Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2011

Relax, enjoy.

The fridge is brimming with free range chickens and vegetables and enough Tesco Finest Wild Mushroom Filo Parcels to feed a small army. Some things are worth doing yourself (garlic and herb roast chicken and potato and celeriac dauphinoise), some things aren’t (stuffing little squares of filo pastry for hours).
Christmas is low-key at our house. We stopped buying ‘presents for everyone’ years ago and that makes life much easier. Unless 1) you can afford it, and 2) you know that someone wants something particular then Christmas presents can be a debt inducing, stress filled, disappointing activity and finale.
My present to the four people I’ll be eating with on Sunday will be a walk around the apple orchard to see the bouquet of pheasants (I just checked that on Google!) living in the wild there, followed by an afternoon of home cooked food (mushroom parcels aside), lots of laughter with a log-fire and a sparkly Christmas tree. I love Christmas trees. But real Christmas trees not joking…

Eating with Real People

Steak and roast chicken, savoury sausage and baked salmon, wine and puddings, maple fudge and a custard slice. It has been a week of eating. When I arrive at my home town of Port Talbot in South Wales, within minutes of getting off the train, it’s the first thing I organise, and then organise again. And again.
Actually, the custard slice was only half a custard slice. I shared it with my sister at CafĂ© Remos on Aberafan Beach after we’d spent a couple of hours walking around the western perimeter of the council estate where we both grew up. My new book, Real Port Talbot, will include memoir (my own and others’) as well as local history and the only way to see an area, to notice what remains, and to remember what has disappeared is to walk it. Even if the wind threatens to take off the top layer of our faces as we turn the corners of the ‘colour’ streets near the beach. And, appropriately, it’s in Scarlet Avenue that my sister confesses to forgery.
‘I only had one ticket for the Naval …

The cooked and the cruel

Where does the love of food end and cruelty begin? I’m sure there will be different boundaries among us, and contradictions too. I’ll start with myself: I will only buy free range eggs but I ate foie gras several times during my four years in France. I refuse to buy the battery chickens from the supermarket but I don’t question the source of the pork in Tesco Finest Cumberland Sausages.Actually, that sounds more like hypocrisy than contradiction.
I am reading Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith, a series of philosophical commentaries on the ordinary content of our day to day lives, from getting ready to go out, sitting at a desk, going to a party, to falling asleep at the end of the day. In the chapter, ‘Cooking and Eating Dinner’, he describes the French penchant for ortolan, a ‘delicacy’ I’d never heard of that has been illegal in France since 1999, although the laws have only been properly enforced since 2007. I should warn you that it doesn’t make for easy reading:
The …

Buffets and fiction can change your life

I am reading A.D.Miller’s Snowdrops and now I never ever want to go to Moscow. I know it’s not a Rough Guide; it’s not a Lonely Planet traveller’s insights. I know it’s fiction, a story created in the author’s imagination, but its descriptions and portrayal of people and everyday life are so convincing.
In an interview on the Man Booker website, Miller says:The kinds of crime that the book describes, the pervasive corruption it depicts and the awful vulnerability of anyone without powerful connections are real, as people who have spent time in Moscow will recognise. The details of the Metro, the dacha, the night-life and so on are, I hope, true to life.
No hoping needed. He has absolutely nailed ‘true to life’.But apart from the off-putting crime and corruption, the blood-letting bureaucracy and the cold that freezes the hairs in your nostrils and glues your mobile phone to the palm of your hand, there’s the food:
On the desk was the kind of Russian party spread I always dreaded, as ined…

From Florida to Fowey: remembering the laughter

In June 1988 we went to Florida for three months. We lived about as far west of Fort Lauderdale as you could get at that time, in Plantation Acres, with the British artist Barry Leighton-Jones and his family.

During the day Tony painted on the terrace, taking on board Barry’s suggestions for editing and improving his composition or palette, and I made my first attempts at writing, thanks to the discovery of Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bonesin a local bookstore, Books Etc. As inspired as I was by her words and encouragement you wouldn’t have been able to identify that from the first entry I ever made into a little spiral notebook not much bigger than a mobile phone: The birds were tweeting. I kid you not.
At the end of most days, Barry’s wife, Andrea and I set out wine, jumbo shrimp and dip, and the four of us sat on the terrace and chatted while the kids jumped in and out of the pool with Ginger, a barmy red setter.
It was a summer of discovery and friendship, a summer of …

Plain sailing with cats. And bananas.

Chica has been living mainly under the bed since we came back from France three weeks ago – in an under-bed storage drawer on wheels filled with spare bedding. Sometimes, when I bend down to check on her, the drawer has rolled up against the skirting board, or over to the far left. Of course if I try and roll the drawer while she’s in it, she’ll get out. Cats are like that. They will never do what you want them to do, or go where you want them to go, when you want them to.

