Posts Tagged ‘food’

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

 

When one leaves the country of one’s birth to travel to somewhere else permanently – well, as far as one knows it’s a permanent move – it is inevitably a wrench, no matter how exciting the “new start” is. Nowadays, one considers oneself more Australian than British, but a deep affection for the land of my birth, with all its quirks and wonderments, persists and will never leave me.

Initially, of course, one misses friends and family enormously, no matter how one makes new links overseas. This is an experience known to millions worldwide, and when yours truly made the jump it was long before such things as Skype and so on. Even email was in its infancy. (Some would say ‘the good old days’.)

But distance can make the heart grow fonder, and welcoming one’s nearest and dearest to experience the new life one is creating is a joy. We will never forget going to the butcher’s with Mum and asking what she’d like for her first “Aussie BBQ”. She shyly indicated some lamb chops – one of her favourites – but was horrified when we simply told the butcher we’d take the whole tray. A lamb chop at a pound apiece was a luxury for her back in Blighty, but lamb isn’t something we’re short of Down Under. We also regularly piled her plate up with King Prawns, which are plentiful in warm Southern oceans, but an eye-widening world away from the tiny shrimps she enjoyed so much growing up in East Anglia and South Wales, coming in little pots sealed with melted butter.

Other friends have variously loved sweet and peppery pumpkin soup served in hollowed out pumpkins – a ridiculously kitchy 1970s thing to do, but a revelation to those visiting from a country where it’s called “Squash” and mainly served to pigs as fodder – and one memorable Christmas with friends disappeared into a comforting blur under the influence of vodka and homemade fruit punch cocktails that complemented the rock lobster.

But for all that entertaining overseas guests always offered a frisson of pleasure, everyday life proved less amenable in some important ways.

It was some time before one could get past asking incredulous barman to microwave our pint of English ale to bring it nearer room temperature rather than struggling with the ice-cold version served in Australia. (The precise time to do this in a 600w microwave is 47 seconds on full, by the way. Just in case you need to know. Then stir the beer with a straw or something to distribute the warmer beer at the outside of the glass to the middle, and wait 20 seconds before drinking – if you can.)

Everyone in Australia knows that Brits drink their beer warm. To see someone actually do it would frequently stop all discussion in the bar, and produce much sad shaking of heads.

Nowadays, of course, one has come to appreciate the frigid beauty of a lager-style beer on a forty degree day – or plenty of them – but like stout, (Guinness is also served everywhere at near-freezing), British ale is meant to be drunk at room temperature to release its gorgeous flavours. Now, at least, one can easily buy bottled ales that one can keep and serve at any temperature one likes, but it would be great to be able to have them served at the right temperature in a pub, especially during Melbourne’s frequently chilly winter. Still: one adjusts. But in the early years nothing emphasised one’s distance from “home” as a pint of Boddington’s served with pearls of condensation on it.

Globalisation, though, has its upsides. In the early years, friends were obliged to stuff their suitcases with packets of Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing and Colman’s Bread Sauce so a Sunday roast chook still tasted something like a roast chook should. One dear amigo, stopped at customs with at least 20 packets of Bread Sauce in his suitcase, had to patiently explain for some time that it wasn’t cocaine artfully packaged, and that if the packets were confiscated there’d be hell to pay from his irascible host.

Better than cocaine any day.

Better than cocaine any day.

Eventually, bemused, the customs guy waved him through, and the immortal phrase “Bloody Poms” was heard clearly in a stage whisper as he exited the green channel, head held high. Nowadays both items are freely available in Aussie supermarkets, where they walk off the shelves and into the grateful pantries of expatriates and their ever-patient families. The same is true of Heinz Salad Cream, which goes perfectly with both french fries and mashed potato, to the eternal horror of Aussies who were brought up with slightly healthier food habits. A bottle of HP Sauce peeking out from the shelves now restores a beatific grin when sausages are on the menu. And despite a wonderful range of home-grown biscuits on offer, still nothing complements a cup of tea quite like a McVities Digestive. As the immortal ad campaign once said, “a drink’s just too wet without one”.

Once upon a time one was thinking of a starting a business called pommygrub.com but neither international transport nor the internet were up to snuff in those days. Needless to say, time marches on.

We might have to order ourselves a pot of Marmite for Christmas. I mean, Vegemite is great, but there’s only ever been one Marmite. And some Bara Brith seems indicated for Christmas afternoon. As it says: “From a bakery in the heart of Pembrokeshire, Tan Y Castell Bara Brith is a delicious and traditional fruit loaf baked with fruit, tea and mixed spices.”

You can take the boy out of Wales …

Traditional Welsh recipe for Bara Brith

Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is an especially rich fruit loaf made with tea. Produced all over Wales, but especially in my “home country” of Pembrokeshire, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread thickly with good Welsh butter.

bara-brith

Bara Brith ingredients

  • 450G/1lb self raising flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
  • 1 medium size free-range egg
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 300ml/½pt cold tea
  • 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
  • Extra honey for glazing

How to make Bara Brith

Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.

The recipe for Bara Brith can be altered slightly by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.

You’re welcome.

In loving memory of Simon Titley, who would have understood.

Your indefatigable correspondent doing what he does best, Dear Reader

Your indefatigable correspondent doing what he does best.

You find us on our occasional travels this bright autumn day, Dear Reader, this time to Italy again, to see the immortal Southampton Football Club scale the tobacco-smoke-filled heights of Inter Milan at the San Siro Stadium. Which lofty ambition was thwarted by our customary inability to score from a hatful of golden chances, while Inter Milan scored from their only shot on goal of the game, much of which they spent with eleven men behind the ball and employing every niggly, nasty, time-wasting tactic imaginable, which makes their baby-snatching victory all the more galling, but heigh ho, that’s football. And anyway, what can you expect from a game administered by an obviously blind namby-pamby incompetent fool of a referee, played against a bunch of [insert nakedly inappropriate insults here], who have made a virtue of winning by playing so badly the other team subsides in a heap of confusion and frustration. Bah, humbug and curses to youse all.

We would not use our precious leave to re-visit a country we have explored before, in reality, were it not for the precious nexus of European football and a bunch of good mates traveling to see the game, but Italy is one of those wonderful, shambolic, loveable, infuriating experiences that makes a return trip enjoyable under any circumstances.

If one can ever get there, that is.

Having left home 36 hours before one finally schlepped up to our Milan hotel bedroom, one could be forgiven for thinking the Arab states have got it right and it is, per se, perfectly appropriate to cut the hands off whichever idiot air bridge operator crashed their charge into the side of our plane, thus occasioning all of us to get off again and spent an uncomfortable few hours inside Dubai terminal C waiting for a new one to complete the hop to Milano. Or whatever it is they do to ground crew who mistake their handling of what must be the slowest vehicular transport known to man for racing their new Mercedes and proceed to crash it into a $250 million Airbus, leaving an unsafe dent in the fuselage. “So sorry, Effendi, I just didn’t see it there.” Yes, medieval torture has its place in modern jurisprudence, especially when its 40+ degrees outside and your credit card isn’t working any more than the airport air-conditioning so you can’t even indulge in an iced Starbucks as you disappear into a puddle on the immaculately scrubbed floor. Even the mid-day call to prayer over the loudspeakers fails to lift our spirits. If Allah existed surely he wouldn’t let bad things happen to good people, right?

