Category Archives: daily bread

Chicken, tubes and toilets

In the spirit of ‘Blue Monday‘, here are three foodie sights that consistently depress me:

1. Queues outside South London’s multitudinous purveyors of fried chicken

Step forward all you Chicken Shacks, Chicken Huts, Chicken Expresses and Chicken Dinnerz. From 6pm onwards, these places do a roaring trade in low-quality, low-welfare, saturated fat-laden chicken dinners, all pitched at eye-wateringly low prices.

Perhaps more dispiriting are the trails of gnawed chicken bones, discarded on the pavement Hansel and Gretel-style, so that diners can always find their way back. Are the same people queuing day after day? Or are huge numbers of repeat customers treating themselves week in, week out? I can only hope it’s the latter.

2. People who sit down to lunch on the tube

Let me be clear: it’s not eating on the tube per se that upsets me – I hold no truck with peckish travellers who snatch snacks en route to their destination, nor do I object to a perceived lack of consideration for others (unless the all-pervasive Red Bull is involved).

What gets me down is seeing someone who gives every impression that the tube is their idea of the perfect dining location. The culprits are usually men who sit in near-empty carriages at lunchtime, with straight back and feet firmly planted on the floor. They’ll carefully arrange their belongings on the seat to their left and place a crisp, brown paper bag on the seat to their right, from which they’ll reverentially extract some item – a sandwich, a burger, or whatever – before tucking into it with gusto, as if they’ve been waiting all day for this movable feast. Park bench, anyone?

3. The misery of unusual toilet signs in restaurants and bars

I am among the people who – inadvisedly, I know – always wait until the last possible moment to pop to the loo. Alcohol only serves to hinder my judgement in such a matter. So imagine the gnashing of teeth and crossing of legs that ensue when I’m in a bar and encounter any of the following on the toilet doors: a reproduction of a curly-haired Botticelli madonna, versus a curly-haired Regency-era prince; an intricate sketch of a dapper Edwardian gentleman, complete with umbrella, paunch and Penny farthing, versus one of a fragrant Edwardian lady, complete with parasol, bustle and, yes, Penny farthing; an enigmatic letter that could feasibly be attributed to, say, either a lad or a lady; a cartoon of a male sheep/horse/earwig, versus a cartoon of a female sheep/horse/earwig…before you know it, you’ve wet yourself again, haven’t you?

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Beat that sinking feeling

Since now is the season for New Year resolutions, I’ve decided to try to use my dishwasher more often. An easy one, you might think…

It’s a fact that whoever you live with, and however well you get on, you will end up fighting about the washing up. At uni, I’d chide and chivvy my housemates until they complied with the kitchen rota I’d devised, or seethe with fury in the face of their defiance, working through my frustrations by giving the fridge a jolly good clean, or by banging doors and writing passive-aggressive notes about the proximity of cleanliness to godliness.

Friends would come to my shared digs and look askance as they took in the freshly disinfected surfaces, polished taps and sparkling cooker. At the time I thought they were reflecting ashamedly on their own untidy dwellings, but now I can see that they pitied me for dashing my precious youth against the tide marks in the sink.

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Taste the Difference

The church I attended throughout my childhood hosted various extra-curricular events. The best were youth nights where we dressed like WAGs, stuffed our faces with luminous sweets and hummed along nonchalantly to Oasis as we played pool. Less enticing were so-called hunger lunches, which befuddle me to this day.

For the non-Methodists among you, allow me to explain the concept of a hunger lunch. You (or, more accurately, your mum) makes a designated dish and pudding, usually shepherd’s pie followed by apple crumble. Everybody else cooks the same two dishes. After the morning service, the whole congregation files into the church hall and sits at fold-out tables to receive this offering.

So far, so innocuous: you’re going to be fed through the kindness of others rather than go hungry. We say grace – for what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. But instead of feeling thankful I could never help but feel anything other than tense as, table by table, we stood in line at the serving hatch and participated in a nail-biting game of Russian roulette as we tried to gauge which – or whose – shepherd’s pie was likely to end up on our plate.

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Beef jerky ice cream, anyone? The murkier side of harvest festival

Do you remember harvest festivals at school? Those uncomfortably half-pagan rituals that have been absorbed into the Christian calendar – a lesson in keeping your friends close but your foes closer? I don’t know whether things have changed these days, but when I was at junior school, harvest festival was one of those annual events that, despite being lauded as A Good Thing, made parents either groan or panic.

The week before, schools would give their young charges a brightly coloured piece of paper to take home to remind mum and/or dad of the happy event. This would immediately be stuffed to the bottom of each child’s bag, only to resurface months later. Savvy to this possibility, and taking no chances, teachers would remind the class again the night before that they should all bring something to donate to those less fortunate. And so it would begin: a parental sigh of exasperation, followed by the excavation of unwanted food for the greater good.

In essence, that’s what harvest festivals are: charity shops in edible – or semi-edible – form. The acceptable face of fly-tipping; a clever dance whereby the recipient shows more gratitude than he should and the benefactor less. Harvest festival is a dumping ground for things you wish you’d never bought or know you’ll never use again: the BOGOF bargains and ill-considered impulse buys that got out of hand; the tin of condensed milk you bought for a recipe and never used; the free sample of beef jerky that no one tried; a dented tin of plum tomatoes; a random box of stale ice cream cones. My mum once exhumed a vintage tub of strawberry milkshake powder and looked at me doubtfully for approval – upon closer inspection it had expired the year before I was born.

