Monday, 29 March 2010

Whoaoaoaooo Mysterious Girl

How did it ever come to this? How did life get so busy, so complicated? Since when did it become so important to keep abreast of things, to keep in the loop, to know what's going down, to know who's cooking what, keeping an eye on who's been here, there and everywhere? Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, Linkedin, Digg, StumpleUpon, Qype, UrbanSpoon, Flickr, MySpace, YourSpace, ArseFace, Ning, Ping, Zippedity Ding. I mean how am I supposed to keep up!?

I got told off this weekend.

"Dan! Are you going to keep looking at that bloody thing all weekend or do you want to converse with some real people for a change? You dickhead"

And the funny thing is that it wasn't my wife shouting at me this time. No the verbal abuse came from my mates. I was on a stag do and should have been knee deep in beer, vomit and male bonding. But I just couldn't resist sneaking a glance at my iPhone every 5 minutes for a fix of social media crack. Bloody iPhone, bane of my life. If you haven't got one yet then please try to resist for a little while longer as they are highly addictive and there's nothing worse than looking like a bog-eyed guppy as you stand at the train station thumping at the screen with one sausage-like finger. My excuse for getting one was the blogging, a fairly feeble one but I stand by it. I figured that whilst on the move, it would help me keep in touch with the thousands of eager participants who would want to sign up to WMPC. In turn I could read up on their blogs, see what kind of food they were into, get a bit of background information, you know do some research before we met up. Of course that kind of thinking was always going to bite me on the posterior. It very nearly did when I met Charmaine who writes Tasty Treats (and elsewhere)

We had arranged to meet up on the corner of Leather Lane last week for the swap and grab a juicy burrito from Daddy Donkey for lunch. As it is the case sometimes, I was running late having made the decision to walk from Fenchurch St and grab a bottle of red on the way. Not very wise considering I had about 10 minutes in which to make the journey. By the time I got to St Pauls, I was fairly sprinting with rucksack slung in the crook of my arm, bottle of Babich Syrah in one hand, the iPhone in the other, frantically trying to tweet Charmaine that I was running behind. If you had given me a pair of heels, I could have easily passed off for Bridget Jones. I've never met Charmaine before so she told me to look out for a garish pink and grey checkered coat. I'd say that this was a slight overstatement about her garb, I was expecting 80's luminosity but I found her nevertheless, waiting patiently. We shook hands and then made our way down towards Leather Lane market and then I made my clanger.

"So what's the name of your blog again?"

To which Charmaine replied that she has a blog but hasn't written any posts for a while, so then I ask "oh so what do you do again?" and Charmaine simply pauses for a second, smiles and says "do you know anything about what I do?" I reply "er No." And so she smiles again before mysteriously adding "well that's OK then, there are breadcrumbs out there if you really want to find out though."

For a second or two, I am completely stumped and stare back at her like the moron I can be at times. Then I have a flashback, the penny drops and the little voice in my head starts to gabble.

"I do know! Yes! But er, oh no I can't say how I know. Because the person who told me, said that Charmaine likes to keep it under her hat for obvious reasons and that person asked me not to tell anyone what they told me. And that's why Charmaine keeps herself anonymous on twitter for those obvious reasons. Should I say I know? Oh I don't know. Oh no, now I bet she thinks I'm just out to score food from people because I look like I don't know what she does and haven't even bothered to read her blog. But I do know! Oh what a cock!"

Unfortunately, this babbling train of thought set me up like a kipper and for the rest of our meeting I waffled on like an idiot. Telling someone I've just met that my daughter thinks they look like a duck might not be the most complimentary thing to say but Charmaine giggled and got the point. On her avatar on Twitter she wears a Commedia dell'arte type mask and yes I have sat at the PC with my daughter on my lap whilst twittering before, so put two and two together. Damn social media crack, I've even got Isla hooked, what a bad parent. Charmaine didn't have too much to spare and had to get back to the West End, which was lucky for me in the end as I began to feel distinctly flustered. As I watched her walk off to the underground station with a frankly enormous burrito in her hand (she's quite petite) I kicked myself for not revealing all. Although having just reread what I've written so far maybe I have let the cat out of the bag anyway. Whoever might read this post is certainly going to be intrigued now. Secrets and iPhones, the bane of my life.