Milan is, of course, the jewel in the crown of northern Italy, home to fashion and fashonistas, and wandering its streets waiting for the game to start it is hard not to be struck by the fact that everyone is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, beautiful. The women are beautiful – effortlessly, so, with their immaculate coiffure and laughing eyes, high on life. The men are beautiful – boldly so, with their perfectly cut clothes in impossible, improbable colours. There is an air of stylish self-confidence evident everywhere. The short fat people are beautiful. The tall skinny ones are beautiful. Beauty is ageless – the retired indulge the autumn of their lives by dressing in designer fashions that actively defy death and wrinkles. Even the homeless guy pushing a trolley does it with a certain panache as he greets the street vendors who know him. The African migrants trying to sell useless tatt table-to-table in the piazza have adopted their hosts’ insouciant air of belonging, and the street-mime working the restaurants for tips is genuinely funny in a knowing, mocking manner. This is a city high on art culture, so that performance permeates its very fabric. Performance is the core standard. Everyone has an eye on everyone, and knows for sure that everyone’s eyes are on them. It is, frankly, as invigorating as it is scary. So one pulls in one’s belly fat and smiles at the impossibly gorgeous girl at the next table with what you hope is an appropriate devil-may-care atteggiamento. To your astonishment, she flashes you a warming smile back that would melt a Milanese gelato at a dozen paces. This stuff really works. It’s a psychological conspiracy, adhered to by all. We are all beautiful. Keep the faith. Pass it on.

churchSomewhere, a bell tower tolls the hour. Very loud. And very near. And all around, other bell towers take up the tune. The saints clustered around their tops stand impassively calm as the wild clarions ring out, as they have for centuries. They ignore the bells, as the walkers in the street ignore them, as we ignore them. Only the pigeons are startled, but not for long, and return to walking over our feet looking for crumbs.

Our hotel does not disappoint.

It is purple, for a start. Purple from top to bottom.

The grout in the bathrooms is purple.

The walls are purple.

The artworks are purple.

The helpful advice folder in the room is black type on purple paper, so that it can only be read when held under the bedside light at about two inches distance, at which point, like an ancient Illuminati text in the floor of a cathedral, it reluctantly gives up its arcane knowledge of the impossibly complex local train system.

table-and-chairsModern art furniture assails the eyes. Somewhere a table and chairs in the shape of a glass and two steins beckon the unwary. Stay .. drink … relaaaaaax. Tom Hanks rushes into the lobby, crying out to anyone who will listen that it’s not the Metro we allhotel need, but rather the slow suburban S2 line, except they’re on strike. He rushes out again, pursued by a bald monk with evil intent. Or it may have been a postman.

The carpet in the lobby is purple. Your head spins, and not just because ten minutes before you’ve gone arse-over-tit on the laminate floor in your room and you’re no longer quite sure what day it is. Ah yes, it’s match day.

Two Limoncello, please, and two beers.

The ubiquitous lemon liqueur turns up in frozen glasses that are surprisingly beautiful. That’s the aching knee fixed. Onward. Forza!

The game happens.

Having paid a king’s ransom to sit in the posh seats, we exit the ground quickly and safely, with all the fearsome Inter fans (their collective reputation marginally worse than Attilla the Hun’s) shaking our hands with courtesy and smiles and something that looked like pity, as they are enduring a season of shocking failure and they seem to say, “we know what you’re going through, we love you, we share your pain”. Halfway down the stairs, young men and women share the single toilet to serve hundreds, as the male lavatory is inexplicably padlocked, and as they wait in comfortable unisex discomfort they smile, and chatter, and look nothing more nor less than a slightly disreputable renaissance painting come to life. Caravaggio, perhaps.

We are not in Verona, but we might be. There Romeo. There Juliet. There, Tybalt, drunk of course, intent on lechery and perhaps a brawl. All beautiful.

To prevent a brawl, our friends are locked into the stadium for 45 minutes after the game, and then eight thousand Southampton fans are grudgingly permitted to exit down a single narrow staircase. As we stand outside shivering in the suddenly bitter late-evening breeze, they are greeted by a hundred or so police in full riot gear, as clearly the fact that every single one of them is cheerful and good-natured and very obviously they wouldn’t riot if you stuffed a cracker up their collective arse means nothing to Il Commandante Whoever, and having pumped millions into the Milanese economy and behaved impeccably they are now treated like morally dissolute cattle, and dangerously so, too. One stumble, and hundreds could have perished. Criminal stupidity from the authorities, who are obviously only interested in lining the pockets of their carabiniere with unnecessary overtime, as groups of young men in ridiculous gold braid with sub machine guns strut first one way, then another, then back again, noses in the air, sniffing for trouble. They glower. Only word for it. And it isn’t beautiful. It isn’t beautiful one little bit.

But after that distasteful experience, essential Milan reasserts itself, and we walk, semi-frozen and tired to a nearby restaurant owned by a friend and head of the Italian Saints supporters group, and the restaurant is tiny and warm and welcoming, and as feeling returns to our fingers and toes we are treated to a sensational repast of local salami and proscuitto, followed by the most ineffably delicious and unlikely Osso Bucco-topped risotto with creamy rice so imbued with butter and white wine and saffron that the plate almost glows as it comes to the table, and the Osso Bucco topping is gelatinous and rich and the bone marrow in the veal is luscious and braised for hours so that it melts in your mouth. And at the next table are members of the local Parliament representing the curious Legia Nord, the byzantine regional and federalist party which is anti-EU and anti-Rome, fiercely proud of local traditions, socially-conservative, and essentially a party of the right (especially in its anti-immigration activism) yet containing many socialists, liberals and centrists too, who care more for their local area than they do about mere matters such as political philosophy. We remind the leader that we had met previously, at Wembley Stadium, no less, and exchanged happy banter, even though he is Legia Nord and we are socialists. “Of course I forget you if you are socialist!” he laughs amiably, and then says, perfectly seriously, “We need more socialists in Italy. All our socialists are not really socialists, they all agree with the right. This is not good for democracy. How do you like the risotto? It is a local speciality. Best risotto in Italy! More wine?”

panatonneAnd his colleague at the next table waves his serviette in the air as he makes an important debating point about bureaucrats in Brussels and sets it alight on the candle, which seems as good a reason as any for everyone to adjourn to the doorway for a cigarette. And the wind has dropped so the sky is clear and cold, and in the distance a police siren cuts through the still and smoky air and the patron announces “We have Panettone!” which is served with sweet mascarpone cream and it is explained that this doughy, fruit-filled dish is really only served on Christmas Day, but in honour of our visit they have made it specially tonight. And our hosts make it clear that they, not us, are paying for dinner, and we must come again soon. And they really mean it. And everywhere is smiles and gentility and the Gods of football work their magic.

And tomorrow, naturally, the trains are all on strike, so we will not be visiting the Cathedral to see the Last Supper, so we will have time to write this.

And it is beautiful. They are beautiful. Life is beautiful. Italy is beautiful.

And mad. But mainly beautiful.

