Tag Archives: Food

Not found in the guide book

We’re all settled in now at our little Paris apartment. Stumbling over our rusty (In my case almost seized solid from disuse) French. But we’re making an effort. Which is probably why the waiting staff, and everyone generally, have been so nice to us so far. So any rudeness, intransigence or sarcasm will have to be overheard. Drat. How am I to learn?

Never mind. Last night Mrs S and I dropped by a Fondue house. Specifically this one. Which was an education. Now in all the guide books and Rick Steves / Anthony Bourdin YouTubes we’ve watched, the art of Fondue is rarely covered. And it is an art. From the well known Fondue pot (Not those prissy little stainless steel things, but the big, fcuk off cast iron variety) to the oddity of ‘Raclette‘ where a third of a 6kg (13-14lbs for those of an imperial bent) wheel of semi soft Swiss cheese is fixed in a weird looking rig and subjected to a heating element so it melts, to be scraped off onto bread, or meats, pickles or anything. At the time we didn’t know what these strange objects were, so like the cowards we sometimes are, or in this case still too jet lagged to really enjoy things, opted for a salad and a half bottle of decent red while we peoplewatched.

For my smoking friends on my sidebar, as for the ‘smoking ban’ so rigorously prosecuted back at home, lets just say the French have perfected the art of the shrug. That gentle juggling of shoulders which means “So what?” Which is the attitude applied to the smoking ban, now enshrined in law throughout much of Europe and the Anglophone West. None of this ‘No smoking by anyone near anything anywhere or even looking at a cigarette at all- ever’ rules. M’sieur wishes to smoke? Just outside the door, under that nice snug little awning out of the immediate draught. Okay? As Mrs S and I had elected to eat at an outside table, the waitress, determined to practice her English on us, seemed surprised that we didn’t smoke, and there were children under five at the next table! Mon dieu! Call Les Pompiers! (Fire brigade) Whose van was round the corner while the lads were bunking off for a quiet Gauloise at the next Bar Tabac.

Paris isn’t a clean place. It’s busy and inexplicably dusty at present. Which if you’re overly houseproud or germ phobic might lead to a touch of the vapours. Off the main boulevards, down the side streets it’s all narrow sidewalks and busy people. Motorcycles and scooters parked on every space unoccupied by cafe tables. It’s hard to take your time unless you do so assertively. Give people room to get by and you’ll do fine. You will get bumped and barged if you’re in the way. Get used to it. You’re a touriste and therefore fair game. The locals walk briskly and with purpose. They have places to be, there’s not much room, and if you’re in the way; move it, sucker. Pavement (Sidewalk) dawdling and window shopping is best reserved for those days when the locals are still in bed or at work.

As we headed from Gare Du Nord via taxi, at Place De La Republic there was a noisy demonstration of sorts going on. More like a concert than a demo. According to our driver it was a strike. When asked who by or what it was about, our man said he didn’t know or care. “There’s one every day.” He explained as he squeezed our cab through gaps with barely a cards breadth between them. Man, I am glad we didn’t hire a car. Paris driving is no place for the faint of heart.

BTW; today’s post was written while wearing my PJ trouser’s and brand new blue paisley dressing gown. I may go out wearing a bow tie this evening. I have brought two, one formal black and the other a genteel metallic paisley pattern picked up before we left London. Just in case Mrs S steers me into an establishment where ties are required. At which juncture I will defiantly tie it in sight of the Maitre ‘D (None of these cheap ready mades for me – no style whatsoever).

Hey, I’m on holiday. Meanwhile, back over the Channel, some sore losers have been kicking off because the voters didn’t see things their way. Ah, les pauvre petits. Wnakers. Bless.

Still feeling a little carp

Well wasn’t that fun young Bill? Well, actually a clear and resounding ‘No’. Not a fun bout of the dreaded Lurgi at all. My chest is still a little sore, with leftover muscle aches from all the coughing and spluttering which has seen me consigned to the spare bedroom for over a week. “One of us has got to get some sleep dear.” Said my good lady wife, pointedly shutting the door on my palsied frame.

The green chunks have faded to clear, my snottiness quotient is now at more or less normal levels, and I am a functioning human being again. Feeling thankful that bouts of this kind are few and far between. Still feeling a little carp, but that’s to be expected.

Feeling a little Carp Normal sarcasm levels will be restored as soon as I’ve got a handle on what they should be anyway.

