Tag Archives: tea

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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On the gradual decaffeination of life’s pleasures

One evening this week, at dinner with a friend, the waitress cleared our plates and asked us whether we’d like desserts. Since we hadn’t been too impressed by the food, we decided to go straight to coffee. And for the first time in my life, I ordered a decaf.

There’s something BC/AD about opting for decaf. The first time you do it, you’re mentally bisecting your life, cutting what is to come adrift from your devil-may-care, stimulant-fuelled past. You’re making a statement, and that statement takes many forms, the most anodyne being, ‘I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight’, with more cynical interpretations including, ‘It may be only 10pm, but I’m already thinking about getting home and going to bed’.

For me, the message was, ‘I’ve reached that age where my body now partly dictates my lifestyle’. Which is a daunting admission that elicited a raised eyebrow from our waitress.

It’s part of growing up – and growing old – this gradual shift to moderation. At 18, I’d wake up on Sunday mornings feeling bright and dewy, despite having gone out the night before. Of course, I’d affect a hangover for form’s sake, but in private I naïvely assumed I was someone whose system just didn’t bow to hangovers. Reality set in with each passing year, and now, within reaching distance of 30, I’ll drink only one glass of wine more than usual at dinner and find myself the victim of a stealth attack hangover that leaves me staggering around, miserable and uncomprehending, for two days. As a result, I’ve learnt to eye all alcohol from a respectful distance.

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The white stuff

I used to have a problem with the bottle, but I’ve been dry for years. In fact, I haven’t drunk a drop of milk since 1991.

As with most traumas, this all goes back to my childhood. At infant school, we had two choices: bring fruit juice from home to drink during our morning break or suffer one of the third-pint bottles of milk that the school provided. Always a sucker for a freebie, my mother flat-out refused to provide me with the fruity get-out-of-jail-free card I begged her for. Instead, I was doomed to drink school milk.

The memory of that milk clings to me like charred remains stick to a burnt saucepan. I remember seeing the crates of bottles sat on the porch of the school as I arrived in the morning and the certainty that when their contents were served at 10.30 they would be sun-warmed and faintly soured. I remember piercing the heavy foil lid with the cobalt blue, rigid, vermicelli-like straw and trying to force the liquid up through it. And I still gag when I remember the taste.

Whenever I tried to leave any of the vile cow juice in the bottle, or attempted to mount a lonely protest, a no-nonsense teacher would promptly quash my resolve and force me to drink up. I soon learned that the more I toyed with the milk, blowing bubbles in it and shaking it around while the others sucked it up, the less appetising it became. And the longer that milk stayed in the bottle, the warmer and smellier it got.

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May contain nuts

Why is it that whenever I offer anything up for human consumption I have to voice a loud disclaimer before people tuck in? Am I alone in this self-sabotage? I know I can’t be, because I learnt this bad behaviour from my mum, whose verbal apéritif to anything she’s prepared is flavoured with tremulous uncertainty. I in turn have become a similar kind of Hugh Grant figure in the kitchen, babbling self-justification and wobbling like jelly as soon as I have to share my creations.

Even when I invite unsuspecting friends in for a simple cuppa, I can’t seem to get by without exclaiming in surprise at the lack of clean mugs instead of giving the offending crockery a surreptitious cosmetic rinse, or voicing my misgivings over how long we’ve had that bottle of milk instead of keeping schtum. And heaven help me if I’ve run out of biscuits to offer round.

Worse still, when I bring homemade goodies into work, my colleagues have to endure the long and tedious back story that comes with them. Before tucking in, they must listen patiently to my concerns over whether I used the right type of cream cheese for the frosting on those muffins, whether that cake could have done with an extra five minutes in the oven, and whether we’ll notice that I forgot to add the sugar to that tart. Sometimes I’ll announce that I’ve brought in a treat, then dash everybody’s enthusiasm by adding that I don’t think it will be very nice, leaving my guinea pigs wondering in exasperation why I bothered in the first place. Happily, advertising wasn’t my career of choice, though God knows applying a little brand management to my products wouldn’t do any harm.

Some people have the chutzpah to present their food without untoward comment, sensibly leaving the recipients to judge the results for themselves. These people also have the quiet cunning that turns tragedy into opportunity – burnt brownies are deftly trimmed of their offending edges and dusted with sugar, sunken cakes are levelled off and elaborately iced, and dry sponges are swiftly doused in booze, plunged into softly whipped cream, sprinkled with nuts and berries and transformed into a decadent dessert, with no one any the wiser.

It’s a simple concept, yet so difficult for transparency-crazed neurotics like me to follow in practice. For example, if you come for dinner at mine we won’t say grace. Instead, before every meal I’ll bow my head and religiously repeat the words, ‘Here it is, I’m not sure if it’s OK or not. If you don’t like any of it, just leave it, I won’t be offended’ – the better to dampen any appetites that have been prematurely whetted.

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By appointment to HM ER II…er, grazia

What would you expect to eat at an audience with Her Majesty the Queen? Dainty cucumber sandwiches sans crusts and tea sipped from bone china cups? A mini pork pie dabbed with Keen’s mustard and accompanied by a glass of sweet sherry? A full sit-down meal, each course requiring a different knife and presented under a silver cloche that’s unveiled by a suited waiter at the table? All of the above?

If so, you’d be disappointed. Apparently the Queen has moved with the times when it comes to grub. Either that or she too is feeling the pinch of the credit crunch. I say this having just read the would-be ‘society’ pages of my guilty pleasure, Grazia. The nibbles reportedly served at the palace for the British Clothing Industry Reception were, for me, just above roast Corgi on the list of Unexpected Things That The Queen Would Serve You. You won’t believe what the guests were treated to unless you secretly read Grazia too or you were at the reception yourself.

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