Save

Bobbing along

 

Well, Dear Reader, a very Happy Christmas and a Bonnie Hogmanay and 2016 to you.

We have been a little remiss in not posting much in the last few days due to two simple and conjoined facts: one, Mr and Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink are officially on holiday, (on a swanky cruise ship, no less), and two, the internet is so cripplingly expensive that we decided to hold off a few days before plunging headlong into our usual travel-ese. That this has kept us off the all-consuming Facebook has been a relaxing coincidence.

We are, in fact, swooshing up from Sydney to Vanuatu and New Caledonia for a brief and – trust us – well-deserved break, and so as we write we are somewhere south of Lougainville and north of Port Vila in international waters off Vanuatu. It’s easy to work out that we’re in international waters, because the casino is open.

There, a bunch of dour Chinese and one cheery Brit will take your money with remarkable rapidity if you absolutely can’t think of anything else to do at all, and you have to be somewhat desperate as there are at least three trivia competitions running concurrently 24 hours a day, and the brain training they offer is free – and we simply luuuurve trivia competitions – so you’d have to be dead keen on the masochism of cards, craps and roulette to spend too much time buried there in the bowels of the vessel.

Then again, we did notice some other people actually winning, which is somewhat of an alien concept to us, so maybe we just haven’t got the knack of it yet. After thirty years playing Blackjack, and almost invariably losing, we are close to assuming the knack will never arrive. Or that there is, in fact, no knack to be got. But we are not quite at that point yet.

And then again, again, there do seem to be a large percentage of young couples in there, with her gazing adoringly up into his eyes, as he rashly slams down another $20 to buy a card on twelve, and ends up duly eviscerated with 22. It’s as if, time after time, the young lad is saying to his belle, “there be no dragons around for me to slay on your behalf, sweet Princess, so have a look at how painlessly I can lose a week’s wages while you watch”. Maybe it’s not masochism but rather machismo that’s on display. Indeed, it deserves it’s own word. Masochismo works.

As first time cruisers, we have been simultaneously entranced, horrified, and sometimes simply bemused by the experience.

It’s hard, for example, not to simply sigh with pleasure when this greets you as you sit down to write.

 

IMG_4966

 

Cruising is gaining rapidly in popularity around the world as the new “go to” middle class vacation. We say “middle class” because the upper classes only cruise in uber-luxury mini-liners with 20 guests and 437 crew, either on a bateaux of their own or at a pinch a ship owned by a friend or even a discrete tour company called something like BlueOcean Wanderer – the name chosen to imply “unhurried, un-shackled, off the beaten track, and above all, daahling, no middle class people”. (We apologise in advance to the owners of BlueOcean Wanderer, which no doubt exists somewhere.)

The poor can’t afford anything more than a quick trip up and down their local capital city waterway on a Sunday. Even if they plumped for an interior cabin and no drinks package* – of those, more later – they couldn’t chuff up the vast sums cruise companies charge for all-you-can-eat corned beef hash** – more on that later, too – and hot and cold running 70s music trivia.

Which leaves us ensconced with our fellow middle-class pretend-riche, some of whom are very nice, and some of whom are utterly horrid. A bit like life in general, really, but with waves.

We have discovered that we can ascertain someone’s status back on dry land pretty accurately by the grade of orange in their fake tan – the more orange, the more entre nous – and their level of bling.

Bling is in inverse proportion to social status. A discrete golden chain married to a demure and only half-awful pair of what used to be called Bermuda shorts suggests an accountant in training, or a teacher. Especially with a tired looking wife and squalling toddler in tow.

When blinded by what looks like half of Australia’s national debt coiled round and round a neck the size of a small bull matched with a disturbingly tight pair of bathers revealing, as it were, a substantial package, you can pretty much assume “delivery driver who earns twice what you do, but who missed out on Mrs Dalyrymple’s finishing school”. And that’s just the girls.

Most of the passengers are white. Most of the staff aren’t. Many of the staff are from the world’s low-income countries –  Indonesia, Philippines, India, Bangladesh, China, South Africa, Mexico – and they work very long hours and extremely hard. It’s also easy to assume that they get paid the best part of bugger all, as the cruise line charges a quick and easy 18% “gratuity” charge on everything you spend on board – although one has no way of knowing whether that gratuity charge actually gets to the workers, or if it does, whether that simply makes up a substantial portion of their wages, thus reducing the wage bill of the employer.

One is also encouraged to tip exceptional service directly, which means that 95% of the staff are obsequiously gracious, ineffably cheery and obsessively intrusive the entire time.

This is due to a number of factors – including their quite and innate genuine niceness – but also very clearly their desire to get tipped.

To an egalitarian Aussie eye it appears forced, and demeaning, for both staff and customer. It is, of course, the “American way”, a country where a campaign to establish a national wage of just $15 an hour has been met with furious opposition from employers happier to pay $6-10 an hour. To put that in perspective, Miss Wellthisiswhatithink gets A$25 an hour for babysitting/nannying, and wouldn’t accept less, nor would it be offered.

 

Cocktails. Or as the young and restless with a drinks package call them, "Breakfast".

Cocktails. Or as the young and restless with a drinks package call them, “Breakfast”.

 

The other outcome of this low wage environment is that all staff – and we mean all staff – seem utterly preoccupied with selling drinks packages*, whereby one (outrageously expensive) daily charge covers all your drinks, except top shelf stuff, but where that tariff is set so high that you basically have to set out determinedly to drink your weight in rum and coke from about 10am every morning to get your money’s worth. Selling a package equals kudos, and job security.

For the delivery van drivers this temporarily-arranged alcoholism isn’t a problem, so long as there’s going to be a decent break between them getting off the ship and getting back behind the wheel, and they are all cheerfully smashed pretty much 24-seven. For those who don’t wish to be unsteady on our feet by lunchtime, or who want to avoid falling overboard, it’s an egregious waste of money.

But every time one orders a drink or a bottle of wine – which are triple or quadruple what one would pay in Australia for very average drops – one is incredulously asked “You don’t have a package, Sir?” and the sales spiel starts again while you feel obliged to dream up new excuses for your parsimony. It is, in a word, bloody annoying. Two words.

 

"Hello Ladies."

“Hello Ladies.”

 

The English language skills of the staff also often leave much to be desired, but the effect is also frequently very funny.

Watching a diminutive high-pitched Chinese waiter go up to a table full of six giant buffed Aussie blokes and start with a squeaky “Hello, Ladies, my name is Kwan and I am your waiter tonight … now, ladies, I just need to tell you about our wine special for this evening” has it’s own wonderful schadenfreude.

Needless to say, the Aussie blokes are both too polite and too anal to correct him, so night after night the cabaret repeats.

The world that is today intrudes on our idyll every time anyone wants to get on and off. Security is as fierce as at any airport, with sniffer dogs checking for bombs, and machines that go ping scanning us all on at initial embarkation and on and off whenever there is a shore excursion. I am not sure what they think we’ll be bringing back on board – nerve-gas-infused coconuts? – but it seems churlish to object and no one does. This is the one place that all the smiles disappear to be replaced with rapt attention and scowls. We are not aware that the South Pacific is a key target for terrorists of any ilk, but “you can’t be too careful nowadays”. The security officer busting a quick dance move to SuperTrooper by Abba which was blasting out to keep us amused was a welcome and timely diversion from pondering just how depressing much of the world has become. Before we left from Sydney we happened across two Border Force (customs) personnel taking snap after snap of the Sydney Opera House on their iPhones from an upper deck of the ship. “Refuse to believe that’s security focused” we opined. “Nope,” said one, “We just don’t get up here much.”

