15 Dec 2012

Writing frenzy, eating...?

What's the opposite of a frenzy? Whatever it is, that's what food has become for me. I am writing and editing like a woman possessed and eating like a woman who's forgotten how to cook. Wraps. Vegetables thrown in the Actifry for 20 minutes. Clementines. Crisps and cheese. That's the bulk of my diet right now. I just need to get 8,000 to 10,000 words of Real Port Talbot done over the next 4 or 5 days and then I'll be able to relax over the Christmas week. And speak to people. And eat. And breathe.
 
In an attempt to make myself appear as if I am still interested in food I've changed the banner picture on my hungry writer Facebook page to last year's Christmas table. Before the scrum. I went for silvery and understated. This year I'm going for jolly red and green and gold.


And here's a pic of the sprouts with bacon and pine nut sauce I'll make.

 

And here's a glass of champagne. Yay! Yes, please!


I'll be back here before the festivities begin though. If only to shout that I reached my word goal.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about a frenzy.
  • Write about not eating.
  • Write about laying a table.
  • Write about sauciness. Ooohhh!
  • Write about the first sip of a drink you love.

2 Dec 2012

The F word. No, not that one.


You wouldn’t have seen me within sniffing distance of these 30 years ago and I like to think that it’s a discerning palate and not age that accounts for my conversion. I’m sure there’ll be a whole swathe of people out there who would still step back quickly at the mention of them but if you belong to that group try and rein in your prejudice, and stifle any early memories of four sloppy granular balls in an aluminium container with a cardboard label stamped with the word ‘Brains’, until you have visited Bro’s Café on Llewellyn’s Quay in Port Talbot, run by Mark and Alison Mizen, and ordered these little beauties.

Oh unfussy deliciousness. But… if anything needs a name makeover in the culinary world it’s the humble faggot. From a bundle of sticks to a cigarette, from a 16th century abusive term for old stick-gathering women to North American  hate-speech targeting gay men, it’s carrying a lot of baggage before it even arrives on your plate. 
 
Wiki’s page about the origins and evolution of the slang term is well worth a read if only to end up agreeing with the characters from South Park that, yes, it is an insult but that it only refers to Harley riders whose inconsiderately loud motorcycles ruin everyone else's nice time. Love it!
 
Traditionally made out of pig’s offal with onion and breadcrumbs – I like to think of it as Welsh haggis... but better, of course — I suppose you have to at least not mind the taste of liver to really appreciate good home-made faggots. But surely only the most hyper-sensitive among you could fail to swoon at Mark Mizen’s tray-baked faggots with a satisfyingly crispy top. I don’t know Mark’s recipe and I don’t want to because for all future faggot-hankerings I’ll be coming here. The neighbouring town of Neath likes to think of itself as the faggots and peas capital but the gauntlet is down my little Neathlings.
 
On Wiki’s other page, devoted to the culinary faggot, there’s an account of a 2004 Somerfield radio advert that was pulled  because it was deemed to have breached the rules on Good Taste, Decency and Offence to Public Feeling of the Advertising and Sponsorship Code, and was banned from future re-broadcast by the industry regulator Ofcom.
 
A man bored by his wife’s regimented weekly menus would like lasagne but she tells him he’s having faggots because it’s Friday. ‘I've nothing against faggots,’ he says, ‘I just don't fancy them.’ I think it’s funny. And anyway, in my opinion, these days there’s a whole lot more going on in the broadcasting industry that needs regulating.
 
So, throwing all caution aside, I would like to say that I love Mark Mizen’s faggots. And he can serve them to me any time he likes. Baby. Although a faggot goes very well with a cracker, as I discovered this weekend and as you can see below. No offense intended towards the crackers in my life.
 
 

Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about an early memory of food.
  • Write about a change of mind.
  • Write about a cigarette.
  • Write about something heard on the radio.
  • Write about offending someone.

21 Nov 2012

Apple Butter... oh oh, I feel an analogy coming on



I should know better.
 
I'm the one who nipped Tony's analogy-making in the bud when the phrase, 'If I could just make an analogy...', was becoming an unconscious habit rather than an occasional interruption. I'm not against analogies per se. I just don't want to be force fed one in every conversation.
 