So anyway what did this mysterious girl make for me and how did it go down? Well Charmaine decided to cook me one of her favourite meals that she would normally have at home when she's not otherwise out. Which is all the time by the sounds of it. Reflecting her Hong Kong heritage, this was a simple dish of Pork Mince with Aubergine, Shitake Mushrooms, Spring Onion and Water Chestnut served with rice and yummy truffles for dessert. The pork had a lovely depth of savouriness with a nice chilli hit running through it. The aubergines and mushrooms were particularly good with a soft velvet texture that contrasted against the crunch of the water chestnuts. Along with some great fluffy rice, all in all this was a very moreish dish. Perhaps it was just a tad over seasoned with salt or soy but I could have gladly eaten more. Charmaine's truffles were delicious, at first I found flavour combination of green tea strange and unusual against the rich chocolate but I did like them. My favourite were her sesame seed ones, very delectable.

Thank you very much Charmaine for a smashing meal and I hope that I haven't led the breadcrumbs to close to your door but I've got a funny feeling that you're not too worried anyway ; )

Pork with Aubergine, Shitake Mushrooms, Spring Onion and Water Chestnut

Green Tea, Sesame and Coconut truffles

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The cat that very nearly got out of the bag....

It's not easy keeping a secret and there have been plenty of times when I have nearly come a cropper and spilt the beans. Plant the seed of secrecy in my head and it will spread like wildfire through the tiny chasms of my brain before making its way down to my mouth to burst out like the proverbial magician's bouquet. Surprise! Opps, I shouldn't have said that. I don't know where this strange compulsion comes from but it can be by turns embarrassing, annoying and life threatening. In the past I have been caught bang to rights. Oh that terrible sinking feeling you get when you realise that you have just revealed all, especially when you also realise that the fellow conspirator who trusted you is also in the room. I have learnt by my mistakes though and how to cover my tracks whenever confidential information comes looming to the surface. The method may not be entirely convincing but it works. If I get the urge, I just simply go way off tangent and people are used to that from me. "Hey, you won't believe this but did you hear about....ah ah ah what wow, WOW, what about that Avatar eh? Did you get it? Did you er, did you keep your 3D glasses?"*

Baring all of this in mind, the real crazy thing is that I am trying to keep all this WMPC malarky under the hat and from the powers that be at work. Yes, ridiculous I know. You couldn't describe writing a blog on the Internet as a secret pursuit and let's face it, I'm hardly doing this anonymously now. I mean I'm not a second Belle du Jour in waiting (or am I? ooh la-la). And given my confession for being crap at keeping secrets well why am I trying to keep all of this quiet? Why shouldn't I just say to my colleagues right "I'm off to get my dinner for tonight that a total stranger has made me. See you in a bit suckers!"? Well I have thought long and hard about this and I can't really come up with any proper reasons other than it might restrict what I can write about and I'd feel odd knowing that my workmates can read about the food adventures I have on the outside world. I try to keep work and play separate you see and therefore WMPC is my guilty greedy secret. It's quite a buzz to pop back into the office and stash goodies in the fridge to be consumed later and it's amazing that no-one has noticed what I'm up to. Until now.

So far, most contributors have handed over their lovingly prepared meals, neatly stored in tupperware boxes, in nondescript plastic or paper bags. And as such I can waltz into the office as though I have just nipped to the deli up the road and bought a few bits, they're used to that in my office. However, Aaron of The Grub Worm decided to hand over his effort in a garish, tiger-striped plastic carrier bag, the kind you might get after buying some dodgy latex underwear from a sex-shop in Soho. Despite enjoying a very pleasant lunch and chat in The Jerusalem Tavern with Aaron, throughout the conversation my mind kept wandering back to one over-riding thought, which was how the hell am I going to sneak this into the office?! Grrrreat. Even his funny tales of redneck cousins who keep enormous arsenals in their wardrobes way down in Georgia in the good ol' USA couldn't distract me. After we bid each other farewell, my game plan was to stroll back into the office, casually slip the bag into the fridge in the tiny kitchen and calmly seat down in front of my PC. As long as I didn't draw attention to myself, I figured that I would be fine. Of course it didn't work.

