey, ham and accompanying pickle? How long was it before you were pining for something plain and simple, no sugar or unnecessary carbs attached? I’d reached my limit by Sunday 28 December.

As the fridge was still bursting with seasonal fare and a chocolate mountain overloaded the sideboard already I was dreaming of fasting. Even alcohol lost its appeal.

The sofas remained in a state of permanent lopsidedness with their slumped indented unplumped cushions caused by their permanently slumped and increasingly obese occupants while the TV went round on a loop of hideously boring repeats – some only repeated from the week before – as if any of us really noticed or even cared as yet another box of Turkish Delight was offered around.

Not being one to waste food I’ve made just about made sure we’ve chomped our way through pretty much everything before hitting the supermarket with renewed New Year vigour. The other day I made soup from some old leeks I found lurking and a wedge of stilton cheese. Why we buy strong blue cheese I have no idea – we never eat it at any other times during the year – but it’s a part of Christmas, so we have it. I had no idea that there would be a recipe for this combination so I just followed my culinary instincts (which we all know aren’t that well honed), chopped the leeks, sweated them in some butter, added a potato and vegetable stock then zizzed them up together with my hand-held blender. I then crumbled in the cheese, zizzed a bit more and returned the pan to the heat, adjusted the seasoning and served. Quite good, actually, although if I made it again (unlikely), I’d add a bit of milk to take the strength from the cheese.

I’m pleased to report that a) there won’t be any further recipe tips here and b) thankfully the cupboard is bare and we can look forward to getting back to a weekly routine.

Speaking of reports – I was interested to learn from the WordPress review of my blogging year that I have managed to elicit the same amount of traffic to my site as it would take to fill the Sydney Opera House several times over. Well, not having ever visited said concert hall, this statistic was rather lost on me until I equated the total to filling the Royal Albert Hall and discovered that I’m probably as popular as Eric Clapton on a two night sell out tour.

Now I know how many hits it takes to fill the Albert Hall…

Thanks to everyone who has dropped in, liked and commented – much appreciated.

WordPress also suggested that I take a look at some older successful posts and consider writing about those topics again. Hmm, might try this as a bit of an experiment especially as one post has only elicited interest because of its accompanying photographs and I’m feeling less than creatively original at the moment. Sounds like an excellent solution.

Also, in their wisdom, school have sent me on a training course which requires homework to be completed every week for the next ten. I can see this taking up more time that I anticipated so blog posts may well be sporadic although I’m hoping that the training course itself will provide some fodder.

So, that’s the start of my 2015 – glad to be back in the routine – however much we rail against it, I think we’re all creatures of habit to a greater or lesser extent.

Here’s to a new blogging year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anyone enjoy food shopping? I don’t. I positively hate it but as we all have to eat then it has to be done at least once a week in, as far as I’m concerned, as little time as possible. Which is why I trail begrudgingly to the supermarket: because it’s convenient.

Or at least it was. Our local store has recently undergone a major refurbishment to for all intents and purposes provide us – the customers – an improved shopping experience. Well, it hasn’t worked for me.

So we now have, on the outskirts of our small country town, a behemoth rivalling the size of an aircraft hangar. The range of goods of course is much wider – one third of the selling square footage is given over to home wares and clothing.  (I can’t bring myself to call it fashion, even though there is a range allegedly designed by Gok Wan).   From boxed dinner services to wooden boards, glassware, utensils, bed linen and plasma screen TV’s to gardening accessories, toys and bath towels.  As if I’m going to rush in and buy a duvet and curtain set from a food store on a whim; it’s just never going to happen.

I don’t remember on any of my prior pilgrimages to the store’s previous incarnation ever being accosted to fill in a customer questionnaire asking if I’d be interested in buying this superfluous stuff while I’m filling my trolley with comestibles. I’m assuming they’ve done their market research and have somehow come to the conclusion that it’s what we want but the general consensus amongst my work colleagues is that it’s anything but convenient.

The inconvenience store…

We now have to walk a distance of about ten miles, weaving up and down the aisles, all now arranged in a completely different order to that we’ve been used to. I’m not even sure the food range has expanded – they just put more of the same onto longer and higher shelves.

And the signage, hanging unhelpfully above – oh, my word. Can anyone tell me, in the name of Del Monte, what the blazes ‘Ambient Fruit’ is? I’d loved to have been around that table discussion when it was decided that this a more appropriate term for tinned peaches. They’ve also done away with the old, exotically entitled ‘Foods of the World’ and gone for a derogatory ‘Ethnic.’