But here I am about to serve one up in a jar for you.
 
I think we've done our last picking in the apple orchard. What remained on the trees of the Golden Delicious and the Cox have long dropped. Pecked by pheasants and drenched in rain they have slowly dissolved into the earth around the trees. The Ida Reds are hardier and most of them are still on the bare branches, a remarkable sight last weekend: red apples in bright winter sunshine against a blue sky.
 
We won't manage to pick them all though: we invested in 300 bottles and have chopped, crushed and juiced enough apples to fill 220. The latest picking has yielded enough for the remaining 80. We've worked out that 5lbs of apples produce 1 litre of juice. And while the apples we did get from this lousy season were too few for the commercial juicer to buy from us there were still far too many for us to process with our cottage industry grinder, press and pasteuriser.
 
I've used up 10lb in the last week making apple butter, which has nothing to do with butter as we know it and more to do with peanut butter: i.e. something thick that spreads. But the reality of it is so much more wondrous than the clumpy linguistic-ness of 'spread'. If I believed in angels, and they cooked, then this is what they would fly out of their kitchens with. Fragrant. Delicate. Meltingly smooth. 
 
I'm just going to give you a visual feast and save the analogy for a succint closing statement. 
 
4lbs of chopped apple with 3 cups of apple juice, half a cup of brown sugar, and,
in the muslin bag, the peel of one orange, 3 cinammon sticks and 12 cloves.
This is what you end up with after about three and a half hours of slow cooking.
You take the muslin bag out after the first hour. Keep the lid on and stir every now and again.
The colour is astonishing. The 4lbs of apples made three jars.
I've eaten one.
 
And the analogy? Astonished as I was by the slow transformation of apples and spices into this concentrated result I couldn't help thinking of how Real Port Talbot has evolved over the last year. I started with reams of local history, hundreds of contemporary news stories, scraps of memoir, poems, and several dozen cups of controlled panic. I now have 52,000 words of a MSS, with 13,000 to go, and I can see the end result. The panic has dissolved. I suddenly understand what I'm doing and I'm nearing the end. And breathe.
 
It's difficult to see order when we're in the middle of chaos. Sometimes we just have to trust it will emerge.
 
And one last photo: apple butter on a freshly cooked pancake. Worth any amount of chaos and time spent. Add creme fraiche for perfection.
 
 
 
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about winter sunshine.
  • Write about waste.
  • Write about an angel.
  • Write about a state of controlled panic.
  • Write about trust.
 
 

14 Nov 2012

Out to impress

I was 26 when I met Tony, back in 1985, and had always lived on my own until then. The idea of shopping for a family and planning meals for days ahead was an alien concept. On our first trip to Safeway together, as I pushed the trolley from aisle to aisle hoping for inspiration and he lagged behind, he said, 'So what are you doing, just picking up bits and pieces, shopping for the week? Or what?' 'I don't know!' But having you drifting around my heels like tumbleweed isn't helping, okay?
 
I didn't articulate that last sentence. I'd only moved in with him a week earlier and before that we'd spent nine days in total together. This was a learning process for both of us.
 
I think it's natural to want to impress new loves in our lives: we want to show them (consciously or unconsciously) that we are their best choice, we want to make them happy, we want them to admire us, not be disappointed. I remember making two and three course meals with wine every night – time consuming, expensive and completely impractical when Tony was a full-time professional entertainer at the time, often leaving home at 6pm for a gig in London or Birmingham or on the South Coast.
 
At the first dinner party we gave as a couple there was more glassware on the table than a banquet at the Palace of Versailles: white wine, red wine, water, digestif… Guests were terrified to reach for the salt and pepper in case they set off a crystal domino run.
 
27 years later we’re both, inevitably and gratefully, a lot more relaxed. And making a fuss of each other isn’t an obligation, duty or attempt to impress: it’s a treat for the treat-maker and the treat-receiver. This was my treat for Tony last night:
 
 
Salmon with Chilli Ginger Sauce (there's orange, garlic and soy sauce in there as well). I think the new 'Masterchef, The Professionals' series on BBC2 is having an effect. I made those ‘shaped’ Dauphinoise potatoes too, baked them in fried egg moulds wrapped in a double sheet of tinfoil. 
 