In the meantime, doubt is being cast (yet again) on those ‘Government Health Guidelines’ this time on salt. When you actually read the article and see the various assumptions the original researchers made, the light should dawn. The prodnoses have it wrong yet again. Or should we say ‘as usual’?

Soup day

Every so often on non-work days, maybe once every month I have what I call a ‘cooking day’. Not really a day, usually just four hours maximum, where I cast my cares aside and focus on a manual task while my subconscious does all the heavy lifting. At the moment this is because I have a knotty legal problem which I am reluctant to hand on to my legal Piranhas because it involves a family member. However, I have firmly informed said family member that while we may not quite be in the last chance saloon, I’m definitely outside the door perusing the menu. As a last ditch measure I’ve enlisted the assistance of other family members who are trying to intercede on my behalf and talk some sense into him. I’m also trying to stay away from Mrs S, who is stressing over pension transfers, future payments and UK tax forms. Not only that, but she’s being clueless about the document feed settings on the office scanner. All the information is but a web search away, and she’s giving me grief about it. The kitchen is currently my only refuge from the stress and I’m trying to utilise some downtime in a positive way. Then there’s our trip to Paris to organise.

Notwithstanding; today I’ve been making soup. Two varieties; firstly Carrot and Coriander, then Asparagus and Parmesan. Seven litres of the stuff are cooling, ready to go into the freezer. I picked up the ingredients for less than fifteen bucks, so they’re cheap eats. They’re also jolly good for vegetarian(ish) type soups and should see us until the warm weather arrives.

For the Carrot and Coriander you will need;
5lb carrots
Two medium onions
1 bunch fresh Coriander (a.k.a Cilantro) A handful
A large teaspoon of bacon grease (I did say Vegetarian-ish didn’t I?)
Half a teaspoon of dried chili flakes or 2 dried chilis
Half a teaspoon of garlic powder or three cloves of garlic (that’s three segments of a bulb)
A teaspoon of salt
Black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cornflour
Four litres of water (Maybe more, maybe less)
A large pasta pan
A liquidiser or blender
A second large saucepan
A frying pan

Put the frying pan on a low heat, add the bacon grease, fine chop the two onions and drop them in the frying pan. Add the garlic or garlic powder and chili and let the onions sweat until they are very soft. Take off heat and put aside for the next phase.
Wash and clean your carrots, cutting off the green tops which should be discarded. Put four, possibly even five litres of water in your big pasta pan, chop the carrots, add half the salt and bring to the boil before leaving them to simmer for at least half an hour until the carrots can be mashed into a mush with a fork. If they aren’t soft enough to be mashed, they ain’t ready.
Fine chop Coriander (Cilantro) and enjoy the smell. Dried Coriander or powder simply doesn’t work so well. It’s okay, but not that brilliant.
In suitable batches, depending on your blender or food processor, put the carrots, their cooking liquor and Coriander through blender, adding a large dollop of the onion garlic and chili mash with each batch, decanting each blendeed batch into second large pan until the onion mash and boiled carrots are thoroughly blended.
Put Carrot and Coriander mix on a low to medium heat.
Now put a few tablespoons of water in the cornflour and mix to a milky liquid. As soup mix starts to bubble a little, stir this liquid in until thoroughly mixed. Keep on the heat until you have a smooth, orange liquid dappled with dark green specks. Add rest of salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with bread of choice. A crusty bun is nice.
Let the rest to cool before decanting into a plastic container and putting in the freezer for future use.

For the Asparagus and Parmesan recipe, you will need;

Around 3lbs (2 Bunches) of fresh Asparagus (Providing it’s being sold off cheap)
Two medium onions
A large teaspoon of bacon grease
Half a teaspoon of dried chili flakes or 2 dried chilis
Half a teaspoon of garlic powder or three cloves of garlic (that’s three segments of a bulb)
A teaspoon of salt
Black pepper to taste
4 ounces salted butter
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 ounce grated Parmesan (Or more)
Half a pint (Quarter litre-ish) of milk
Three litres of water (Maybe more, maybe less)
A large pasta pan
A liquidiser or blender
A second large saucepan
A frying pan