To pick up my daily newspaper I have to push my trolley through the clothing area, past the queues for lottery tickets to the fixture at the foot of the stairway to our new ‘exciting’ restaurant. This establishment is on a mezzanine with far reaching views over harassed shoppers or the newly extended car park. It looks like an airport holding area and is anything but exciting. Quite frankly (and far be it from me to appear judgemental), the calibre of clientele frequenting this restaurant are not the sort to read a daily newspaper.

The car park has doubled in size and they’ve even provided electrical hook-up points because they must have calculated that during the inordinate amount of time it takes to charge up an electric car (according to a recent Top Gear programme) will probably be same length of time now needed for one shopper to get around their newly improved store.

Perhaps I should put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, and stick to on-line grocery shopping: get it delivered direct to my door. Up until now I’ve preferred to select my fresh goods but I could be swayed into not worrying about it.

And isn’t it interesting to note that in the news this week, the shares of this particular supermarket chain, along with one of the other of our ‘big four’ have taken a substantial tumble. Coincidence? Convenience? I don’t think so.

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We’ve just spent the half term break staying in Tremezzo on the shores of Lake Como, northern Italy and I’m struggling to find words to describe it. The scenery is breath-taking, awesome, overwhelming. In fact it is so beautiful and so perfect that by about the third day we were becoming desperate for a graffiti’ed industrial estate, preferably with some razor wire, to even things up a bit.

The view from our window

The view from our window

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Night falls on Tremezzo

You get the peculiar feeling that you’ve stumbled upon a very luxurious Hollywood film set (or at the very least the set of the 1960’s cult show, The Prisoner). The buildings, although old, are well cared for and painted in hues of soft ochre and terracotta (none of the crumbling shabby-chic that is so de rigueur in Venice); the mountains are snow-capped and tumble down to the lakeside in a riot of greenery while the small towns which fan out along the water’s edge are awash with pots and tubs of flowers – not a weed to be seen. There is no litter, no dog mess, the people are friendly and the food is fantastic.

Restaurants, cafes and bars abound. Stopping for a drink elicits bowls of olives, nuts and crisps. A cup of coffee usually comes with a tiny biscuit. Lunch can be a snack or a full-blown Italian meal – whatever you have or however long you linger, you’ll be welcomed.

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Nuova cucina?

So what is there to do? Getting around is easy – just buy a day pass for the ferry and you can chug all around the lake, getting on and off as many times as you like, lurching from coffee in one place to lunch in another and then a drink or gelato somewhere else later on. Eating and drinking therefore plays a large part in what there is to do.

There’s walking, of course. With nice flat terrain along the lakeside it’s easy to follow the ‘greenway’ path, winding along for several kilometres on the picturesque west side. You can chart your progress with the map of the route, helpfully displayed at strategic intervals along the way.

Visit Bellagio, an attractive little town containing a plethora of shopping opportunities along its steep alleyways which then unexpectedly open out onto hidden piazzas with shady umbrellas.

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Bellagio from the ferry

Even though the place is full of tourists from early in the morning till late at night, the place retains a stylish charm. For somewhere equally as scenic but less commercial head to Varenna with its medieval heart and tiny church, currently in the process of renovating its recently discovered 12th century wall paintings.

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Uncovering and restoring 12th century wall paintings in St Giorgio

 But it is the villas with their Italianate gardens for which the area is famous. There are hundreds of them, dotted all around the lakeside and in the hills beyond. Many of them are no longer private residences – some have been turned into hotels and some have been bequeathed to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, Italy’s equivalent to our National Trust. We managed to visit three of them during our stay.

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Acers and goldfish pond at Villa Melzi

The first, Villa Melzi, stands a little outside Bellagio and has a stunning garden created on a hillside featuring Acers amongst ponds in a Japanese style garden, stepped grasses and a waterside walk under immaculately pollarded Plane trees. The villa is closed to the public but you can see the Orangery and the Chapel (at a supplement) or just wander around the grounds, between rhododendrons and azaleas and the odd statue or two.

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View across Como from Villa Melzi

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Pollarded Plane tree pathway

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Villa Melzi

 

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Villa Carlotta

 

 

 

Across the lake from Villa Melzi, stands Villa Carlotta, named as such because in 1843, the villa was acquired by Princess Marianna of the Netherlands to give as a wedding present to her daughter, Carlotta. This garden is less formal, with winding uphill pathways taking you through a forest of lush green plants, cacti beds and bamboo with waterfalls and fountains as well as seasonal displays of flowering herbaceous plants.