I haven’t tackled a new dish for some time and I’d forgotten how much time cooking involves… thinly slicing those potatoes and making carrot and courgette ribbons with a knife was a bit of a hack. I’m buying a good mandolin at the weekend. 
 
The recipe is a Hairy Dieters one. And I’m breaking all rules by adding a photo, so please go and buy the book. It’s brilliant: real food, great tastes, easy recipes.
 
 

Hungry Writer Prompts
  • Write about a supermarket shopping trip.
  • Write about something you did to impress someone.
  • Write about glass.
  • Write about treating yourself.
  • Write about breaking a rule.

3 Nov 2012

How to disappoint a hungry writer...


I guess the lesson is: Don't believe everything you read. Nothing remotely edible at the old Penrhyn Gate to the Steelworks in Port Talbot. But I bet they did a great bacon bap in their day.

Luckily 12 Cafe in Taibach came to the rescue with Cheese and Potato Pie. The next day Tambini's in Margam fed me a Ron Evan's Mince and Onion Pie and a Custard Slice.

There are stories everywhere I look: this writing under the bridge, the old ruined chapel on Mynydd Margam, and this gravestone in the Holy Cross graveyard in Taibach:


Lost at sea: a phrase that conjures stories, real and imagined, language powerful enough to transport us to the storm-wrapped deck of a ship, the hollow left in a woman's life. Powerful enough to be grateful for the nearness of our own family. 

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about a lie.
Write about a wall.
Write a list of the last 10 things you ate.
Write about standing at a graveside.
Write about what's close to you.


24 Oct 2012

Living appley ever after

Apples everywhere at the moment: on trees, windfalls in the long grass, and in trailers:




Temperamental weather has left us (and lots of other apple growers) with the worst apple harvest for years - particularly in orchards planted with Cox. And guess what we've got? The applejuice man we sold our crop to last year said it wasn't worth his while sending out pickers and bins and lorries for the few tonnes that we do have so we've started to juice the apples ourselves. We had a trial run (to see what the juice tasted like) with my electric Champion 200 fruit and vegetable juicer and then kitted ourselves out with some proper (if small scale) gear: 

From the top: the metal hopper and windable crusher, then the press underneath and the bucket with a tap on the floor. The only thing we add to the juice, in the bucket, is ascorbic acid (basically vitamin C) to stop it going brown, and we let is sit for a few hours to settle before siphoning it into sterilised bottles. Then it gets pasteurised in what is more or less a hot water urn: the bottles sit in 80 degrees of water for about 25 minutes.

Tony's currently thinking about label designs. I'm thinking of names. The Cox juice is tart: apple elixir to cure the vapours, to battle against an excess of sentiment, to strengthen resolve.  The Golden Delicious is sweeter: apple ambrosia to soften the heart, to dilute harsh words, for sweet dreams.
 
If you know me and live close enough you can guess what you'll be having for Christmas. In the meantime, if you live close-by and you have pigs then we're your answer:
 
 
Although we can help out in a number of other ways too. If you have warts: rub them with two halves of a cut apple then bury it. Or if you have an apple-shaped birthmark, rub that with an apple and then eat it. Or rheumatism: rub the affected area with a rotten apple. 
 
I also have a recipe in my head for hot apple punch: apple juice, rum or brandy, brown sugar and cinnamon. I might try that this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about something you see everywhere.
Write about the weather ruining your plans.
Write about sharpness.
Write about pigs.
Write about a magical cure. 
 