Prepare the onion mash as per the carrot and coriander recipe. This forms the base of the soup.
Chop the Asparagus into one inch lengths, cutting off the last quarter inch of the asparagus tips. Put the asparagus tips aside for later. Put the one inch lengths of asparagus into a pan with half the salt and three litres of water. Bring to boil and simmer for half an hour.
Melt butter and mix in Cornflower, add milk and stir thoroughly until a paste is formed, add milk and Parmesan to create a moderate cheesy sauce.
Blend the onion mash, Asparagus and cooking liquor in batches, decant into second pan until all is thoroughly liquidised. Put pan over heat and when bubbles start to rise, begin adding the Parmesan sauce to the onion and Asparagus mix. Add remaining salt and black pepper to taste. Add tips of Asparagus, simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Enjoy with a crusty bun. Put remainder aside to chill in freezer for future use.

Please note; this blog takes no responsibility for failure to observe the most basic of hygiene and safety precautions. They’re your fingers, and dear reader, we sternly admonish you not to cut them off as they will ruin the flavour of the soups. Nor do we accept any responsibility for your failure to keep preparation equipment in a suitable state of repair. Your exploding blenders, burned saucepans, broken utensils, ruined kitchens and subsequent breakups or divorces due to your inattention and carelessness are nothing to do with me. We also take no responsibility for your culinary expertise or lack thereof; we can only assure our reader that a soupcon of common sense will produce results that will be most acceptable.

Have fun. Or not.

Great bacon

Friday I was out doing the weekly shop and dropped in at one of our specialist local food stores. It’s one of my favourite stores for one particular reason. They do properly double smoked and cured bacon. It is, in my humble opinion, the best I have ever come across, ever. Seriously dry cured. Perfectly pink muscle, dense, solid white fat, not soaking wet stringy stuff like the crap advertised as bacon (horrified shudder) in many local supermarkets. This is the bacon that poets praise, exquisitely cured pork that would tempt the very gods down from Olympus. Fried or grilled (yeah, yeah, broiled, whatever), this store makes bacon as God himself intended. No white gunky residue after cooking, just a spoonful of mildly salty white fat splendid for frying eggs, adding richness to sweated onions and many other simple culinary miracles. I buy just over a pound a week.

The only glitch in my day was caused by a Deli counter assistant, having been asked for my usual ration, arbitrarily decided to cut a chunk of fat off the ends of said precious rashers. I immediately objected. That fat not only aids the cooking process, but gives flavour and body to the meat. At the time I was feeling pretty relaxed or I would have treated said staff member to a terse treatise of “My dietary fat intake is not your business.” Fortunately the counter assistant stopped, backtracked and apologised for her error. All ended in smiles and “Have a great day.”

The only thing that bothered me about this almost insignificant incident is why, having made my choice of product, given my instruction as to exactly what I wanted, did the assistant then arbitrarily decide to trim off the valuable and very tasty fat? Who tells shop assistants it’s okay to do this stuff? Who you can and can’t sell what to? What happened to “The customer is always right”? Why is only bacon and red meat subjected to this retail tyranny? Why are chocolate or all those other, far richer sources of dietary fat not subject to the same strictures? Say when I buy a bar of Belgium’s finest, does the checkout person feel the need to break off half and throw it away? Or open my bag of crisps and throw half of it in the bin? No. So why remove that which adds so much flavour?

Answers please in a plain, unsalted, lint-free, fat-free, low-calorie, flavour-exempt brown wrapper.

Update: This is what I mean by bacon.
Dry cured streaky bacon

If the answer is tax

Just taking my usual Sunday meander through the frothing unreality of the Tellytubbygraph. I see Vlad Putin being lauded as the current object of the UK medias eleven o’clock hate as they try to stir up the populace. The herd of elephants in the room of course being EU intervention in Ukrainian affairs and massive skimming from pipeline contracts by Ukrainian politico’s. Which monies somehow never got back to the Ukrainians, while certain of their politicians became billionaires. Mm-hm. Over here in Canada, the local Ukrainian population are being heard muttering over their plates of Perogies about how the more things change the more they stay the same. Pass the sour cream. So it is with us ex-pat Brits.

At the moment the current UK media bogeyman is not salt, alcohol, tobacco or fats but sugar, which is found in just about every processed food there is. No surprise there, then. Sugars of one form or another are part of the elements of life. Monosaccharides (Simple sugars) include Glucrose, Fructose and the sci-fi sounding Galactose. Disaccharides (Complex sugars) include Sucrose, Maltose and Lactose. Most plants, as I recall from various biology courses I’ve taken, have a certain amount of sugars tucked neatly away in their edible parts. Starches (Polysaccharides), like the ones used in all those ‘Healthy Option’ ready meals as filler are little more than complex sugars.

