I have recently had reason to economise on the amount of money I spend on food. More specifically, my new house needs a new fascia.
Cutting down on the cost of my food bill would be easy, thought I. People managed during the war. From another angle, I could probably convince myself to give up things in favour of food that I could not bring myself to give up in favour of guttering.
For a middle class woman, brought up in a lower-middle-class family, I have found it a far harder task than I expected. We ate well as children, my sister and I. My grandmother and mother cooked well, and they knew what to feed us. I went off fast food by choice, quite young, purely because of the taste and the texture and lack of satisfying content.
Firstly, I tried buying the economy versions of some of my favourite foods, and on some occasions this worked well. Olives tended to be olives across the board. Cream cheese is acceptable without being organic. Milk... well, milk is one of those things I cannot bring myself to de-spec. Organic only, for me, although always a supermarket own brand. I believe that it is a cheap enough substance for me to pay a fair price for.
Other things, though... no. I tried some economy pate, and felt so amazed by the sheer volume of salt the manufacturers thought it necessary to add that I wondered what the poor livers had done to deserve such a torture! It took me a week to finish, spread thinly and masked with a slice of cheese. Readymeals fared the same, with the added disappointment that they appeared to be swimming in water. I stopped economising soon after.
I recalled my war-based reasoning for the endeavour, and remembered that I had seen programs explaining that people once substituted unavailable ingredients for less suitable but similar-looking ones, and came to a realisation. The supermarkets are selling us food that looks like, for example, pate, and "therefore must be pate". It isn't pate. In my book, this is unacceptable. Not for them to sell, but for us to buy. I feel the same way about economy chocolate sponge cake. Someone somewhere has taken perfectly normal ingredients, bulked them out with non-ordinary ingredients, and turned the whole mess into something less than food that tastes horrible but that poorer citizens munch down feeling posher and slightly poorer. What a waste!
What I should have said to myself is, of course, that I can't afford pate, and I therefore shouldn't buy it. I shouldn't buy something that even looks like pate, because what I would be buying instead would be a barbarous waste of resources. I should, instead, by good honest produce that tastes good, looks good, hasn't had precious processing energy wasted on it, and contains the correct balance of calories and nutrients; something that cookery programs have been trying to teach us for quite a number of years. Unfortunately, I can't cook.
I am a bit of a cheese fiend. I love all cheeses, although some more than others. Despite my lack of general culinary skills, I am blessed at least with the ability to make a first-class cheese sauce to adorn cauliflower or macaroni alike. One word of warning though - do not buy economy cheese if you love cheese. Even the extra-strong one DIDN'T TASTE OF ANYTHING. Honestly - I could barely taste it! Cheese sauce goes a long way, and is dense in calories. It deserves a decent cheese.
Ahem. Anyway, back to the point, and the conclusion of this rant. I mean, blog...
What was I saying? Ah yes... I do not cook, as a rule. Generally if I do it is at weekends when there is time to clean up the mess and start again. During the week I fence; I can't jump around on a full stomach and I get back far too late to eat after. However, I have decided that perhaps food is the most worthy of my money-sinks and that some other luxury should suffer in the name of home-improvement (and this is not just vanity - the boards are rotting and letting the rain in). It takes a lot of time and dedication from farmers to produce food, far too much fuel to ship it around the country and globe, and we hardly give it any credit for the massive part it plays in our lives, namely keeping us alive and healthy. It deserves to be paid for fairly, bought locally at the best possible quality, and treated with respect in our own kitchens, not processed to death in some plant somewhere.
I think, what I am saying, is that people could do with really asking themselves whether they like what they are eating, and if not, ask themselves exactly why they are eating it.
Do we really need fake pate?
I’ve promised to cook a romantic meal on Valentine’s day. I made the promise a while ago; I suppose I thought it would get me out of buying a gift. But as the day approaches I am left scratching my head as to what constitutes a romantic meal. I can cook a Shepherd’s Pie, but I’m not convinced that would be classified as romantic. Duck a l’Orange sounds romantic, but I’m not sure how to do that one, and besides, who wants to eat a duck that tastes of oranges?
Any advice would be gratefully received.
ps What about Toad-in-the-Hole?
In the last container, someone had stuck in a bag full of swimming noodles – those long polystyrene sausages that kids use to help them float in the water. The only thing is that they were all torn and in short broken pieces. No good for using as a swimming aid, that’s why they had been chucked out. So, yesterday, I drove around the local swimming pools to see if I could off-load them on anyone. No one was interested, and I can’t blame them. These were just dirty lumps of faded foam.
On the way home, I stopped at the supermarket for milk. There were only a few minutes before closing time, so I left my four children in the car, while I ran in. While I was gone, the usual melee of beggars and street children crowded round the car, peering in at my children and holding out their hands for money. My children know that I don’t usually give the street kids money, as I have seen some of them buying cigarettes and alcohol with their proceeds. (Not sure if it’s for them or for adults controlling them). However, if I have a bag of milk or a doughnut in my shopping bag, I might offer it to them if they look really hungry.