17 Oct 2012

Bad food

I'm attracting bad food. And in places where I really don't expect to. I tried Carluccio's Pasta Fritta a couple of weeks back - pasta 'crisps' with herbs and sea salt. Sounded good, something savoury to go with the pre-dinner olives and wine. No. They are two words I do not want to see together again, on the page or on a plate. Think salted, wilted cardboard. Perhaps I was unlucky. Carluccio's is generally a good bet. Perhaps I should have stuck with the pasta as a maincourse though because my Italian Sausage with Lentils didn't win any prizes for its looks and only scraped above an average mark in taste. I didn't complain about the pasta crisps and I should have. There could be someone in the kitchen who needs to be told they're doing something wrong. And there was someone in the kitchen at the Giant's Bar in the Mermaid in Rye yesterday - a restaurant and hotel whose reputation has muscles on its muscles - who needed telling.
 
You'd think that even your least experienced kitchen member could lay out a cheese and charcuterie platter, wouldn't you? It sounded good if a bit pricey at £20. The Mermaid Deli Board - hot baked cheese, cold meats, chutneys, pickles, home made bread - and the prep was impressive: a waiter brought one of those tiered metal stands that normally holds a plate of Fruits de Mer to our table, laid out silverware, plates and napkins. I'd drawn a face in the foam on my half a Guinness. Tony was sipping a pear cider. We were happy. Then the food arrived.

Think of three small twists of singed baking parchment each holding a smear of liqueyfied, unrecogniseable cheese. Now think of the unnatural sweaty pink of thick sliced processed ham. A single rumpled circle of Italian salami. And the tour de force: a slab of chorizo. The kind of slab you get when you open a packet of ready sliced chorizo and instead of unpeeling each slice and layering them on a plate, you just pick up the whole thing and slap it onto some salad leaves.
 
The Restaurant Manager took the plate back into the kitchen and came back with the chef's apology: he hadn't supervised that plate, hadn't checked it before it left. We could have something else, anything at all, or a refund.
 
By this time we'd eaten the three small bread rolls (Three?? Were we supposed to arm wrestle for the third?), the contents of the butter dish and the ounce of chicken liver pate on the plate. Not a substantial lunch but the trouble with bad food is that it puts you off eating anything else. We took the refund. But paid for our drinks.
 
They could have been more considerate. They could have offered the drinks on the house. Or lunch for free on another day. They might have if I'd insisted but complaining once was all I was prepared to do. If they don't care enough about their reputation  to ensure that dissatisfied customers end up satisfied then why should I?

A group of people were looking for a table so I told them we were leaving. 'Don't have the cheese and charcuterie,' I said. They laughed. 'I'm not joking,' I said. Then they looked at me suspiciously. 'Really,' I said. I was starting to sound like Ray Winstone so I smiled and left.

There's a wooden carving above the gorgeous inglenook fire in the bar: it looks like dancing babies.


In fact, they are running away. Run, babies, run.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write a menu for a meal you would hate to eat.
Write a list of complaints.
Write about happy faces.
Write a list of apologies.
Write about running.

2 Oct 2012

The scent of memory


This is an appetiser:
 
 
But work with me first. How do you describe the smell of rain to someone? Or the scent that rises from a drawer full of fresh but worn bed linen when you first open it? I have been trying to capture the smell of my dad’s black donkey jacket, the one he wore to work in the 1960s. When he came home from his shifts at the steelworks he hung it under the stairs in the porch. The closest I can get is ‘a mixture of oil and cold weather and the inside of a lorry cab’. 
 
Tony bought some cheese a couple of weeks ago, two white stiltons, one with chopped mango the other with blueberries. I couldn’t eat the first one: it tasted like tomcats to me. ‘I know what you mean,’ his daughter said. Not that either of us, please believe me, have tasted any part of a tom cat but there was something about the acidity, the sourness, that automatically conjured the image in my head. Or in my mouth.
 
There’s a poem by Kate Clanchy called, 'Poem for a man with no sense of smell’ that closes with:
 
the delicate hairs on the nape
of my neck…..
 
hold a scent so frail and precise as a fleet
of tiny origami ships, just setting out to sea.
 
 
I can try and articulate why that makes sense to me, but it feels right before I even begin to think about it. Intimacy and fragility: there’s a connection there.
 
I can’t imagine anyone without a sense of taste wanting to try the stilton with mango after I tell them it tastes like tomcats! But maybe they would want to try the easiest Thai green chicken curry in the world if I told them it tasted like mini lightning bolts trapped in a silk scarf, or like the heat that makes your foot tingle when you first step into a bubble bath, the sparkle of foam.
 