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Flying in the face of good food

We’d all agree that nothing beats getting away from it all. But these days nobody’s holiday can ever truly start until they’ve got through the familiar ordeal of flying Ryanair. Until then, the excitement of the holiday will inevitably be shot through with jagged shards of frustration and resentment. It’s like having to remove the skin and bones from your sea bass before you can really start to enjoy it.

So you found the cheapest possible flight and negotiated the cryptic set of tick boxes engineered to fool you into stumping up for the privilege of: a) standing in the (only marginally shorter) speedy boarding queue, b) sitting with your child, or c) seeing larger items of your luggage actually emerge at the other end.

At home you weighed and measured your hand luggage countless times, damned if you were going to spend even a penny more on extra bags or excess luggage fines.

And you spent the night in the draughty hall of some back-of-beyond airport waiting for the check-in desk to open for your 4am flight because you couldn’t face spending money on a hotel or taxi.

Inexplicably, though, once you’re airborne and the never-ending, spiraling assault on your instant gratification gland by the flight attendants begins – headphones for the film, charity collections, duty-free booze, scratch card sales – the wallets start to come out. Unfathomably, a group of people whose only motivation for flying Ryanair was the price and who’d all been cursing the airline only minutes beforehand are now handing over their hard-earned holiday savings to that very same company.

How do Ryanair do it? Do they pump some sort of magic potion out of the air conditioning ducts that makes you forget that you’ve spent the past few weeks boasting to colleagues about the wonderful food you’re going to eat while on holiday, and drooling over the pictures in the brochure of string bags full of local market produce? That you swished through the airport without a passing glance at the chain restaurants, tutting impatiently about how overpriced they all are? That at no time during your stint in the departure lounge did you profess a desire for a pot of Pringles? That last time you ordered something from the Ryanair on-board menu it was not only criminally underwhelming but also the same size as its picture? And that nothing on the menu has changed since then?

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A bit of gushing (apologies)

Recently I’ve been so busy tucking into my food that I’ve hardly stopped to tell anyone about it. But I’m back on track now after a summer of being borderline obsessed with sourcing beautiful old kitchen paraphernalia, travelling around England in search of new places to eat and celebrating becoming the Spaniard’s prometida.

It was during a weekend in Brighton with the sensitive gluttons that I finally managed to get to the foodie treasure trove known as Lewes. Over lunch at Bill’s Produce Store we steadied ourselves for the Aladdin’s caves that lay ahead.

Working up an appetite in the queue at Bill's

Working up an appetite in the queue at Bill's

Everyone wishes they had a general store like this in town...

Everyone wishes they had a general store like this in town...

Some pretty summer squash for good measure

Some pretty summer squash for good measure

Then we plunged headfirst into the antiques shops, hungry for bargains.

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Lose weight AND exude methane in just two weeks!

Magazine diets are always good for a giggle. Nine out of ten weeks, Grazia will ask questions with meaningless answers, such as, ‘What body type are you?’ a) Tiger/b) Antelope/c) Bear. Or, ‘What kind of dieter are you?’ a) Hunter/b) Alpha/c) Feline. My favourite so far has to be, ‘What’s your diet temperature?’

When not asking inane questions, they’re fussing over the next super-régime, which will inevitably complicate cookery to such an extent that, while you’re on the diet wagon, your every waking thought will revolve around food.

Take the edition a couple of weeks ago, which boasted a 14-day pre-beach blitz, devised by none other than Lowri Turner, the shock-columnist who will opine on just about anything in order to stay in the limelight. Now, I can think of a lot of things to call Lowri Turner, but ‘nutritionist’ isn’t the first that springs to mind. Nevertheless, that’s how she was billed, having graduated from the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in 2009.

With her new diet, LT has continued her unbroken run of consistently managing to enrage me. Clutching the pages of my magazine a little bit too hard, I simmered and stewed as I sat on the tube scanning her Beach Panic Diet.

Firstly, I wondered inwardly, would sane people really consider faffing about buying itty-bitty quantities of this and that – half a pepper, 50g of feta, 3 asparagus (do many asparagus become asparagi?) – to follow this dispiriting and underwhelming collection of uninspiring, badly-photographed dishes? Leaving a fridge full of festering perishables just before they go away?

Secondly, has anyone checked to see whether the average human being can survive eating six cauliflowers, 16 eggs and 12 egg whites in a fortnight without exploding? Is that what a degree in nutrition is all about – boldly going where no risk assessment experiment has gone before?

Lastly, and most perplexingly, why do nutritionists serve up so many inverted commas – why are they intent on making food ’food’ in disguise? Is it to avenge the lampooning of ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith, the original Lady Muck, and her ‘credentials’?

Perhaps it’s another tao of Nutritionism. If so, Lowri has certainly embraced it – with her ‘noodles’, ‘hummus’, ‘fettucine’, ‘pizza’, ‘bread’, ‘rice’ and ‘couscous’, she’s really ‘spoiling’ us. (Editor’s note: as ‘rice, and ‘couscous’ should all be read as courgette, so ‘spoiling’ should be more accurately translated as torturing…)

If you’re a cauliflower and egg devotee, good for you – get your Beach Panic freak on. Wrap your chops around ‘magic microwave bread’. Feast on vanilla whey protein powder. Munch plain, unseasoned, dry-fried squid rings with strips of courgette. Forget the actual hummus you used to enjoy and simply exist on pretend ‘hummus’! 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