Somehow their extra-curricular casualness made us feel safer, rather than worried. But somewhere, as we write these words, we know this very scene will be stolen by a hack writer in Hollywood and coming soon to a screen near you will be pictures of the soul-less terrorist or brutal bank robber unknowingly snapped by a bludging Border Force officer, which happy chance is the vital clue that leads to their discovery and arrest. You heard it here first.

 

Corned Beef Hash

All hail the Hash

 

Which leads us, tortuously but inevitably, to the corned beef hash**. Which delightful concoction, as we haven’t traveled all that much in the USA, was a very pleasant and new experience for us, and which we have been devouring assiduously since Day 1. Corned beef, (yes, like the stuff that comes in tins), onions, and potatoes. Hashed. And fried. From the French, hacher. (Never let it be said our writing is not educational.) Or as the civilised world would call it, mashed.

Despite being a cholesterol bomb it is, quite simply, delicious, and goes perfectly with eggs and bacon and baked beans and tomatoes and fried bread and anything else one can squeeze onto one’s all-you-can-eat breakfast plate. Or plates. And it is matched very well with scaldingly hot American coffee, too, which actually isn’t anything like as bad as everyone else likes to pretend. Provided one adds lashings of milk. When drunk black it is indeed unpotable bitter mud and would be better used as tar on the bottom of passing leaky native canoes.

What is really interesting about the corned beef hash – beyond its Satanic moreishness – is that it appears to be comprised of at least 50% salt.

As was the buerre blanc on the escargots, the bifteck minute which was cut so thin that anything over thirty seconds would turn it into leather, and the beouf bourgingon which had no discernible red wine in it (not even the cheap crap; it hadn’t even had an open bottle of cheap crap waved anywhere near it) but plenty – plenty – of salt.

We are most grateful that our arteries are only temporarily being loaned to America. God knows how anyone there over the age of 50 ever survives their middle age – their blood pressure must be at least 200 over 120. In all seriousity, the difference between the two cuisines is stark. The food quality is genuinely pretty good, especially considering the number of people being fed, (nigh-on constantly), but the salt content of many dishes would put the Dead Sea to shame. We reckon someone, somewhere, as we speak, is injecting honeydew melons with salt water.

The cheese is, needless to say, inedible.

Anyhow, tonight is New Year’s Eve, meaning we are now going off to be dragooned into a mass party (all dressed in formal clothes, no less), by our talented and relentlessly cheerful MC/Factotum/Trivia Quizmaster/Tour Director, who will cram us into a small and sweaty space to shout “Ten, nine, eight, seven …” before what seems like ten thousand yellow balloons are dropped on our heads, and everyone starts kissing each other frantically.

As the outbreaks of Norovirus on cruise ships has led them to placing hand sanitisers everywhere – Heaven forfend that you would try and get into a restaurant without the cheery chappy from Indonesia squirting germ killer onto your hands – “Time for Washy-Washy! Time for Washy-Washy!” – there’d be a bells going off and a near riot if you tried to sneak past un-washy-washied – one would imagine that thousands of extremely drunk and hot strangers kissing each other repeatedly might not be the wisest activity. But hey, when in Rome.

More tomorrow. After the trivia, natch.

The very name Mumbles sets one wondering what sort of a place is known by such a fascinating name. Now a suburb of Swansea in South Wales, Mumbles was where my relatives lived when I was a child, and the scene of a hundred happy holidays.
The headland is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands which comprise the headland, as the name could well be derived from either the Celtic, Latin and then French words for “breasts”.
Its famous lighthouse was built during the 1790s and was converted to solar powered operation in 1995. The nearby pier was opened in 1898 at the terminus of the Mumbles Railway, which in its time was one of the oldest passenger railways in the world. (The railway closed in 1960.) These days the name ‘Mumbles’ is given to a district covering the electoral wards of Oystermouth with its eponymous castle ruin, Newton, West Cross and Mayals.
mumbles panorama

Mumbles pier on the left, and the two islands with lighthouse on the right

Apart from being very pretty and a fun place to visit in its own right, Mumbles marks the beginning of the Gower Peninsula’s coastline, one of the most exquisite areas of natural beauty in Europe. A series of small coves and beaches, often relatively deserted even in high summer, offer much to recommend both the fossicker and the lazier occupant alike. The area is also well-known for a huge variety of “fresh off the boat” seafood, and has become something of a foodie’s stop off with excellent locally-created chocolate and ice cream as highlights.

 

Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Oystermouth Castle, which actually nestles right in the middle of the village, is well worth a visit, just off a busy shopping street. There are 600 castles in Wales, but there aren’t many which come with a better view than this one, looking out over Swansea Bay.

Over recent years the castle has undergone conservation work to ensure its structure is safe and sustainable for the foreseeable future. Now the public can explore parts of the castle that have been hidden away for centuries and learn about the castle’s exciting history.

Features include ancient graffiti art from the 14th century, plus people can come and explore the medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases and enjoy the magnificent views over the Bay from the 30 foot high glass bridge.

oystermouth

 

When I was a littlie, the family’s home was just around the corner from Mumbles, on a high ridge overlooking Langland Bay. Often forgotten in favour of more obviously picturesque and wilder bays both before and after it, Langland always called to me to ramble for hours with its mesmeric wide and sandy beach and Victorian foreshore, full of bathing huts and ice cream opportunities.

 

langland

There used to be a really excellent hotel overlooking the Bay, called, logically, Langland Bay Hotel, and the views from its massive picture windows as one enjoyed a dry sherry and then roast beef and Yorkshire Pud was simply breathtaking. 

I recall starched white tablecloths and napkins, and smiling Welsh waitresses squeezed into slim-fitting 1930s maids uniforms. (By the time I was old enough to enjoy a Sunday lunch sherry I was beginning to notice such things.) With a sad inevitability the hotel was turned into holiday flats which probably yielded much more money for its owners, but robbed the rest of us of a great cultural artefact.

In fact, the sea front of Langland and the adjacent Rotherslade, or ‘Little Langland’ as it is sometimes known, were once the location for three hotels: the Langland Bay, the Ael-y-Don, and the Osborne; and three further hotels – the Brynfield Hotel, the Langland Court, and the Wittemberg – were located in the immediate hinterland. 

All but one have closed over the past forty years, and have been replaced with apartments (Langland Bay, Osborne and Ael-y-don), converted to a nursing home (Brynfield), or closed down and sadly subjected to arson attacks (Langland Court and, previously, the Osborne). The Wittemberg was partially demolished and re-opened in its original Victorian core as the Little Langland Hotel.