So the dilemma for the ‘tax everything’ brigade becomes what sort of comestible will be sugar tax exempt. Of course those poor people need their lives regulating by their elders and betters, they’re such children don’cha know. So which foodstuffs need taxing and by how much? My goodness, what a target rich environment.

Okay, so where will all this new tax revenue go? Back in the pockets of the poor, who will grow more numerous as the tax rates increase, said revenue first having been heavily skimmed to pay for new, personnel heavy government departments to oversee ‘fairness’ and sending out ‘revenue neutral’ cheques? Maybe into the UK’s ‘wonderful’ NHS, the one you don’t want to end up in the care of lest your intimate details are sold to marketing companies and your elderly relatives starved or neglected to death? Whilst ensuring sufficient Management for ‘compliance’ with increasingly engorged cobweb encumbered databases of rules and regulations. Top rates must be paid to the managers of course to get the best ‘talent’, even if their only real talent is managing to navigate the HR departments Byzantine recruitment process. A new tax would come in handy to fund them, and their new staff no doubt.

On the face of it, this is a great idea. Tax sugar because it’s so unhealthy. Reduce consumption, cutting obesity at a stroke, and the costs to the NHS will go down. Fewer sick people to treat, right? Simple, elegant, and logical. Ah, but what was that shadow? The law of unintended consequences is lurking in the wings, awaiting it’s entrance in a puff of smoke, bringing chaos and confusion to the lofty utopian plans of the puritanical tax advocates.

It’s not a leap of genius to see that governmental costs (and hence the cost of living) will have to go up because now there will need to be an extra layer of compliance and enforcement for each new tax, easily gulping down the tranches of revenue thus garnered. Unfortunately the overall tax take will reduce because of the tax inflated prices, meaning that government has to borrow to fund these new government departments for command and control. Higher taxes and borrowing act as a brake on the economy, further lowering the tax take and therefore moving more people into the ‘Poor’ category, requiring more government intervention. Requiring more taxation and borrowing, yah-de-yah, etcetera, etcetera. The money has to come from somewhere. Maybe ex-pats savings. Damn those soon-to-be-poor rich bastards, eh? Just don’t forget to tell your influential friends to start moving their money before the new regs come in. Those middle class bitches can take the bite. Again. Those pensions are unsustainable anyway. By the way, where did all these new poor people come from? Anybody know?

Excuse me, I have a boat to buy, boarders to repel. All that jazz.

A deeply philosophical question

There is a branch of 18th century philosophy that asks the question; “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Originated by Bishop George Berkeley in his “A treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

Today I have been reminded of this question in an empirical manner. My version of this deeply meaningful question reads; “If a baking potato explodes in the oven, will anyone hear it?” To which the answer is a conditional “No”. The conditional statement being; “but only if the cook is not in the kitchen at the time.”

The rest of this philosophical monologue will be taken up with a much greater question; “If indeed a potato has exploded in the oven, how long does it take to clean up afterwards.” Investigations are ongoing.

In a word, Genius

Well now. Here’s a classic example of the law of unintended consequences coming out for a quick dance of joyful mischief.

Girl Guides in the USA who raise funds to go to camp or for their troupes by selling the traditional range of Girl Guide cookies have been setting up their stalls outside the new Cannabis shops currently springing up in States where cannabis has been legalised. A perfect example of the market in action if ever I saw one, but who saw it coming?

Really it makes perfect sense. The ‘Munchies’ are a well known phenomena of cannabis use, and to cater for that appetite on the part of those Girl Guides carries with it the mark of sheer genius. Marking them out as smart kids who will go far. The girls in question saw a need and catered to it, incidentally making piles of cash for a cherished cause.

Unfortunately this does have a dark side. The next thing you know is that there will be Girl Guide gang wars. Hot competition between cookie sellers over favoured locations. Perhaps Bake sale gang bangers might try to horn in on their action resulting in female fisticuffs breaking out over the frosting and heaven knows what else.

More seriously there’s going to be hot (Groan, sorry) competition over the super profitable pitches for hot dog stands or fast food restaurants close to these new Cannabis shops. Talk about a licence to print money. Maybe even tie-ins. I mean there’s an opening for a whole new set of menu selections at every fast food joint in the country. Do you want fries with that?