 

 

 

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Lush greenery in the gardens of Villa Carlotta

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The tropical garden at Villa Carlotta – a steep walk up a waterfall

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The rockery garden – a riot of planting

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Looking from Villa Carlotta across to Villa Melzi in the distance

On our way back to Milan airport we stopped off at Villa del Balbianello, strangely familiar because this most wonderful of settings was used in the James Bond movie, Casino Royale, when our hero was doing a bit of convalescing. And where better to pick up some strength for his next mission?

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The shaded garden of Villa del Balbianello

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From the terrace looking north towards Bellagio

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A peaceful spot for 007 to convalesce…

Near the small town of Lenno, the villa stands on a wooded headland with far reaching views up and down the lake. Take a walk from the town, up a very steep gradient, through woodland with glimpses of sparkling water below until you arrive in front of a set of very impressive gates feeling hot and sweaty. From here it’s a relief to find out that it’s downhill all the way and that a private boat will whisk you back to Lenno’s jetty at your visit’s end.

We had planned to take a cable car ride from the little town of Argegno to some ‘stunning bird’s eye views’ of Lake Como. Alas, when we arrived, it was shut for lunch and we had a plane to catch. There was nothing else for it – we just had to have another meal (minestrone soup – yum) sitting next to the lake before queuing up with all the other orange ‘Speedy Boarders’ at Malpensa airport. Lake Como was already a world away.

 

 

 

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Do you know the worst thing you can say to someone who’s worrying or has something on their mind? Telling them to forget about whatever it is and focus their attention elsewhere. Our brains don’t work like that. What happens is we tend to focus even more acutely on the thing that bothered us in the first place.

Try this little experiment. Shut your eyes. Think very hard about three yellow giraffes. Go on, see them walking serenely around, nibbling leaves from the tops of some yellowing trees. Now replace those giraffes with any other animal in a colour of your choice. Not easy, is it? And I don’t want any smart answers that the animals you chose couldn’t reach the trees anyway. I covered that when I tried it.

Since the discovery I made and revealed last week about my appalling surprise with the bathroom scales I’ve been thinking of food; it has occupied a large portion of my waking hours, and a fair slice of my sleeping ones, come to that. My mind has been consumed by visions of past memorable meals. Memorable meals don’t even have to be enjoyable. Think of school dinners for instance.

 I can remember suffering the most ghastly food at primary school. Plates of mince in runny, watery gravy served with solid peas and barely boiled potatoes; plum suet pudding drowned in lumpy custard – it was the stuff of the Dickensian workhouse. We were made to sit through playtime until we had swallowed every last morsel – our sadistic dinner ladies made sure of that by forcing us to feel grateful that we weren’t like the starving children in Africa.

 So, food is a very good way to evoke memories of places we have been. I’ve been time travelling quite a lot this week, in a gastronomic sense. When I worked just off Oxford Street in Central London, we would often go out for meals to celebrate a birthday or Christmas, or find some other excuse. We were a pretty sociable lot. One of our favourite haunts was Jimmy’s in Frith Street, Soho: a dark basement where the food was cheap, the wine on the rough side – but the kleftikon (slow cooked lamb) was to die for. Sadly, the establishment is no more, but for anyone seeking to reminisce over evenings of typical Greek fare, you can do so here. 

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some pretty high end restaurants; some presided over by one celebrity chef or other: the sort of place that you visit once, for a treat. (Or on expenses). However, as there are now so many of them, I think that the exclusivity of these places has been eroded, and while the experience is always an indulgence, I can’t honestly remember individual dishes or one specific meal with a particular wow factor. We recently tried a Japanese restaurant in town that has received excellent reviews. As suggested, we tried their signature dish, the bento box, which gives the diner a taste of many of their dishes. I loved it and scoffed the lot. Time will tell if this will be an unforgettable outing.

Japanese Bento Box

Japanese Bento Box

Foreign travel provides the opportunity to try different local fare, some of which has become memorable and can be recalled in an instant at the mere sniff of garlic or unmistakeable aroma of Mediterranean tomatoes. I had the most wonderful salad one lunch time in a café in Grau de Roi, Languedoc – thinly sliced and layered Provencal tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and a few anchovies, washed down with a glass or two of chilled dry rose – heaven!