I served it on a bed of steamed shredded cabbage and ribbons of carrots which I’d sprinkled with some crushed cumin and fennel seeds during the cooking time. The flavour of that worked perfectly with the Thai blend of ingredients. Would the curry have been better if I’d started with all the ingredients from scratch rather than using the paste? Possibly. Probably. But sometimes cooking is like sending an email to an old friend rather than a long letter to your great aunt. Comfy and quick with the shorthand you can use with someone who knows you well. And the ready-made paste was my shorthand.
 
Thai Green Chicken Curry (courtesy of Blue Dragon)
 
1 tbsp oil
¼ jar of paste
400 ml of coconut milk (there’s a half-fat version out now)
2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 pepper thinly sliced (or mix up different colours as I did)
 
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the paste for 2 minutes. Then add the coconut milk and mix in well. When it’s hot add the chicken and pepper and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Coriander is pretty on the side and you can always have rice with it if you’re not into cabbage. The sound of the word isn’t great, I have to admit. Cabbage? What does it sound like? 
Shredded cabbage and carrot ribbons steamed with crushed cumin and fennel seeds
Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about the smell of summer.
  • Write about a smell that reminds you of sadness.
  • Write about a sound that makes you feel happy.
  • Write about something fragile.
  • Write about taking a bath.

22 Sep 2012

Highs and lows: food to die for and food that just dies

Expectations are slippery little suckers. They can send you sliding towards ecstasy or straight into a black hole. I wonder what the statistics are of expectations realised and expectations vaporised? 
 
If you Google ‘having expectations’ a list of pop-psychology responses trickles down the screen:
  • Have no expectations. Just see where life takes you.
  • Expectations harm relationships.
  • Manifest desires freely by having no expectations.
But some people are more positive or upbeat about them:
 
Let us be about setting high standards for life, love, creativity, and wisdom. If our expectations in these areas are low, we are not likely to experience wellness. Setting high standards makes every day and every decade worth looking forward to. Greg Anderson
 
Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents with high expectations. Bob Beauprez
 
It is great to be a blonde. With low expectations it's very easy to surprise people. Pamela Anderson
 
Edward de Bono’s words struck me as a concise summary of shows like X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent: 
 
Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations.
 
(All quotations courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com/)
 
There’s probably a fine line between expectations and illusions. Hopes or anticipation grounded in reality versus impractical and/or self-centred desire. I think, these days, I don’t have high expectations of people I’m in relationship with: family, close friends. But I do have above average expectations of service and good quality when I’m paying for something. 
 
When I went to La Memo, a restaurant in Forge Road, Port Talbot last week and the only expectation I had was to have a good meal in a pleasant environment. This wasn’t a special night out but an early dinner on my own after a day of research. But I reckon La Memo must have the same mind-set as Quentin Tarantino: I want to top expectations. I want to blow you away.
 

It was one of the most exquisite meals I’ve ever eaten, from the outstanding service to the presentation to the freshly prepared and sensitively balanced flavours of each dish.
 
It started well with a perfectly chilled glass of Pinot Grigio Blush. I had a tomato and onion salad to start and the dressing had a hint of basil and mint in it: not too much to be overpowering, but enough to charge a simple salad with originality. My main course was a King Prawn Risotto flavoured with chilli, garlic and a hint of rosemary, served with a crown of rocket and shaved parmesan. If I ever find myself in an American Prison movie and have to choose my last meal then that will be it. Enjoy.
 
 
I don’t usually eat dessert but the chef insisted I taste one of his creations: you’ll notice I snaffled up the nose of the passion fruit cheesecake before I remembered to take a photo.
 
 

And then there was the coffee which they prepared exactly as I asked: an espresso topped with a splash of hot milk and foam.
 
I was so impressed that I took my mother there for lunch on Sunday. A two course lunch is priced at £7.95 so surely they couldn’t stick to the same standards as the evening à la carte menu, could they? Oh yes they could.
 