Oh my giddy aunt. That has just cheered up a very snowy evening.

Culinary roulette

About to prepare supper last night. Opened the fridge door to a whole host of leftovers. Not in amount, but variety, certainly. Chinese (Takeaway Cantonese & Szechuan) from Friday night. Home made Chicken Tikka Marsala from midweek, and half a portion of my signature beef stew from last Sunday. “Waste not.” Said my other half from over my shoulder, giving me a cheeky grope.
“Seriously?” Said I. I mean I’m used to pulling culinary rabbits out of chefs hats, but this left me challenged.
“Sure. I trust you.” She said. Foolish girl.
“Right.” I said doubtfully, and retrieved the ziploc (Think ‘Tupperware’, only more effective) boxes. To be honest, I should have given this stuff to our in house recycling unit (the dog), but I don’t want him hooked on my curries. That could get expensive. I already have to almost fight him off with a spatula each time I make a traditional English beef stew.

Thinking about it, I haven’t indulged in this form of culinary roulette since my bachelor days. Some might call it ‘fusion cuisine’ because failures in preparation can have the same effect on your digestive system as a thermonuclear test on a deserted Pacific atoll. I’m almost tempted to refer to this practice of reheating leftovers as ‘zombie cooking’ because you’re trying to breathe new life into the dead.

However, I raided the spice cupboard for extra garlic, chillies and ginger, added some extra basmati rice and used the microwave of full nuke prior to pan use, ensuring the foods temperature got high enough to make life very unpleasant and short for any pesky little bowel blasting bacteria. The end result? Not one of my proudest essays into the realms of cuisine, but edible and nourishing. Perhaps even unique. Three completely different styles of comestible should have been big time yuk, but somehow it all worked. Just don’t ask me to do it on a regular basis.

One of my errands before going to this evenings job is to stock up on fresh groceries.

Ten? reasons to hate and love Christmas (Redux)

I know I said I was gone forever, but the time of year has come when it must be said once more. Less than a month to go again and I’m seriously tempted to renew my membership of the Ebenezer Scrooge appreciation society. Bah! Humbug! If this offends, tough. Should objectors wish to drive a stake through my black and sardonic heart, I’d like to say the only steak I want anywhere near said muscular pump is a nice thick rib eye with a smidgeon of external charring and light pinkness enlightening its centre. Possibly even with a little Dijon Mustard. As it passes through the upper reaches of my digestive tract, having left fond memories with my taste buds, naturally.

The festival itself I have no quarrel with; good old hijacked midwinter solstice feast that it is. A time of good food, wine and forgiveness to celebrate survival for another year. Good will to all? Within reason, of course, and certainly not all of them. I’m not going to be nice to the cretinous, no matter the time of year. Heavens to Murgatroyd Cowboy, one has to maintain some form of consistency. What really turns my normal sunny disposition to that of lemon sucking misanthrope is the insistence that everyone has to join in the ‘fun’; when ‘fun’ entails leaving drunken saliva snail trails over the nearest total stranger. Good grief! If nothing else it’s all so damned unhygienic. Not to mention more than slightly creepy.

With this in mind I have compiled ten major issues about Christmas which every year threaten to turn Mr Nice Guy (Me) into a raging homicidal psychopath who’s just got his chainsaw out of the shed for a little pre-festive flesh trimming.

First; Date. The date and the association with Christianity is incorrect. 25th December is the wrong date for Christians to celebrate Christmas. It’s an historical fudge, a compromise between 6th December, 19th December, 22nd December, 7th January or 25th January depending upon which Christian / Pagan sect you belong to. As for the year, if you’re a Christian, about as close as you’ll get is six years either side of 0 AD; and that’s just from official sources.

Second; Presents and shopping. This asinine insistence that you have to drive yourself into near bankruptcy giving overpriced, unwanted gifts to everyone you know. This may sound like heresy and probably is; but I would rather have no gifts at all than a gift without a genuine kind thought behind it. I especially don’t like being dragged in and out of the same five or six stores four times each only to find that we could have bought everything on line. I could have been doing something interesting for heavens sake.