 

Langland Bay - UK

 

By far the most dominant building on the Bay, built in the mid-nineteenth century and backing on to the Newton Cliffs, was originally known as Llan-y-Llan. Built in dramatic Scottish Baronial style by the Crawshay family, the Merthyr Tydfil Ironmasters, it was used as their summer residence. In the first part of the 20th century it later became part of the Langland Bay Hotel, and later again, when I was a child, it was the Club Union Convalescent Home for coal miners. I would sit on the tables outside chatting to the hoary old miners, nursing their pints and coughing up black bile from their lungs. For a nicely brought up middle-class kid their stories were eye openers, and induced in me a horror of the social effects of coal mining that has never left me. After a period of closure it has been renamed Langland Bay Manor and has also been converted into luxury apartments.

 

Siseley's painting, "On the cliffs, Langland Bay". I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle's home, Kylemore.

Sisley’s painting, “On the cliffs, Langland Bay”. I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle’s home, Kylemore.

I was by no means the first to become enchanted by the area. In 1897 the French Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley made two watercolours of Langland Bay, while on honeymoon, staying at the Osborne Hotel. Over twenty paintings resulted from his visit to Penarth and the Gower and two of them are now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

As well as the beach huts that still exist, Langland Bay was famous for its ‘community’ of green canvas beach tents. These were erected annually, usually between April and early September, on the stoney storm beach in front of the promenade. A much-loved local spectacle was the early September ‘spring tide watch’ when rough seas would occasionally cause the loss of one or two. Somewhat safer and more sheltered on the higher ground of the Langland Bay Golf Club, a magnificent course which abuts the Bay on the western side, where a further two rows of tents were permitted. All sadly succumbed to vandalism in the 1970s.

Langland Bay has always been a site of sports innovation. Every year in the early 1960s local teenagers becoming amongst the first in the country to take up American innovations such as skimboarding, and surfing,

You can checkout the essential idea in the video.

Whilst I never took up surfing, I enthusiastically embraced skimboarding on the vast flat beach over which the sea would roll in and provide a perfect environment with hundreds of metres of calm water just an inch or two deep. Those who are still aficionados of skimboarding and surfing  (unlike your near-retired correspondent, Dear Reader) will enjoy checking out the live webcams of the area which are here during local daylight hours.

Anyway, forgive us for wandering down memory lane to no great purpose. If you’re ever near South Wales, we warmly recommend you to visit this area.

 

lava bread

 

And if you do drop in, make sure you taste the local delicacy, called laver bread, which is essentially stewed seaweed. Not only is it an authentic memory of the folk diet of the area, it is also delicious, and incredibly good for you. Try it warmed through in the fat from the bacon which you just cooked yourself for breakfast.

If you can, chuck on some of the local cockles, too – but don’t forget a healthy slosh of dark malt vinegar on them, without which they are only half as good.

Laver cultivation as food is thought to be very ancient, though the first mention was in Camden’s Britannia in the early 17th century. It is plucked from the rocks and given a preliminary rinse in clear water. The collected laver is repeatedly washed to remove sand and boiled for hours until it becomes a stiff, green mush. In this state, the laver can be preserved for about a week. Typically during the 18th century, the mush was packed into a crock and sold as “potted laver”.

Laver and toast

 Cultivation of laver is typically associated with this part of Wales and further along the coast towards Pembrokeshire although similar farming methods are used at the west coast of Scotland.

Laver is excellent eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton. A simple preparation is to heat the laver and to add butter and the juice of a lemon or Seville orange.

Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) is a traditional Welsh delicacy made from laver. To make laverbread, the seaweed is boiled for several hours, then minced or pureed. The gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and is generally coated with oatmeal if it is to be fried.

Laverbread can also be used to make a sauce to accompany crab or monkfish, etc., and to make laver soup (Welsh: cawl lafwr).

The most famous actor ever produced by the area. Richard Burton, was quoted as describing laverbread as “Welshman’s caviar”.

Yum!

I can’t be wittering on about politics and social matters constantly. Hard as it may be to believe, Dear Reader, even I like just celebrating the simple wonders of the world around us, sometimes. So when I came across this collection of photos of sea slugs – thanks Yahoo – I wanted to share them. As you may recall, Dear Reader, sea slugs interest me. What can I tell you? Everyone’s gotta have a hobby …

Unfortunately the slugs in my garden do not look anything like the slugs that inhabit our coastal waters. And they love baby lettuces. Anyone got a better trap for slugs than a Vegemite lid filled with beer, please share.

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Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don't, if you see what we mean.

Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don’t, if you see what we mean.

 

Many, many moons ago, years ago now, the Wellthisiswhatithink household decided to stop eating margarine, especially polyunsaturated margarine, and to resume eating butter.

We stopped using soybean oil (like Canola) for cooking, and starting using fat-saturated coconut oil or monounsaturated olive oil instead.

In the case of the writer, Dear Reader, one’s cholesterol level and blood pressure fell. Our cholesterol level fell substantially, actually.

With the passion of the newly-converted we told everyone we knew that polyunsaturated oil turns into trans-fatty acids at body temperature – let alone when cooked –healing-miracles-coconut-oil-third-edition-bruce-fife-paperback-cover-art and that trans-fatty acids were deadly to humans.

We also told them repeatedly of the healing miracle that is coconut oil, which we discovered quite by chance when we were employed to write the marketing letter to get people to buy the book, which we devoured almost as enthusiastically as we did the product.

We recommend the book. A must read if you’d like to avoid a bunch of nasty modern illnesses.

Anyhow, within the last few months, scientists have caught up. Suddenly researchers all over the world are on the bandwagon for butter.

Well, we hesitate to say we told you so, but, we told you so.

Ponder this:

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to "Milk cow, churn milk."

 

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to “Milk cow, churn milk.”

And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

Hilarious story today about the typical computer-driven lunacy that is Facebook. Well known for suspending accounts willy nilly with no human involvement or appeal, the internet giant has now surpassed even its own previous levels of annoying behaviour.

As it seems every news outlet on the planet has reported,  Facebook user has told how he was banned from the site for saying: “I like faggots.”

Food lover Robert Wilkes, 54, was recalling his fondness for a classic English dish from his childhood.

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guiy Fawksey without warning.)

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guy Fawksey without warning.)

Faggots are meatballs traditionally hand-made with offal by butchers and served with mashed spuds and peas. (And onion gravy – see recipe below – Ed.)

Wilkes says he was bewildered when his Facebook account was shut for 12 hours for using “homophobic language”.

Ah, but of course. In the interconnected world we live in, cultural imperialism rules. In the United States, the word “faggot” is offensive slang for homosexual.

Wilkes, a former Ministry of Defence guard who grew up in the West Midlands, told The Sun newspaper: “It may have a different meaning in America but I used it in a food context. Facebook allows beheading videos, cruelty to animals, stabbing and terrible swear words – but not this. It’s political correctness gone mad.”

We can only agree. Especially as the same annoyance happened to Eileen Perkins, 68, when she discussed her favourite dish on the user-unfriendly website.

Meanwhile, in case you are moved to try the aforementioned delicacy (and we strongly recommend it) here’s a good recipe we found.

Faggots are an old-fashioned British food, and one that has sadly fallen out of favor in recent years. Traditionally Faggots are made from offal, usually pork, and from the bits of the animal that are generally discarded; the heart, the liver etc making Faggots a cheap and nutritious dish, as in this faggot recipe.Birmingham and the Midlands are considered the home of Faggots in Britain, along with South and Mid Wales, but with the revival of Faggots, they are now eaten all over the UK. Our personal favourite used to be in the supermarket freezer, made by a company called Brains as you can see in this TV commercial from 1980.
 