Given a choice of going out for Sunday lunch or cooking it myself I usually choose the latter: for taste and quality. Not anymore. I am sure that La Memo’s deep dish of moulded herbed potato mash, carrot and swede puree and roast potatoes topped with slices of the tenderest lamb and a cushion of Yorkshire pudding will be at the top of my Sunday Lunch League table for a long, long time. 
 
My husband told me not to write about the ‘Low’ in the title. ‘Perhaps it’s best not to be negative,’ he said. So I’m going to try and make this constructive. 
 
Cwmcerrig Farm has been featured on Welsh TV for the last month or so. The Watkins Family run a farmshop and cafeteria and host an onsite brewery at Gorslas, near Llanelli. They’ve won an array of awards since opening in 2009, Prince Charles visited them earlier this year and they sell Hereford Beef and that was the main purpose of my visit last week: some good quality fillet steaks to take back to Kent. 
 
While we were there we thought we’d have lunch at the cafeteria too. My mother said there were queues of people waiting for tables on the TV programme. Perhaps our expectations were too high, coloured by the programme director's cuts and editing.
 
I ordered the Faggots and Peas, something I haven’t eaten in Wales for a long time, and they were delicious and wonderfully peppery but the mashed potato served with them was dry looking and full of hard lumps. My dad’s grilled gammon was top class, he said, but the chips were mostly scrag ends of potato, like the bits you find in your chip-shop chip bag after the last fry just before they close. Was I being fussy? It’s a cafeteria, after all. ‘I wouldn’t have passed those potatoes from my kitchen,’ my mother said. She ran the cafeteria in the Port Talbot Skill centre for a number of years in the 1980s. She was right. 
 
The woman who came to take our plates said she’d mention the mashed potatoes to the kitchen. She also said the chips were like that because they were using small new potatoes. Well, chuck out the bitty bits then, rather than fill your diners’ plates with them. There was no offer of a coffee or any real sense of apology. In fact, apart from the young man behind the butchery counter the service was all a bit humourless and dour. Perhaps the strain of celebrity has taken its toll.  Perhaps they were having an off day.
 
The fillet steaks, wrapped and chilled all the way home the next day along the M4, were delicious. But, to be honest, I’m unlikely to undertake a 50 mile round from my parents’ house trip just to buy their meat.
 
In the meantime, you can be sure that my Port Talbot trips will be heavily La Memo-ed. Afiyet olsun: bon appetit in Turkish, with thanks to Memet of La Memo for the translation. 
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about an expectation realised.
  2. Write about a harmful relationship.
  3. Write about your talents.
  4. Write about making excuses.
  5. Write about an expectation dashed.
 

11 Sep 2012

Well fed in Port Talbot and chameleon grapes

I don’t think that many people stay at Blanco’s Port Talbot for the view. Carpark on both sides and on the perimeter of the town’s by-pass roads. But I just stuck my camera out of the window and Mynydd Dinas in the background makes it a lot better than I’d imagined.
 
But as I said it’s not the view you want to come here for: it’s the food. I’ve only had two breakfasts and one dinner so far and my 'impressed' monitor just keeps climbing. This morning I had Eggs Benedict, with Welsh bacon.  
 
 
(Little aside: 'Eggs' is mine and Tony’s nickname for the current Pope.)
 
Yesterday, I had two perfect fried eggs on wholemeal toast. Last night, for dinner, I had the Celtic Pride Welsh Beef fillet steak… ahhhh!!! Opened like butter to the slight pressure of a knife and was cooked with culinary precision to medium rare. I’m in my own little food heaven this week.
 
I bumped into Rachel Howells at the library this morning. Rachel’s a journalist with Port Talbot Magnet, an online news site that will, fingers crossed, go to paper in the near future. Port Talbot doesn’t have its own newspaper anymore: it lost its Guardian in 2009, a victim of the economic climate and the shift in how news is disseminated now that we have the instantaneousness of the internet. Rachel balances The Magnet with a family and children and her PhD research into the effects of a town having no newspaper: the loss of voice, of identity, of communication. The disappearance of a newspaper has taken on much greater significance than I'd previously thought.
 