Tony says she’s a strange cat (and she does have her odd ways – she won’t sit on your lap, ever, and she plays fetch, like a dog, with elastic bands) but I think she’s just taking her own time to settle into a different house and environment: from French suburban living to the British countryside, from the screech of seagulls to the low growl of a passing train, from palm trees to apple trees. And a drop in temperature at an average of 6 or 7 degrees. To be honest, I’m having a bit of a problem with all of these thin…

Loving it: Macdonald's and crud

A man in Port Talbot, South Wales drove his car into Macdonald’s because they wouldn’t serve him in the drive-thru hatch as he was on foot. I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t he take his car into the drive-thru in the first place? The 8 pints of lager probably had something to do with it. Maybe he thought he was in his car. I picture him miming a steering wheel, tootling up to the hatch making broom-broom noises: ‘Quarter pounder with cheese, large fries. Shall I turn the engine off while I wait?’
When the staff told him to go to the restaurant he went to get his (real) car, parked it on the kerb and walked back (you can’t fix stupid) to the drive-thru hatch to make a fuss at which point they refused to serve him anywhere.
‘You'd better move yourself, I am coming in. Even if I've got to ram these doors down, I am coming in.’ That’s the voice of a man desperate for a Macdonald’s.
In true media fashion the manager was quoted as describing the situation as ‘carnage’. No, carnag…

Missed deadlines and sausages

I have been carrying this Cumberland sausage around for twenty minutes, the loops of its resealable transparent bag tangled around my fingers like a rosary.  It's jumbo size, curved to an oval and, guessing by the even colour it's been oven baked, and over-baked if I'm honest, its glistening brown skin a little wrinkled. I have clutched it up and down the aisles of Tesco's at Lunsford Park, near my home in Kent, feeling its heat and fearing even to let go of it at the checkout in case it disappeared under a pile of crumpled carrier bags. In the carpark each bag I lift into the trunk is one step closer to it. By the time I slip behind the steering wheel and close the door this sausage has developed mythical status: it is the homecoming sausage. It is all the sausages I haven't eaten during three years in France. It is the sausage to answer my prayer, assuage my cravings for a good British banger.
Of course it does not live up to expectations but some things are good…

Flying, eating, reading (and Writing Prompts)

Life doesn't get better than that. Although I have to say that flying isn’t what it used to be. I’ve put up with Easy Jet over the last three years because of cheap flights from Nice and convenient airports (Gatwick and Bristol). Their food is pretty dodgy though, particularly anything hot – the last bacon breakfast sandwich I had looked and tasted like it had been laminated – so I’ve tended to stick to a bottle of water or a tomato juice.
But the price of Easy Jet flights have been increasing. They might look cheaper on the Select Your Flight page but by the time you’ve added luggage and Speedy Boarding (essential if you don’t want to board a plane as part of a re-enaction of The Charge of the Light Brigade) the price starts to lose all attractiveness. The last time I flew to the UK it was cheaper to fly with British Airways than with Sleasy, and that was booking directly on the BA website too.
I remember when a two hour flight guaranteed being served a lunch, or at least a sandwic…

Dreams and transformations, marmalade, and the best view in the world, probably

The bird in my dream is tame. It sits on my hand while I am standing outside my house in Kent. It bathes in the water I pour into a dip in the tarmac right next to my feet. When it presses against my leg it changes into a grey floppy-eared puppy with a thick suede collar around its neck printed with a message: this dog is looking for a home, if it is returned to the address noted it will be destroyed.
Dreams are full of transformations. We walk into one house and find ourselves in a different place entirely. We talk to people we know who don’t look like the people we know. When we dream we’re supposed to be always dreaming about ourselves, each symbol representing some aspect of our character, our psyche.
The dream makes sense on some levels. I am leaving France and going home to our house in Kent. If I am both the bird and the dog then I am relinquishing the air for the earth, flight for firm ground.


Between the age of 8 and 9, in my second year at junior school, I had recurring nightm…

Programmed to Eat and A Nice Cup of Tea

Are we born with some of our our food preferences already genetically programmed? I don’t mean not liking the texture of raw tomatoes, or preferring custard to cream, or heating up your sugar puffs in the microwave for 30 seconds. I’m talking about the cultural relationship to our food. I don’t know any British person who doesn’t look forward to, or who doesn’t starts salivating at the thought of a roast dinner, personal hostilities towards parsnips or sprouts aside.
I have drawn the line at cooking a traditional Sunday lunch during the summertime here on the Cote d’Azur – there’s only so much heat any cook can take – but outside of those months the preparation and the cooking and the dishing up and the eating of a plate of roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, green beans, sausage-meat stuffing and gravy makes me feel all happy and glowing inside and out.
I’ve tried the roast dinner on French neighbours and they have appeared… well… indifferent. Politely complimentary, yes, but not …