So, my kids wound down the car windows and told them that they had no money, but they did have noodles! One by one, Santa-like, they handed out these toys to small grabbing hands. But, to their horror, the street kids stuffed the coloured pieces of polystyrene in their mouths, and started to chew off great lumps.
‘Osadya! Don’t eat them!’ my kids called out, in alarm. But by now, the street kids were chomping their way through the noodles, aggressively fighting off any competition.
By the time I returned to the car, the noodles were filling up several hungry bellies, and the smiling kids were begging for more.
As I pulled away, my children were begging me to do something.
‘The noodles were dirty, mummy. Won’t they hurt the children’s tummies?’
I shrugged. What could I do now? At least the kids wouldn’t be hungry for a while. And polystyrene is pretty inert stuff, isn't it? Not much different from the cheap, fake-cheese maize puffs sold universally here. It probably wasn’t what the UK donor had had in mind for them, but the noodles had made a pretty satisfying meal for a hungry child.
2 Black puddings.
2 smoked bacon.
Cook all of the above as recommended.
Chop into small bits and mix up with a good dash of chilli and garlic sauce.
Add the whisky to the gravy and pour a generous glass.
In common with many folk here I read a lot. I do it because I enjoy it and also because I had it beaten into me some years ago that in order to write successfully you should read a lot and see what is out there. Perhaps it was crap advice because I read voraciously and have yet to achieve my own success. It also gives me an insight into what are perceived to be current social trends. Although I meet a lot of people I lead a socially nomadic life and have “Nay Mates” as they say.
Enough grumping and on to the point of this blog. Food. In quite a few recent books (published in the last ten years) I see that the lead protagonists often have a liking for particular food styles. Chinese, Italian, Thai etc. It becomes a part of their personality. But they always eat out, get a takeaway or have it delivered. What I can’t seem to remember is any cooking going on.
Has cooking become like going to the loo? Is it something you just don’t mention that definitely does go on? Or is it just a device in current books to give your protagonist personality. Often these characters are broke but they still get a Chinese delivered; which is an expensive way to live.
Or is it life as we now know it (Jim). Are we an anachronism chez moi because we cook? I often do an elaborate trough with candles and everything. The only way to get a lump of red meat dripping gently with blood in our house is to do dinner myself.Just wondering.
agency in New York - They proudly displayed the following motto:
"He who has many goods to sell,
and only whispers down a well
will not make as many dollars,
as he who climbs a tree -
and hollers! "
Might be a slight hint of inspiration here for some of us?
The décor in Deeson’s is cobbled together in a rather odd, eclectic way; thirties furniture that looks as if it has been bought in junk shops juxtaposed with modern spot lights and different types of wild wallpaper. Some of Cath Deeson's art adorns the walls. It all has a rather unfinished look about it but the napkins are linen, everything looks clean and it's unpretentious and comfortable.
I went for lunch with my daughter and we were shown straight to our table by a waiter who was attentive without being intrusive. We ordered our main courses from the lunch menu rather that a la carte and were brought a wooden platter of fresh bread while we waited for our food. Deeson's pride
themselves in sourcing all their food locally, which is refreshing in this age of shipped in food. I had the smoked chicken salad and it was absolutely delicious. The chicken was moist and tender and the salad was lightly dressed, a combination of lettuce, baby plum tomatoes and cucumber. Hetty had the poached salmon English salad, served with a boiled egg. There was rather too much lettuce on the plate and the egg was perhaps a fraction too salty, but it was perfectly cooked - just at that point before it becomes hard boiled. The salmon was succulent with a crispy skin. For pudding we shared the trio of chocolate (from the a la carte menu). This was a home-made jaffa cake, a chocolate brownie and Kentish ice cream, surrounded by caramelised nuts. I ended up eating it all as it was a bit sophisticated for Hetty's sixteen year old palate but I revelled in the riot of flavours. To drink we had tap water and a Core's Pear Juice and the bill came to £23.50.
This is a great place to dine, right in the heart of Canterbury. It’s refreshing to eat in a privately owned restaurant, one that serves honest British food. It's always very busy, and rightly so - there's nothing else like it within the city walls - so book a table or you won't get in.
25-26 Sun Street
01227 767 854
One of the things I enjoy most about going back to England is the choice of fresh bread available. Over here, there is only one sort of loaf. Its crust is thick and tough, and the bread is hard and often full of holes. Sometimes it is sliced, but often if the power is off, it is sold whole. It never lasts more than a day, before becoming stale. Either that or the ants move in. I will never forget the first time I met my future father-in-law, back in the early ‘90s.
I was staying with my husband-to-be and his parents in my husband’s lakeshore house. That sounds rather grander than it actually was. A modest teacher’s bungalow, with a cold shower and a wood-burning stove, it was run-down and infested with cockroaches. The cat had died after eating insects, which had been doused in ‘Doom’ (it does what it says on the can), and his pet monkey, Monica, had recently hung herself in a tragic accident with a mosquito net. At that time, my husband was renowned for his poor hygiene; a friend of ours had spent New Year in hospital with severe food poisoning, after sharing Christmas lunch with us.