Today she shares with me a piece of news that might not make tabloid headlines but it’s made my blog headline this week: strawberry grapes. What? Do they look like grapes or strawberries? They’re grapes that taste like strawberries. And her friends have been coming from Swansea to Port Talbot to buy them. At The Fruit Box, Riverside Walk, Port Talbot.
 

They. Are. Amazing. Sweet little explosions of grape flesh with the distinct taste of strawberries. And they have mango grapes too. I promise. It’s true. I have them here, in my room, with a chunk of Spanish Manchego cheese and a stick of bread from Tesco. They’re like honey but crisp. And to complete the picture I also have a bottle of Cabernet-Shiraz that, to be honest, is letting the whole feast down a little. Not too much though.
 
Go there. Tomorrow. Buy them. This is unbridled deliciousness we’re talking about. Go.
 
 
 
Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about a view that you still remember.
Write about a nickname.
Write about heat.
Write about losing your voice.
Write about what you balance in your life.

 

30 Aug 2012

A will of iron: take a bow, Tony

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the BBC2 Horizon programme (Donks, fish and muffin tops) about how fasting can make you healthier, and slimmer, and  recklessly announced I was going to adopt the two day fasting/five day eating routine. And I did. For 2 days and 5 days. Then I promptly forgot all about it.
 
Tony, however, decided to hit the fasting ground running and for the last three weeks his daily diet has comprised of soup, a few grilled vegetables on some days and hot drinks. I think it was the combination of the Horizon programme with the Hairy Dieters' determination to reduce their weight and body fat (one of them reckoned he was the human equivalent of foie gras...) that propelled him into extreme action. But I have to say that Tony does have a will of iron once he gets into the right frame of mind. He also says that he finds it much easier to go with the draconian measures rather than cutting down. There's no such thing as, 'I'll just have the one boiled egg' in Tony's vocabulary. He used to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich man at heart although he's curbed his sweet tooth a lot in recent years. But he is still a Berton Valley High Eden Cabernet Sauvignon man at the liver though not even a dribble of wine has passed his lips since he started his fasting regime. I'm in awe.
 
To date he's lost 1st 3lbs - that's 17lbs across the pond, 7.7 kilos across the Channel - and is aiming for another 7 lbs, at which point he'll be around the weight he was when I first met him, getting on for 28 years ago.
 
I think another inspiration for him to lose weight was a photo I took in Florida in June, an unintentional unflattering side portrait on the golf course, that prompted him to try the Adobe Photoshop Diet. Now, there's a diet that brings instant results!
 
One of the things he is eating are grilled peppers, brushed with chopped garlic and a little olive oil. The farmshop down the road has been selling the long, sweet red ones at 3 for a £1. He asked me if I wanted to try them and I wolfed down nearly a third of them before he'd left the kitchen. That was probably 3 days supply for him.
 
It is such a difficult thing to change your diet, isn't it? Even deciding to eat only fruit for breakfast can take on the dietary proportions of climbing Everest after the novelty of the first few days has worn off and you get up in the morning and really fancy a thick slice of toasted granary bread, slathered in butter and orange marmalade.
 
Being sensible sometimes has all the charm and excitement of wearing support stockings and carrying a plastic rain mac, just in case. I suppose the trick is to make a change into a habit. And that takes effort in the early days when your mind doesn't want change; it wants roast chicken with the skin on, coconut milk in your curry sauce, a second chocolate eclair, cafe latte with sugar.
 
Me and Tony 1989
I remember what I had to eat the night I met Tony: grilled Lobster. I remember that we drank Mateus Rose.  It's a wonder we actually made it past that first date after he asked me what wine I'd like with dinner and I said, accompanied by what I imagined to be a sophisticated laugh, 'Anything as long as it's not Blue Nun or Asti Spumante!' And he said, without any trace of laughter, 'They're my two favourite wines.' The Mateus was a compromise.
 
I'm going to Wales on another research trip on 9th September by which time he'll have reached his target weight and we've promised ourselves a good bottle of red, some cheese and bread before I go. I like sharing food. I miss sharing it with Tony. But I also know how important it is to him to lose the weight, not just for how he looks, but for the associated health benefits too. Another 28 years together will do nicely, thank you.
 