 
And as you can see here, although the packaging and brand name have undergone a bit of an update, they are still available.Faggots are traditionally eaten with mushy peas, mashed potatoes and onion gravy.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz/110g pork shoulder, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz/ 110g pig’s iiver, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz/250g fatty belly pork, roughly choppped
  • 4 oz/110g bacon scraps
  • 4 oz/ 110g bread crumbs
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Caul fat* or streaky bacon

Preparation:

Serves 4

Pre-heat the oven to 445°F/170°C/Gas 3

  • Mince all the roughly chopped meats, if you don’t have a mincer, then chop in a food processor.
  • Place the minced meat into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, spices and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • Divide the mixture into 8 and shape into balls.
  • Wrap each ball in caul or streaky bacon. Make sure the caul or bacon overlaps as it will seal as it cooks and hold the faggots together.
  • Place the faggots onto a baking sheet and bake in the hot oven for 50 – 60 minutes.

What to Serve with Faggots

Traditionally, faggots would be served, hot from the oven with creamy, mashed potatoes, and peas, preferably mushy peas and lashings of rich, thick onion gravy.

*Caul is the membrane which holds in animal organs and it makes a good container for the faggots. If you can’t get caul, then use strips of streaky bacon. One small change we would make to the recipe, we’d lose the chilli and add extra pepper. White, if you can still find it. The taste will be more traditional.

O. M. G. You have no idea ...

O. M. G. You have no idea …

Oh thank you! WordPress today “Freshly Pressed” this marvellous blog, which I shall immediately subscribe to, and I warmly recommend their recipe for the ineffably wonderful “Welsh Cakes”.

You may have seen an exceptionally poor piece of doggerel I wrote about Wales on March 1st, but this yummy treat is a much better way to celebrate Dydd Gŵyl Dewi.

Mum used to make them, and they were always the sweetest, most scrumptious memory of my family in Swansea that would be possible.

http://edibleswansea.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/chapatti-pan-and-spice-st-davids-day-welsh-cakes/

What I think I love about them most is how they are truly representative of a genuine Welsh cuisine.

When Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I first got together she cheerfully disposed of any British food as “something that looks vaguely brown and solid and lies flat on the plate”. And frankly, at the time, if you were going to rely on the type of food served up in restaurants (with the exception of the exquisite curry houses on every street corner) then her criticism was well-founded, and some would say, still is.

But the ethnic cooking of Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland was always there, sliding by under the radar, hidden away in the miniature kitchens of millions of working class households, like a silent language linking us all to a simpler – and more delicious – past.

So I strongly recommend you jump over to Edible Swansea and make a note of their Welsh Cakes recipe right now. And better still, rustle up a batch tonight.

http://edibleswansea.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/chapatti-pan-and-spice-st-davids-day-welsh-cakes/

It’s a funny coincidence, but last night we dined on one of my mother’s other favourite recipes, Boiling Fowl in Caper Sauce.

This is also about the easiest “gourmet quality” dish to cook in the world.

The dictionary describes a “boiling fowl” as a mature hen of about 2 years of age, suitable for eating but which requires prolonged cooking.

And in truth, of course, that is what they were – “layers” that had stopped laying – and in the cruel world of a working class Victorian backyard that meant a quick bonk on the back of the head, plucking, and into the pot to bubble away gently for hour after hour until the meat (strongly-flavoured comnpared to a younger bird) fell away from the bones and became gelatinously, shiningly slippery-soft and sweet.

Smothered in a white sauce dotted with plenty of plump, acidic capers and served with homely vegetables cooked in the same pot, plus plenty of mashed potato and hard rye bread to mop up any left over sauce, it was then, and is now, one of the ultimate “comfort food” treats of a winter’s evening.

Low fat and healthful too. The stock left over after the cooking makes a wonderful base for any soup or stew.

The recipe below can be varied to suit your personal tastes, but don’t add too much in the way of additional seasoning or you will mess with the essential rustic simplicity of the dish.

We cooked up a couple of large “Chicken Marylands”, which is cheating, but in today’s modern world finding a real boiling fowl has become ironically rather difficult in urban areas. If you can’t find a nice tough old bird to soften up, then any skin-on chicken will do, but don’t cook “off the bone” chicken breasts and suchlike this way because they eventually just disintegrate to nothing, and anyway, you want all the flavour and fat that comes from the bones and skin.

If you don’t like eating meat on the bone, don’t worry, because by the time it’s finished the meat will fall off any bones at the merest nudge of a fork’s tip.

This is vaguely the look you’re aiming for – now add mash and veggies and dream of Gareth Edwards playing for the Lions …

Variations of this great Welsh dish pop up all over the world – its served with fettucini in Italy, with beanshoots in China – revealing its ancient provenance.

And Jewish people insist – with some scientific support – that it acts as a natural antibiotic, as does the resulting soup.

So if you’re currently suffering with snow and colds in the northern Hemisphere, you could do a lot worse than to cheer yourself up with this quintessentially natural dish. From my mother to you – enjoy.

(PS The upsurge of interest in the UK in eating mutton – thanks to the campaigning of the Prince of Wales – that is to say older sheep who have past their lambing days – offers another opportunity for this recipe, because mutton goes wonderfully well with capers too. You can roast or boil the mutton according to your personal taste.)

BETTY’S BOILING FOWL

1. Take one whole boiling fowl minus the guts. Oil the skin and roast in a hot oven just until the skin takes on some colour OR take your chicken pieces (skin on, bone in) and brown on the stove top in a frying pan with a little oil.

The goal is to caramelise the skin, not to cook the chicken.

2. Remove the chicken from the heat and grab your biggest pot. Put a little fat or oil in the bottom – in the old days it would have been lard, but today probably olive oil will mean fewer frowns from the diet nazis. Chuck in a few finely chopped cloves of garlic, about one and a half casually sliced and strongly-flavoured onions, a sizeable pinch of salt and grate in a decent amount of black pepper or roughly crush some peppercorns and chuck them in. Stir steadily over medium heat for about two-three minutes but don’t let the garlic or onions take on any colour.

3. Chuck in a good double handful of diced carrots, by which I mean three or four good sized carrots. Chop up a celery stick or two into small pieces and add that too. Stir for another minute. Roughly chopped turnips or parsnip can also go in there if you like them: personally I think they skew the flavour base too much and I don’t enjoy them especially.

4. Place the chicken or chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and cover the whole lot with water. Choose one herb of your personal liking and throw a decent wodge of that in too – fresh is best but dried will do, just remember the flavour is more intense and use less – a bay leaf or two works well, so does basil, so does thyme, so does parsley, so does rosemary, so does tarragon, so does sage. All go well with chicken: the most amenable of meats.

Don’t use a bouquet garni or a hodge-podge collection of herbs or you will overwhelm what you’re trying to achieve.

Go on, you know you want to. In Wales, it should be a pint of Felinfoel Double Dragon ...