Anyway, this particular morning, trying to impress the future in-laws, I decided to make toast for breakfast. The wood burner was glowing, and I had pounded some of the slower cockroaches in the cutlery drawer, with the rolling pin, as was the daily custom. I carefully sliced into the new loaf of bread, purchased the day before, and let out a shriek. My father-in-law (to be) was first on the scene. A stocky Welsh retired engineer, he had no time for Southern girly wusses, like me.
‘What on earth’s the matter?’ he said, as I stared open mouthed at the loaf, with the knife raised in the air.
‘A…a…ants,’ I cried, waving the knife.
‘You’re not afraid of a few ants are you, girl?’ he scoffed, pushing me aside. But then he saw the full horror. The entire interior of the loaf had been eaten away by what seemed to be a seething mass of ants. There must have been thousands of the things, and not a crumb in sight.
‘Toast’s off,’ my father-in-law stated, very matter of factly. ‘Got any bacon?’
That was about twenty years ago now, but the memory has stayed with me. Since then, I have encountered ants of all shapes and sizes. Like Eskimos, who have a hundred odd different words to describe snow, my kids have a large vocabulary to describe the many varieties of ants here. Their favourite are the stink ants, which when squished, release a powerful, foul odour. Once, when staying in a rest house by the lake, there were so many ants in our room, that my youngest daughter, then aged about seven, got out of bed in the morning, with her back heaving with them. On the white bed sheet, there was the perfect shape of her body outlined by red ants.
But, to bring me back to the start, yesterday I bought a loaf of bread that amazingly closely resembled any white sliced loaf you might find in supermarkets back in the UK. It could have been a Kingsmill or Mother’s Pride (does that still exist?), and yet I purchased it here in Malawi. It even came packaged in a plastic bag, printed with ingredients and other nutritional information and a best before date. These things are all taken for granted back home, but here nothing is ever sold with any sort of information like use by, or best before. It doesn’t really matter with bread. You know it will only last a day, and can tell, with a squeeze, whether it is fresh or not. But for meat and dairy products, it is so valuable. Around a third of the milk, cream and yoghurts that I buy, I end up having to throw away, as they are off before I get them home. Such basic necessities that we all take for granted, like fridges and freezers, are alien here to most of the population. So, when shop assistants receive a delivery of milk, they do not realise the urgency to refrigerate it. Milk can be left sitting in the midday sun for hours before it is put in the cooler. Since they are unlikely to drink it themselves, with it being priced way out of their reach, they don’t realise how the taste is affected.
So, at last, a sliced loaf that compares with home. In the last few months Malawi seems to have been crawling into the 21st century. We are now proud to have a proper cinema which shows real films (not just the badly dubbed ninja rubbish), albeit a few months late. We just saw Disney’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Our first fast food burger restaurant, owned by a South African chain, opened last week. Not quite MacDonalds, (are we the only country in the world not to have a MacDonalds?) and not very fast, but that’s a whole other story. For now, I am enjoying my loaf of bread, which really is the best thing since sliced bread.
We’re all getting old and I used to think ‘food, glorious food, and lots of food.’ But now it’s more like food, tasteless food, cheap and tasteless food.
I wonder how many of you have thought about the food you eat? How a plump chicken from your supermarket has such a good look and no taste? How disappointing it is to spend all that time in your kitchen and then eat a chicken that is just filling but no more than that apart from the flavourings you put in to your gravy.
I was in Hong Kong and had a bad time with Virgin Atlantic foods (expected), but when I was in Hong Kong, I had a great time tasting how a simple boiled chicken ought to taste. I thought it was due to a different species of chicken, but a well informed friend of mine said it was due to the time the birds lived. He said any chicken that have not lived more than 6 months aren’t worth tasting and I thought the chickens we get in supermarkets are indeed intensively reared and they are slaughtered ten weeks after hatching.
I also thought of the sirloins I cook, where is the taste gone? I remember it used to be very nice when I was a young lad but nowadays, it is a bit like a lottery; sometimes it is good but more often it is bland. How can this be so? Is it because I’m getting on a bit that my taste buds fail me, I wonder?
Another thing I wonder, (there’re so many things I wonder- it’s what makes one tick) is have you seen on the supermarket shelves, how lean are the pork chops? I remember pork chops come (or use to come) with half an inch of fat but nowadays, it’s really lean, just skin and the meat. Do the farmers have a strict exercise regime for their pigs and make them fit before they are slaughtered? Or are they genetically modified pigs bred to be lean, just like those super muscular cows I saw on TV and they looked like these body builders on a diet of anabolic steroids. Or worse still, could it be that these pigs are fed a chemical in their feed to keep them lean?
I think we are all a bit paranoid about our foods; we let people say to us that having an egg every day is bad for you for donkey’s years and then recently I heard that there was no truth in that. We hear that fat is bad but then eating a sausage without any fat in it, is not enjoyable.