Other experiences are not quite so heavenly. On a short trip to Denmark, we seemed to be followed from meal to meal by Frikadellers – they were on every menu and consist of a hamburger covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Now I’m sure that the Danes do have a more varied diet – indeed, I believe that one of the most expensive restaurants in the world is in Copenhagen, but to me, whenever anyone mentions Danish cuisine, I think of these unappetising balls of deep fried mince.

On a visit to Reykjavik, we had dried salt cod and avoided the pan roasted puffin on the specials board while trips to Italy have so far been largely disappointing: I’m not big on pizzas, there is only so much pasta one can eat and if I order salad I don’t expect to have to mix up the dressing myself.

 Nothing I’ve eaten in Spain has been particularly memorable one way or the other, and I really don’t understand what all the fuss over Tapas is about. Give me a decent bowl of olives or nuts to have with an aperitif and I’m happy – I can’t be doing with bits of sausage or strips of peppers swimming around in herb scented oil.

Unsurprisingly France has been the venue for many memorable meals. One was in a roadside hostelry in southern Normandy, not far from the industrial outskirts of Evreux. We were on our way further south but had stopped off to take in Monet’s garden and needed somewhere to overnight. We pitched up late, secured a room for the night and went down to the bar for something to eat. Madame bustled around and provided a green salad (dressed), pan fried calves liver with pommes vapeur; a bowl of freshly picked cherries and some Camembert. My sort of food: delicious.

Another was inland from Biarritz. We’d driven all day to get to the coast then could find nowhere to stay so we back-tracked and found an ordinary looking little hotel on a crossroads to nowhere. Exhausted with the heat and frustration of looking for a room, we settled for their typical old French bedroom – mildewed floral wallpaper, red lino and a power shower in the corner of the room screened off by a plastic curtain. We accepted the meal that night might be a disaster but at that point, we were beyond caring.  With the tables laid outside under a large canopy and the smell of rosemary and thyme in the evening air we ate a fabulous banquet of seafood, drank rather a lot of local wine and made friends with a table of elderly French men and women who talked about the Resistance all evening and were very entertaining. The entente had never been so cordiale and we ended up sharing brandies with them until midnight so consequently didn’t notice how uncomfortable our bed really was.

So do I have a favourite food? No, not really. I invariably choose fish when we’re out because I don’t often cook it at home. I prefer salad to cooked vegetables unless they are really al dente and I don’t favour stodgy puddings. I like unpretentious food, in ambient surroundings, preferably on some shady terrace where there are no mosquitoes. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

I must leave you with a little food related anecdote. Several years ago I was working with a new eleven-year-old pupil, helping him identify meanings of some science words we would be covering during his first half term.  Mindful that this little chap was on the autistic spectrum and hoping to help him increase his social skills, I was doing my best to engage him in conversation while we tackled this task, so when the word ‘nutrition’ came up, I asked him what his favourite food was.

He put down his pen, turned to me and said scathingly, “Well, how would I know. I haven’t tried everything yet.”

Food for thought? I love my job.

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This is unbelievable. 5c69a200365ea3301f1631c76b2fe278[1]The humble flapjack is now a health and safety issue according to a school in Essex. One of their students was hit in the eye with a triangular-shaped flapjack during a food fight so now the canteen has been instructed to serve only rectangular ones.

This raises a couple of interesting points. Well, four, to be exact, on a rectangular flapjack, which must be potentially more dangerous than the three-cornered version.

Surely a circular biscuit would be safer. They really haven’t thought this through.

The fact that no mention has been made of pupil behaviour leads one to believe that the food fight was a routine occurrence. Is this a revolutionary idea to promote social interaction?

Perhaps I have been missed off an email somewhere that informs us that food fighting has been added to the Health and Social Curriculum. If this is the case, then dinner ladies everywhere should be downing their ladles and taking strike action. (Not with flapjacks, obviously).

The formidable witches who oversaw lunchtime when I was at school strutted their stuff like camp commandants between the rows of tables, ensuring we ate up our gristly mince and not-quite-boiled potatoes in complete silence. We were only allowed outside once our pudding bowls were clear of stodge and custard but at least we were trusted with metal cutlery and heavy-duty china tableware. I guess they’ve been deemed dangerous somewhere along the line as food is now served either on paper plates or plastic trays with disposable cutlery.

Imagine this happening in France. A nation where food is the most important part of daily life; where table manners are taught as soon as an infant is able to sit up and where school children have napkins laid on their tables and know how to use them.

Meanwhile, here in UK, (or should that be YUK), we unnecessarily treat the symptom without considering the cause.

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