Third; Enforced jollity. There is no greater torture to a civilised mind than forcing another human to ‘enjoy’ themselves against their natural volition. My personal standpoint is that I am quite capable of being happy without outside interference thank you very much. My major dread is that in the near future the PC Thought Police will deem it a crime not to be smiling and joyful at mandatory times and places. Perhaps in this age of mass surveillance and facial recognition technology, such edicts may become camera enforced. Like with bus lanes. Not smiling enough? Your penalty notice is in the post. Ironically giving you less reason to be happy than before. Incidentally, has anyone tried to be artificially happy and smiling, at least for any length of time, when they really don’t want to be without extreme chemical assistance? That way lies madness. Horrified shudder.

Fourth; Inappropriate headgear. The wearing of fluorescent antlers, tinsel and artificial fur bobbled conical hats three sizes too small, not to mention those inane ‘jester’ style confections made of poor quality red, yellow and green felt with bells on. Apparently there’s some strange, arcane folk belief that wearing such headgear actually makes everything you say and do amusing. Such as telling unfunny jokes, committing random sexual assaults or urinating in the street. Trust me, it doesn’t work. Strangely enough, recent scholarly research has conclusively proven that the majority of people donning such headgear instantly turn into annoying pillocks. Forcing your dog / cat / pet tarantula to wear any such item should instantly engender an instant charge of animal cruelty punishable by thirty strokes of the cat (A bad tempered feral Tom, for preference. One tail, twenty claws.) Re the headgear, perhaps some sort of open season / bounty system could be arranged with local hunters.

Fifth; Alcohol. Actually this is a bit of a moot point. I am greatly in favour of some forms of alcohol as it is a great social lubricant (I said SOCIAL. Honestly, some people.). A good pint, bottle of wine, or warming Single Malt in good company is wonderfully relaxing. Sometimes I can be very friendly with an entire bottle of whiskey all to myself. This is something anyone can do anywhere. Sometimes its nice just to hide in the den with a good book, headphones on and some rock music blasting any potentially festive thoughts from seasonally stressed synapses. However be warned; excessive consumption not only damages your liver and wallet but may turn you into another dribbling maudlin festive idiot.

Sixth; Office / work related parties. Or as Oscar Wilde might have said had he ever been forced to attend; ‘The unattainable pursued by the unlovable’. Watching what you drink in case you say exactly what you feel to / about your boss or other influential colleague; no matter how incompetent / unpleasant / overbearing they might be. I detest such events and whenever invited to ‘socialise’ in this fashion with workmates make a creative and plausible excuse not to be there. Ones I’ve found that work very well are; Emergency engagement with family, as far from the event as possible; sick and very rich relatives are always a good one. Short and untraceable illness like a 24 hour dose of food poisoning. Domestic emergency requiring your urgent presence at home – all of these are good (Spousal corroboration is prerequisite for the last). One cautionary note, use a different excuse every year or be labelled ‘Anti Christmas’ and find all those more important invitations disappear. Unless you’re going to move on anyway. In which case – Just say no. What are they going to do in these circumstances? Fire you?

Seventh; Christmas lunch. All that hard work put in to produce a table groaning feast to be met by refusal. For example an announcement by your wife’s sister / daughter (insert own preference here) that she’s become a Vegan without telling anyone; then flounces off when you, quite reasonably, refuse to specially cook a nut roast for everyone at five minutes notice because she can’t bear to be within fifty yards of that poor murdered Turkey. Another might be the kids whinging that they want to go to Burger MacWossnames for a “double death by cholesterol and fries”; refusing to eat anything green that hasn’t got four kilogrammes of sugar in it. I think Christmas lunches should be all ticket, invitation only affairs. RSVP Like a posh dinner party. If you want to be there, be there. If you don’t – don’t, and no social stigma should attach.

Eighth; Christmas Television. Especially those vomit inducing saccharine Coca Cola adverts. The endless mind strangling TV repeats of Christmas specials of ‘Only Fools and Horses’, and what’s going on in Emmerdale Enders. ‘The Sound of Music’ again. ‘Celebrity’ Christmas specials. Thank God for DVD’s. Don’t even get me started about Hogmanay specials. All I want from New Years Eve is a hot toddy, an early night and a clear head on a crisp winters morning, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Ninth; Christmas Songs. All of them. Especially (In no particular order) Slade’s ‘So here it is Merry Christmas’, Band Aid’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ and Aled Jones ‘Walking in the air’. When you’ve heard them sung extremely badly four or five hundred times by drunken cracked voices at up to half past four in the morning, you’ll agree all modern Christmas tunes should be banned by international treaty. I maintain that Christmas songs are crimes against humanity, and perpetrators should be tried at the Hague before being imprisoned for mass musicide. This goes for New Year celebrations as well; if I had a time machine I’d go back and shoot Robbie Burns dead before he could pen the words to ‘Auld lang’s syne‘. Posterity forgives the odd dead poet.