Hungry writing prompts
Write about forgetting.
Write about a habit someone wants to kick.
Write about making a compromise.
Write down the phrase 'just in case' and free-write for 20 minutes.
Write about what you will be doing in 20 years time
 

22 Aug 2012

I heart tomatoes

I  Y tomatoes. Not in a salad where their seeds and juice run into the leaves and make them soggy but salted on a plate of their own, or chopped and cooked for a few minutes over a high heat in some olive oil and hot spice and served on toast, or stuffed with a savoury mince and topped with grated cheese and flashed under the grill. I like them sliced on top of a cheese and potato pie and sprinkled with oregano. (Does anyone make cheese and potato pie anymore?) I like them picked from the vine and eaten while they're still warm. I like them on a Margherita pizza. I like cherry tomatoes on the vine sprinkled with coarse sea-salt and roasted in the oven until their skins plump up but don't burst. I like them slow roasted. I like sun-dried tomatoes, sun-blush tomatoes, green tomato chutney, home-made salsa. And I think this tomato likes me.
 
 
My step-daughter grew this one - in fact she had three perfectly heart-shaped tomatoes from her father-in-law's greenhouse. John died last year and the tomatoes felt like gifts from him, she said.
 
I don't believe in an afterlife, or any future rewards from a higher being. I don't believe the dead can speak to the living. But I do believe that the connections and relationships we experience while we're alive become a part of who we are.  Acceptance, forgiveness, generosity, tolerance. Resentment, rejection, selfishness, impatience. Perhaps the trick is to learn from them all and become the people we want to be. 


Hungry writing prompts
  • Write a paragraph about one particular food you love to eat.
  • Write about your heart.
  • Write about what happens when you die.
  • Write something you really want to say to a person in your life.
  • Write about the person you are.   

 

13 Aug 2012

OMG - chips. Let me rephrase that. CHIPS!!


I interviewed BBC Radio Wales’ iconic gay radio presenter, Chris Needs, a week ago (for Real Port Talbot) and he has converted me. I can now stand up and say, proudly: my name is Lynne Rees and I am an Actifryer. 

Chris has a clutch of homes in different parts of the world and is so attached to the Tefal Actifry he has one in each of them. I quizzed him about the chips. C’mon, are they really that good? Are they as good as deep-fried home-cooked chips? Can you make enough chips in one of those things? Yes. Yes. And yes. 

There was only way to find out.

The secret to getting them crispy is to make sure all the starch is rinsed from the raw chips and they’re completely dry when you put them in.

I made 500gr of chips (about 2 decent sized, but not enormous, jacket-type potatoes) and used 7.5 ml of olive oil. Definitely enough for two people. Or one greedy one.

You can make up to a kilo adding a maximum of 14 ml of any oil you like. Even as I pressed the ON button, and heard the appliance blow into action and slowly start paddling the chips, I was imagining garlic and herb oils, or chilli infused oil, sweet potatoes, chopped potatoes, skinny fries.

It had a lot to live up to. And it delivered.

And listen to this. A 250 gr portion of these chips is about 230 calories. Your classic, deep-fried, home-made chips slap you, or your hips, with about 475. But my uncontainable delight wasn’t about the calorie intake. It was about the texture and the taste. Crisp, fluffy. Like the best, well-drained, deep-fried chip you’ve ever tasted.

If you get fed-up of the chips (as if!) you can make potatoes:



Or if you get fed up with potatoes entirely you can try this:


Stir-fry? Definitely going to try that. It’d be like having your own slave standing at the stove stirring your vegetables for you, but without the struggle with your conscience and the worries about the minimum hourly wage and compulsory health benefits. 

Can there possibly be any writing prompts to be extracted from today’s post? You bet. But have a chip before you start.

Hungry writing prompts
  • Write about being converted.
  • Write a list of things you would say a loud ‘yes’ to.
  • Write about rawness.
  • Write about something, or someone, who delivers what they promised.
  • Write about what pricks your conscience