Go on, you know you want to. In Wales, it should be a pint of Felinfoel Double Dragon …

5. Bring to the boil and then simmer on a gentle bubble, adding water if necessary but sparingly, (if you’re adding water you’re probably cooking the pot too fiercely), until you are ready to eat, provided and always that you aren’t ready to eat for at least 2 or 2.5 hours.

6. Just before you’re ready to eat, make your caper sauce. Take some of the liquor from the pan – just a tablespoon full or two or you will make the white sauce too brown looking – and with some water, white flour and a little butter make a classic pale roux.

Add warm (not hot) milk to make a medium-sticky sauce – it pours, but only just. Stir through plenty – plenty – of capers.

Serve with mash and bread and butter, spooning the veggies and the sauce over the chicken. When you’ve got all the veggies and chicken out of the pot, save the resulting stock, it’s liquid gold.

In today’s sophisticated world Betty’s Boiling Fowl should probably be served with any crisp, dry white wine like a good Aussie chardonnay, but for a change, why not plump for a good, chewy British “real ale”, which is how they would have enjoyed it years ago.

I see Choice magazine in Australia have analysed all the mueslis we eat (hey, that stuff has bits in it – it just has to be healthy, right?) and found out (now who would have guessed it?) that some of them are chock full of fat, and some also offer us alarming amounts of sugar. But never fear, Dear Reader. Your invesitgative reporter du jour has found a way to help you through the aisles.

Muesli

Muesli – is what you don’t know doing you harm?

If you, like me, are watching both fat and sugar, find out how good or bad your favourite bowl of cardboard is for you at this very useful page:

http://tinyurl.com/3etzqnc

As a general whinge, how I wish people would make more LOW GI bread and cereals.

They are the very devil to find, and everyone can benefit from eating low GI, let alone the fact that some two million Aussies are diabetic, and God knows what the number is in America and Europe.

I can’t believe that everyone isn’t rushing to plaster “LOW GI!” on all their products or reformulating them to make them so.

I love you.

I love you.

Oi! You lot! Manufacturers! Wise Up!

But big ups and hugs to the buyers at Coles in Australia that now stock a great new potato called Carisma that is Low GI.

Here’s a really useful bunch of Low GI recipes too. proving that eating healthily can be, er, well, bloody hard work frankly but enjoyable too.

Click this link to read a fun article called Stop Sausaging Around from See! Travel Mag.

I love the little story I have highlighted above, because it is all about sausages. In this case, German sausages, specifically. Go read that article then come back here 🙂

Sausage maker

You put the smergle in the kefuptnik, hit the guntraager button, unt out comes the wassenwitchit in one long line. Yumbo.

I love sausages so much I recently spent $250 on a genuine sausage maker.

I even bought proper pig’s intestine to form the casing of the sausages, not that horrid plastic stuff that commercial sausage makers make.

Then I went and sourced superb pork belly from the best butcher in Melbourne, and added in all the spices I wanted, following the recipes I had downloaded from the internet to the letter.

Mein Gott In Himmel! Do you guys have ANY idea how bad sausages are for us? They are little tubular fat and cholesterol BOMBS!

I ate them with one finger on my pulse, anxiously checking to ensure the pump was still beating. And that was the only time I made sausages. I will do so again, but I am letting my system adjust. I think it will be safe to eat another sausage in about, oh, say three months? I have even reduced my supermarket trawl for them, which could often lead to me eating sausages every day for a week. (And never getting bored.)

The home-made heart-stoppers were bloody delicious, mind you.

Actually, reading back, I think the only thing I can say is “Don’t play the sore liver sausage”  you wuss. Hang the risk, get sausage making again. Hmmmm. Tempting.

Anyhow, how brilliant is it to have a culture like the Dear Old Deutsch where sausages are so prevalent they even have sayings about them?

Actually, there’s an Aussie saying called “Sink The Sausage”  come to think of it. Not to mention “Hide the Baby Salami”.

English: Sausages, seen in Covered Market, Oxford.

Sausages, seen in Covered Market, Oxford. (Wikipedia)

They mean about the same thing. I’m sure you can work it out.

And now I’ve included them in this article, you can guarantee my story on sausages won’t get Freshly Pressed. Hey ho.

By the way, NEVER prick sausages to release the fat.*shakes in horror*

Defeats the whole purpose of making them. The trick to the puuuurfect sausage is to cook it slowly, turning constantly, over a low heat, until it is thoroughly cooked through and gently browned. Never pierce it with a fork or knife tip. Apart from losing lots of lusciousness, red hot pork fat in the eye hurts.

OK – I want to know YOUR favourite sausage, Dear Reader. Lincolnshire? Cumberland? Chicken with Chives? Duck with orange and sage? Italian? Or your favourite really silly sausage story. Or your best home-made sausage recipe – and if it’s good, I promise I will make a batch and post photos.

Yes, I think I will make some more sausages. Life’s too short. If I suddenly stop posting, you’ll know I have had a coronary, and life got even shorter. F*** it, eh?

There’s a persistent urban legends that the American snack cake, Twinkies, actually last forever due to the amount of preservatives they contain.  This myth seems to have been de-bunked and most estimates claim the real number is 25 days.

Canned Spam, on the other hands, is apparently good for around 10 years. I suspect this is an under-estimate. In the Well This Is What I Think household we recently ate some where the can label was printed in runes, and it was just fine.

“Fresh as the day she was landed, guv. Stand on me. Would I lie to you?”

Joking aside, food spoilage is a significant problem: 30% of all food in America, for example, spoils before being eaten and estimates are as high as 70% in developing nations.  Imagine if we could increase the amount of available food in the developing world by that 70%! Conquering this problem would not only mean a lot more people wouldn’t go hungry, but also the huge amounts of energy used in food production and transportation would not be burned off to no good purpose.

Spoilage is usually caused by bacteria.  New techniques for controlling bacteria place food in a plastic pouch and subject it to very high pressure (87,000 psi).  According to a recent Time article, fruit treated this way remained fresh for three years and a pork chop tasted ‘normal’ seven years later. The bride recently enjoyed a piece of cajun salmon which was suck-wrapped in a container that took fully ten minutes to get into and pronounced it delicious. Just think of all the extra exercise we’d get opening the packaging, too.

This technique could not only improve food safety but also significantly reduce the vast amount of energy we use to cool and store foods. Instead of all the bleating we hear in favour or against carbon taxes – or even, still, whether or not man-made global climate change is real (as my mother used to say, “There is none so blind as those who will not see”) – our governments and industries would do the world a big favour if they were to invest in such technologies, make them “tax advantageous” to overcome short-term cost implications for the food manufacturers, and thus see them used more widely.

The new packaging could also reduce – or eliminate the reason for – young people’s recent enthusiasm for “dumpster diving”. We have at least two nearby families whose young adults delight in invading the rubbish bins of nearby supermarkets for food that is past its “Use By” date but which they consider still edible. Some dumpster divers, who self-identify as freegans, aim to reduce their ecological footprint by living exclusively from dumpster dived goods.

We applaud the practical morality of these young people. Bravo. We just don’t visit their folks for dinner any more. Salmonella is such an unpleasant take-home gift.

Mind you, dumpster divers highlight a serious problem that would be addressed by breakthroughs in sterile packaging.

