Monthly Archives: December 2009

Grape expectations

Here I am in the Canary Islands, visiting my boyfriend´s family. Tonight we´ll dine late, but it will be worth the wait: the big guns are coming out. Tonight it´s all about fresh langoustines, fillet steak, champagne, then traditional turrón and some rather moreish homemade biscotti that I brought along to accompany the coffee.

But I´m not writing this to boast about el papeazo que me voy a pegar, as they say here. The food-related curiosity I want to share will take place a little later. In Spain, it´s traditional to gobble up twelve grapes on the twelve strokes of midnight. Sounds easy, but it´s an art that´s difficult to master without choking or at least dribbling. Survivors get to welcome in the new year.

The first year I joined in with this locura I was a novice, confidence sky high, eyes bigger than my mouth, throat, gullet and stomach combined. Off we went: dong! One grape. Dong! Another. Dong! So far so good, although my jaw was working at double-dong speed and my mouth was still half-full of grapes. Dong! The fourth grape went in to replace what I´d swallowed. My first mistake (see below). Dong! At the fifth, I made the mistake of glancing at my boyfriend and his family (be warned: smiling is to chewing what chocolate is to the waistline). Dong! Smiling also induces dribbling… Dong! Now I was dribbling and being seen to be dribbling in front of a family I´d been hoping to impress. Dong! Getting the giggles is not going to help you at all, mi hija. Concentrate. Dong! And I was out of the race, still chewing frantically and gurning politely to stop any further juice haemorrhage.

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Eating all the pies

There’s no doubt that Christmas is the ultimate food occasion in most people’s calendar year, but I’ve never been that fond of the traditional British stodge dishes, especially the desserts. A flaming pudding is the last thing I want to smell after stuffing myself silly with turkey. As for Christmas cake, it’s the texture that unnerves me.

However, this is the year that I’ve finally got into mince pies. I’ve eaten and enjoyed six this year, which is six more than I’ve eaten or enjoyed in any previous year. It started with these pies, with nuggets of marzipan tucked inside an almond pastry.

Then came pies oozing redcurrant jelly and sticky dried cranberries, zesty pastry cases laden with dried figs and walnuts, mince pies topped with stars and sugar, and mini mince pie canapés with the crunch of whole almonds inside. All boasting a depth of flavour that requires scuba equipment and so sweet they stop even a saccharine-toothed girl like me in my tracks, forcing me to nibble away and make the pleasure last.

I’m seeking out mince pies everywhere now, trying to make up for lost time. Even the sugar-dusted trees in my garden remind me of snow-topped mince pies and propel me to the kitchen, suddenly peckish. I’m having to beg, borrow and steal this year’s pies, having been caught unawares when my appetite waddled down this unexpected side-street.

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Waiting to ascend my foodie throne…

I suddenly feel very Carrie Bradshaw sitting here at my laptop, watching the Christmas shoppers coming home, and gazing whimsically into space before typing out an Important Question.

But I’ve been thinking about Christmas and food and mulling this over for some time. What I want to know is: at what point should a daughter take responsibility for the family Christmas meal? 

I’m 28 years old, I love cooking to an almost abnormal extent, and I work in the food biz. On paper, I’m a perfect candidate for Christmas hostess. However, year after year I go home and play a minor role helping my mum to get the Christmas Day shebang on the road and into people’s bellies. Much as I might offer to make a dessert, bring a ham, or take over completely, my mum refuses to pass down the mantle to me.

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The rise of the citizen critic

I wrote this in March 2009 and thought I might as well publish it here…

Jay Rayner used to let foodie friend Simon Majumdar tag along to the restaurants he reviewed. He even allowed Simon to write about the food in his blog. But since Simon’s blog took off, things have changed.

Majumdar, one half of celebrated blog doshermanos.co.uk, explains how bloggers’ influence has rattled newspaper critics’ nerves.

“When I started the blog, I could write about [restaurants] and they didn’t care. But slowly, when they posted their reviews, people emailed us that they were copying the Dos Hermanos review. They now ask me not to write about the restaurant until they’ve written about it.”

The restaurant industry has been knocked sideways by a tide of foodie bloggers, led by success stories like the Majumdar brothers, who publish to committed networks of readers and fellow bloggers. Rayner even voiced fears that bloggers may one day render the newspaper critic’s role redundant.

‘When opinions are freely available all over the web,’ he wrote in July 2008, ‘the newspaper critic is becoming regarded as rather more of a luxury than many publishers feel they can afford.’

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Nigella saves breakfast: a true story

Late  Saturday morning and I’m in my pyjamas, nursing a light hangover. I fell for crumpets in a big way the other week, as I do every year when the weather gets chilly. I pop a couple in the toaster and go to the fridge, when – disaster strikes. A flashback of me scraping the last ounce of butter from its paper the night before. And now, there is nothing to spread on my breakfast treat, and I am bereft.

I toy with my options. I could put on the outfit I reserve specially for a quick dash to the corner shop: white baggy branded jogging bottoms, an enormous bright red hoodie and my battered trainers (I fancy that they think I’ve been jogging – ha! – and am popping into the shop on the way back…) But I still have the imprint of where my pillow squished into my face, so there’s no way I can pull that off today. I could try crumpets ‘with a twist’? I cast my eye around for any fat I have to hand. Olive oil? No. Vegetable oil? An involuntary shudder. I can’t do it to the crumpet, let alone my taste buds. What about un crumpet au nature, naked of butter, but doused in honey? Unacceptable.

What to do? The clock is ticking. The edges of the crumpets are starting to curl and crisp in the toaster, indicating that they’re ready to invite lashings of melted butter into their bottomless wells. This really is going to ruin my morning. I need to act quickly.

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