Tenth; Carol Singers. Not proper Carol Singers like in church choirs, they’re actually fairly pleasant and welcome in small doses. I’m talking about the avaricious little sods who turn up on your doorstep for a quick bit of extortion a month before the official date. I think we’re all familiar with this subtype of troglodyte; expecting you to give them money for an abysmal and desultory one chorus rendition of ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ when half of them don’t know the words and the rest are miming. Some years ago I handed out some warmed over vegetarian mince pies to the last lot who dared darken my doorstep, and joy of joys, haven’t seen any since.

Eleventh: Christmas lights. Well this is more ambivalence than dislike. Done well, hey, fine. It’s your electricity bill. Done badly, with lots of cheesy illuminated Walmart Santas, Snowmen and Reindeer, urgh. Seriously. It’s embarrassing. Don’t do it. Likewise decorating things that aren’t yours. No please. If your sense of taste is that stunted, it’s wise not to show it off in public. People will only point and laugh.

The above list is nowhere near definitive as I’m sure many of you can come up with your own reasons for wanting to spend your midwinter holiday overseas. The nicest Christmas day I ever spent was alone with my wife in Barcelona. Messing around in near deserted streets like a couple of school kids and getting soaked in a torrential downpour. No cooking, no turkey, wonderful Irish coffee in a bar where the staff were grooving energetically to Ricky Martins ‘La vida loca’ full blast on the sound system. Ganneting a quarter kilo of ‘Chocolat Naranja’ between us while drying out, watching an unfestive CNN News in the Hotel room. No tinsel, no tackiness and a thoroughly civilised time was had by both of us. A close second was a Spa break in BC having a (Sort of) merry detox with several bottles of eminently quaffable 2009 Quails Gate Proprietors Reserve pinot noir. No TV, in room Jacuzzi and no bloody tinsel. Bliss.

Gravy snobbery

Hereby hangs a tale and a cookery conundrum; how do you make gravy? Traditional rich thick gravy. Not so thick as to stand a spoon up with, but not so runny it’s more like dark water. Simple question isn’t it? Hey, no problem, use the dripping from the meat, a little Bisto and corn starch mixed in cold water and liquor from boiling the spuds for mashing and no problemo, right? Perfect every time.

I happen to like gravy made in this fashion. Great when the dinner choice is traditional English meat veg and potatoes? Just the ticket every once in a while, yeah? Some good old fashioned British style nosh for a change. Gravy made heavy on the onions for serving with Sausage and Mash, or with a pinch of garlic salt to add an edge to chicken or pork. It’s grrr-eat! Or not. However, chacun a son gout. Each to their own, right?

This evening the Sticker household was faced with a dire emergency. A cataclysm threatening to dwarf that bit of inclement weather over the other side of the continent by a factor of 12. No Bisto gravy powder; and I wasn’t going to hike 15km along rainstorm darkened rural Canadian roads to the nearest stockist just for one five dollar packet, or 25km to the nearest stockist of overpriced British products. Think of the carbon footprint dahlings! I thought in my naive optimistic way I’d just fire up the ‘pooter and find a recipe on the jolly old interweb. Job done, brownie points in the offing, another expats hurdle overcome. Yay. Piece of cake. Or not.

Typed the search term “Home made gravy browning” into the mighty Google and was promptly brought up short. Some of the recipes were along the lines of “Roast corn starch in oven for two hours at high heat until dark”, or “Caramelise sugar in an old pan you don’t particularly like, oh, and don’t forget to leave your windows open” which almost made me reconsider cooking roast chicken for Sunday supper. Some of the recipes I came across were far too cumbersome and time consuming. On the cookery forums I also found some snotty types saying that they only cooked ‘Au jus‘. Yes, I really needed to have some sauce snob clogging up the forums when I was trying to find a recipe or some helpful hints. If you don’t know how to make gravy, then what the fuck are you doing telling someone who does want that specifically British sauce about your preference for ‘Au-fucking-jus‘ on a thread asking for recipes? The sheer, looking-down-my-nose-at-you-cos-Delia-don’t-do-it-that-way ignorance of some people, really. Like those sanctimoniously superior people whose response when asked a simple question is to tell you that what you want isn’t what they would do – so you shouldn’t. WTF?