Irregular, blemished, or damaged items that are still otherwise functional are regularly thrown away. Discarded food that might have slight imperfections, that is near its expiration date, or that is simply being replaced by newer stock is often thrown away despite being still edible. Many retailers are reluctant to sell this stock at reduced prices due to the belief that people will buy it instead of the higher priced newer stock, that extra handling time is required, and that there are liability risks.

There now, bet you never knew an article on packaging could be interesting, right?

Nom, nom, nom.

PS  Here are some other popular myths about Twinkies for our American readers.

  1. Myth: Twinkies aren’t baked, but extruded in a process where sponge cake is made from a chemical reaction that causes a cake-like material to foam up, then coloured dark brown at the bottom to give the appearance of being baked.
    Fact:
    Twinkies are in fact baked and their primary ingredients are flour, sugar, and eggs.
  2. Myth: Twinkies contain a chemical used in embalming fluid which helps account for some of their extreme longevity.
    Fact: No, they don’t have any such thing.
  3. Myth: The Twinkie will last longer than the cellophane wrapper they’re wrapped in.
    Fact: After 25 days they get stale and go bad in a similar fashion to any other bread (supports the baked fact also).

Many, many moons ago, my mother’s family, on my grandmother’s side, (and we are talking about years with an 18 in front of them – imagine! People I actually knew!) hailed from Lincolnshire. From a town called Boston, to be precise. And today, one of my closest friends is from that country, entirely coincidentally.

So when Simon sent me news of this wonderful story, it was always going to end up in the blog.

Louth. Which for one glorious summers day, was not very couth. See what I did there?

For some time, the banger-munching burghers of Lincolnshire have been petitioning the European Community to have their famous Lincolnshire sausages declared a special species of snag – much as champagne can now only come from the actual area called Champagne in France, and so on, otherwise it must be called “Sparkling wine”.

And very wonderful they are too.

Sadly, the EC turned the Lincolshire-ites down, which given the EC is happy to regulate just about everything that happens within its borders without fear or favour seems slightly unfair. But undaunted, one local Mayoress nevertheless decided to dress up as a sausage when the Olympic torch rolled through town, to keep up the fight to publicise the wonderful local porky offering.

Never mind that sausages are commonly, in rough and ready yokel language, often used as a cipher for the male appendage. Never mind that the outfit she chose, (see below), looked uncommonly like, well, see for yourself.

It’s a, er, sausage. Honest, guv.

Louth Mayor Cllr Makinson-Sanders, for it is she, and her alter ego, the “happy sausage of Lincolnshire”.

Anyhow, the Mayor of Louth has made national headlines after an Olympic Torch Relay stunt – with many people saying her novelty sausage costume was mistaken for – OK, let’s say it – a penis.

As “This is Linconshire”  reports (whose server must surely have melted down overnight) Bill Nicholson, from Kidgate, wrote to every town councillor objecting and demanded that the mayoress be stopped.

He said: “The council chamber must put a stop to this embarrassment and restore some dignity to the people of Louth who do not want the local Olympic event hijacked for commercial reasons.

“To insult the whole spirit of the Olympic movement and the modest people who have carried the Torch is not in Louth’s interest.”

Despite this plea,  Makinson-Sanders secured the ‘phallic’ costume and stunned many residents in the Lincolnshire town who branded it ‘obscene’.

Mum-of-two Sandra Ellington, 38, said: “She probably thought she was being quite fun and quirky – but it backfired a little bit.

“People couldn’t take their eyes off her because it looks so rude. Her outfit certainly gained a few titters among the crowd.”

Comments on Wednesday’s story on This is Lincolnshire included: “The costume makes her look like a gentleman’s appendage,” and “she is clearly deluded if she thinks that costume looks anything like a sausage.”

Councillor Makinson-Sanders defended her actions, claiming that Louth Town Council had not been officially invited to have anything to do with the Olympic Torch or to meet the Torch and welcome it into the town.

“I was not attending in my capacity as mayor. I serve the town as mayor but only when invited to do so,” she said.

Some local residents have defended the mayoress – even praising her for being bold and imaginative initiative.

Patrick Neville, chairman of Louth Food and Drink group on Louth Town Partnership said: “She is doing what Louth richly deserves – getting us recognised as a food town of excellence. Rather than complain, these people should welcome the Mayor’s actions.”

Another commenter on this website added: “I think it is wonderful that people in higher places can prove that they are human. What a load of miserable so-and-so’s and total snobs we have. I think that she’s doing more for the Lincolnshire sausage than a bunch of Mayor’s chains could do.”

Some of the positive comments on the website really were delightful.

“Dress up like a sausage? Wrong or right, the girl’s got balls.” opined bwvixen.

Referring to a badge at the top of the story, opinionhated asked “Is the “trusted source” Brown or Tomato?”

smorrisey was clearly thinking things through. “I think the problem was that it was pink – maybe if they’d made it brown… oh, hang on!”

And the story duly reached the national press, undoubtedly the first time Louth ever has …

The British are wonderfully obsessed with body parts and smut. Frankly, the only thing the story is missing is a good fart joke or two. Anyway, I think it’s a lovely story, and on balance, I come down on the side of the brave Lady Mayoress. And you know what? If you disagree, well, frankly I think you’re being a bit of a, well, you know.

Titters.

Anyway, back to global warming, gay rights, Syria, and the Republican Party tomorrow. Not all in the same story, we trust.

And by the way, if all this has whetted your desire to put some sausage in your mouth, you’ll need this.


Lincolnshire Style Sausage, 2 Kg mix

1Kg Pork Shoulder
500g Pork Belly
270g Water (Chilled)
180g Rusk / Breadcrumb
50g Seasoning

Lincolnshire Sausage Seasoning

50g Salt
5g White Pepper
5g Black Pepper
5g Nutmeg
2g Mace
3g Ginger
1g Allspice
15g Dried sage
14g Corn flour
Mix all the above together until even in colour.

Preparation

1. Chill all meats well, 2 – 3 Hours
2. Chill the water in the refrigerator
3. Dice meats to fit the Mincer Throat – oo-er, missus – and return to refrigerator until ready to start
4. Weigh up the seasoning as above & weigh out the 50gm required
(Keep the rest in a screw top jar)
5. Weight up rusk or bread crumb – put to one side
6. Mince the meats through the blade of your choice (Course or fine)
7. Add meats to the bowl & fit onto the mixer with the K beater
8. Start the mixer on slow speed and add the seasoning
9. Add the chilled water and continue mixing on slow for the water to absorb this should take no more than 20 seconds.
10. Turn the mixer up to speed 4 and mix vigorously until the meat mixture looks sticky, again about 30 – 40 seconds.
(This is releasing myosin: the protein that sticks the sausage together & gives texture, rather like the gluten in bread.)
11. Add rusk or bread crumb & mix well in
12. If the mixture is wet or soft let it stand for a few minutes for the rusk/breadcrumb to re-hydrate.
13. Fill into suitable casings.
14. Allow to stand overnight to Bloom (Flavour Development).

By the way, do not – ever – prick sausages before eating. (Pun intended.) Seriously. Cook over a low heat until gently browned on all sides, thus containing the lovely juicy fat inside the casing.

You have been told.