Monday, May 22, 2006

Some current affairs.

I've been eating a bit rubbish lately. I'm trying to run down my cupboards, and also I'm in essay hell, so there is a high chocolate hob nob quota.
I know this is a food blog, but I've little culinary enjoyment to report at the moment, so I'm going to venture into a bit of a current affairs rant. Sorry...
Has anyone seen the latest TV advert from Christian Aid? It manages to patronise pretty much everyone. With the exception of the advertising company involved, who I can imagine are probably laughing their coked-up noses off.
Christian Aid is an actor, and to some extent an agency in international development. In this role the organisation imposes its reality of the world ('progress is good') on another part of the world and attempts to 'normalise' it according to this view of how reality should be. This is especially true of Christian Aid as it has a religious motivation.

The advert is aimed at a perceived - and rather patronising - western European view of developing countries - chickens running around mud huts, slightly simple African people doing their best. It does not seek to normalise that perception to western eyes by presenting the more real and more complex case, but instead chooses to reinforce this outdated, and frankly disgusting perception.

In this case, is it acceptable for an organisation like Christian Aid to attempts to 'normalise' realities in developing countries, but not in developed countries? Both are necessary in order for progress to occur. In adopting this approach, Christian Aid are actively (and expensively) supporting a cultural and intellectual hierarchy, while simultaneously promoting further ignorance at the top of that hierarchy.
Bloody idiots. There are better ways to give to developing countries:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rural Eating

3stan has issued me with a kick up the backside and requested that I write some more bloggage. Its been a while since my last post, but I have a valid excuse in that I’ve been poking around the lake district looking at Sellafield among other things.

I stayed at the youth hostel in Waterhead, with a fantastic view across the northern rim of lake Windermere. Its been a while since I last set foot in a youth hostel and I was pleasantly surprised by quality of the accommodation and the catering (yes, they do catering). Meals were hearty and wholesome, and ingredients were fresh and fairly local. The only fault lay with the catering staff, who seemed to be antipodean backpacker types with that attitude that is peculiar to them (and presumably to British back packers down under).

Lunch at Sellafield consisted of the usual cold buffet affair, bizarrely accompanied by a huge plate of chips. Apparently the chocolate cake was nice, but I was sick with a sense of foreboding. Sellafield is a creepy place, there are no birds like in concentration camps… a radioactive purgatory processing our nuclear sins.

Post-lakes I made my way down to Dorset for a weekend of unwinding with friends in a massive converted barn near Lyme Regis. For some reason the kitchen smelled like Sundays when I was a boy, when my mother made scones when Dad was at sea…

Anyhow, the highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to cook on an AGA. A marvellous experience for a weekend, but I’m not sure I’d want to maintain one full-time. The Saturday night feast was roast beef for 11, and I think everything went to plan. The roast potatoes were among the best I’ve done without flour and mustard powder.

Mrs Jiffler had the barn to ourselves for a couple of days and treated ourselves to various bits and pieces of Dorset seafood that we’d picked up in Lyme Regis. Our bag of (diver-caught) scallops smelled sweet like the seaside and I was almost tempted to slice a bit off raw for a nibble. I showed Mrs Jiffler how to cook them in simply in butter its safe to say that she is now a scallop convert, and I’m worried for the bank balance that these little alabaster muscles will find their way into the shopping bag on an all too regular basis.

Lovely prawns in garlic and white wine go down well with sticky fingers and bubble and squeak on the side. We should have bought half a dozen more and too hell with the cost. I also had opportunity to revisit the crab linguine, this time with a slosh of white wine for added moisture – just the trick, although I was a bit heavy handed with the cream this time.

Oh yeah, back in Manchester, just finished my tea. Roast Poussin (Spring Chicken) with spuds and a weird gravy made out of balsamic vinegar. There is Poussin stock in the fridge now, ready for a quick Tom Yam Gai to see me through this weekend’s essay action.
Thats all for now. The pressure is on a bit with essays and stuff at the moment. I've got some time off in a week or so there will be some serious kitchen action then I guess. I still haven't got around to the ready steady cook challenge, and I've got an octopus in the freezer that needs sorting out.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Mrs Jiffler and I spent Saturday at the wedding of some friends in Lincolnshire – a lovely, relaxed day in good company.

At the reception we discussed my blog with friends, and one of the table asked whether a review of the wedding breakfast would be appearing on the blog. After giving this some thought on the train home, I’ve decided that it might not be good form to review the food when someone else has paid for it! In any case, my piece of beef was lovely, and I could have knocked back the rather drinkable red all night. Lincolnshire is a good place to eat good British food, on the quiet I reckon it could outdo some more traditional foodie destinations such as Cornwall.

At the dinner table, a friend of mine mentions how my occasional casual blog references to past meals in obscure places amuse her. I’ve just revisited a few old blogs, and I can see how this might come across. Although I wish I could enjoy a sybaritic lifestyle, sampling the finest the world has to offer, that is sadly not the case, and many of my foreign feasts are either as a result of hard work, or have been enjoyed in the rather dull company of consultants and bureaucrats.

Anyhow, it got me thinking not just about great meals in appropriately exotic places (although I’d fly to Greece like a shot for some proper taramasalata if someone gave me a free ticket), but about great things I’ve eaten in unexpected or mundane places.

For example, forget Italy - the best Tiramisu I’ve ever tasted was a homemade effort at Frithville village hall, Lincolnshire. Profiteroles? In the small town of Guisborough in North Yorkshire… I also enjoyed possibly the best ever chilli con carne at the same house… Spag bol in Penysarn, Caesar salad in Beaumaris (both Anglesey) and Pastrami sandwiches in the Norwich student’s union in 1998. Bruschetta in Hemel Hempstead, Chicken Karahi and awesome roti in a stinking backstreet in Manchester, jerk chicken in Brixton, samosas in Leicester, thai fishcakes in Aberdeen…

Very few of these things came from professional kitchens, and were generally the product of creative home cooks who have put a bit of love into their cooking. Unfortunately one doesn’t get a Michelin star for knocking out a killer Tiramisu. Its made me think about how sometimes – rarely - I can put together a meal which is perfect and I can be really proud of, but more often than not my cooking output is simply ‘satisfyingly edible’ with the occasional bin scraper. I might choose a few classic dishes to really perfect, so that they can hold their own next to the Lincolnshire Tiramisu.

The other week...

Catching up (again)

Once again, I’ve been idling with the blog. I read a statistic that claimed that 45% of all bloggers stop posting within three months of starting a blog. I’ve done better than that, I guess, but there has been a bit of a dip since I got out of the habit when my laptop went in for repair.

Some highlights of the last week or so include a fish pie, cooked by my Dad in Wales, which had a great texture to the fish and mash. I had some ideas for improvements though, so might indulge in some healthy competition.

I had a chance to catch up with a couple of old school friends at the Bridge Inn in Menai Bridge. We strolled over the bridge from Bangor and enjoyed the first pub beer garden of the year. I was sceptical at first as the pub, in its previous incarnations, had always seemed a bit grotty. These thoughts were quickly dispelled by the range of well-kept ales behind the bar and the general professional air of the staff.

Gastro-pub style eating seems to have finally reached Anglesey, and is hopefully giving some of the old guard of rip-off joints a run for their money. I go for a shoulder of Anglesey lamb with mash and assorted veg. The lamb is superb – as Anglesey lamb always is, and the veg is fresh, seasonal, and perfectly cooked. Could Anglesey be experiencing the food revolution at last? Since it is home to some of the finest lamb, crab, lobsters and mussels in the UK I’d say its about bloody time.