Good gravy, for those of you not initiated into its intricacies, is an art that Michaelangelo would have carved paeans of stone to glorify for eternity, had he not been a renaissance Italian, and therefore ignorant of such a delicacy. Smooth slippery simplicity made wonderfully glutinous and conjured mid to dark brown to accompany Roast Beef, Chicken, Pork, Venison, Lamb, Sausage, Moose, Elk or whatever. It is a particularly English taste, and one I’m proud to cater for, even though it took years for me to perfect my technique. Both stepkids specifically love my Onion gravy, and Youngest has made it known that when she becomes disgustingly rich, she will have me kidnapped and set to work as her personal cook. Or else set up home close by in order to have my small culinary expertise on tap. By such things are the bonds of family strengthened.

Yet this isn’t telling you how I resolved my gravy powder less condition, does it? O-kay. Unfortunately I had cleaned the meat pan after breakfast, and had no cooking grease left. So; I took a rasher of fatty bacon and grilled (broiled) it until there were a couple of teaspoons of bacon fat left in the pan and the rasher was a dried husk of its former self. Then I took a teaspoon of cornflour and mixed it with enough cold water to form a smooth, milky liquor in the sauce boat. Next step was a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy sauce to darken the cornflour and water mix halfway to the desired state of brown. Next, I stirred in some hot water from cooking the vegetables and, decanting the mix into a small saucepan, let the sauce thicken on a low heat. Potato water is good for this, being slightly starch heavy, but can result in excessive blandness. So I mixed in some liquor from cooking the green vegetables. Finally, I added the bacon fat and seasoned very carefully to taste, stirring constantly to keep the lumps at bay until it had thickened to the desired consistency. The end result was a slightly more aromatic than usual sauce, but was consumed with gusto, and English style (No milk) mashed potatoes, roast chicken and mixed veg. Re-sult!

Some Australian and New Zealand cooks, so I am informed, use half a teaspoon of Vegemite, but I find that gives the end result a slightly odd flavour for my palate. The same for stock cubes. I really don’t like gravy made with stock cubes, I feel they overpower the taste of your dinner, and produce watery gravy anyway. My personal preference is for something with a bit more body, because runny gravy gives me PTSD-like nightmares of school dinners past, from which I sometimes awake sweating and screaming. The trick here is balance. Good gravy should not overpower the roast, like some sauces do. Its purpose is to accentuate, and add a rounded, softer edge, not to swamp. Unless it is particularly good gravy and carries much of the roasts flavour anyway, in which case, mine’s a pint.

Fortunately, Canada is a civilised country and good gravy is generally not hard to come by, even over here on the hippy drippy wet coast. The Quebeckers (bless ’em) even invented Poutine, which is French Fries with lashings of cheese curds and thick gravy. But on the cookery forums, oh my goodness, there’s more controversy over gravy than global warming alarmism, the pro and anti camps are so polarised. For heavens sake it’s just a bloody sauce!

Yet I find in my search for Bisto-less gravy the mirror for much that is wrong in the world. When you go looking for advice, there is too much telling you what you should want, and too little telling you how to do what you want the right way. Sometimes I feel it’s like going into a cigar store and asking for a fine Havana, only to be offered a lecture on the evils of smoking and handed a pamphlet on Cancer awareness with a pack of nicotine flavoured gum. Or, if you like, entering a liquor store and asking for a 15 year old fine Malt Whiskey only to be handed half a pint of Soy Milk and a stern imprecation about the evils of alcoholism. Both of which, if anyone is interested, I would consider a casus belli. There are people in this world who really should know when to butt out. The only problem is that far too many appear entrenched in positions of public trust, snouts firmly wedged in the taxpayer trough, narrow minded eyes on their pet causes and regarding all else as a threat. Perhaps we could do with a cull.

In the meantime, all I have to say to such people is this; you can stop me having gravy with my fortnightly English roast when you can pry the sauce boat out of my cold and dying hands. To me, saying ‘Au Jus’ is the only way is just another way of declaring your culinary incompetence.