"Bloody hell Dan, what have you got in there? You been out buying kinky underwear or summink?"

And then all eyes were on me.

All I could do was grin sheepishly in the doorway and utter a nervous giggle whilst gripping the Tony Tiger bag as tight as I could. I even broke out into a sweat and probably blushed too which didn't help matters.

"So come on what have you got there?"

At that point, I very nearly came clean and revealed all, thinking that all this sneaking around wasn't worth it anymore. Who cares if they know I write a blog about meeting people and eating their food. OK, so I am doing something that is a thousand times more interesting than anything that has ever remotely happened in this dump, so what. I am bored shitless here and feel immensely frustrated yet I lack the will or courage to find myself another poxy job. In fact the thought scares the bejesus out of me because I have a young family, a house and I need the fucking money. This is what I am up to because it sure as hell helps beats the humdrum of this craphole!!!

Luckily the off-tangent bullshit kicked in before I uttered any of those sentences so for the record I am taking part in a little Twitter experiment where people are swapping meals and there's some kind of chart system going on with participants going up and down depending on the points they score and it's a bit like Come Dine With Me and at the end of the year there is a cash prize (this is in fact, a bloody good idea!). All the garish Tony Tiger bag contained was food, no rubber y-fronts I'm afraid. The workmates just stared back blankly, shrugged their shoulders in bemusement and went back to their computer screens. I placed the bag in the fridge and then sat down with fingers shaking at the keyboard. I think I might just have got away with it but then again maybe not, for as long as this post exists in the blogosphere, the truth remains out there. There are no secrets on the Internet.

So anyway what the hell was in the bag that Aaron gave me and how did it fair? Well, it seems that he is a big fan of Turkish cuisine so for this installment of WMPC he prepared a lavish Ottoman feast of Baba Ganoush and Aubergine Salad with Pide Bread as a meze starter, Lamb Tagine with Dates, Almonds and Honey for mains and a dessert of Stuffed Apricots with Strained Greek Yoghurt and Chopped Pistachios. Now Aaron has already gone and posted in his blog that he felt that his baba ganoush didn't quite hit the spot and I've already told him that he shouldn't beat himself up about this. No I am quite happy to do it instead because yes this traditional Turkish aubergine dish did misfire somewhat. As Aaron explained in his post, the aubergine almost certainly would have benefited from a proper roasting on a gas hob or under a hot grill to impart that signature smokey flavour rather than baking in the oven. Adding a healthy blob of tahini would have also given it a nutty kick. But that is my only criticism that I have to offer here as everything else was fantastic. The aubergine salad with tomato and parsley was fresh and zesty. The tagine was surprisingly good as on paper I wasn't entirely sure that the sweet combination of honey and dates would compliment the strong flavours of lamb but they went really well together. And I enjoyed the texture and crunch that the almonds provided. Aaron's cous cous was still nice and fluffy with just a hint of saffron in the background. The big winner for me was the simple dessert of stuffed apricots. Not only was it pleasing to the eye with vibrant, mounds of orange flesh contrasting against little emerald shards of pistachio, this dish managed a fine blend of rich yet clean flavours. The creamy yoghurt was nicely set against a subtle backdrop of aromatics. I was convinced that he had extravagantly poached the apricots in rosewater but apparently lemon and cardamom was all that he used in his syrup. Very good indeed and a fitting end to a fairly rich and luxurious meal.

Thank you Aaron, I salute you sir for a marvelous meal though next time whack those aubergines on the bbq will you old chap.

Another feast

Baba Ganoush

Aubergine Salad

Lamb Tagine with Dates, Honey and Almonds with Cous Cous

Stuffed Apricots with Greek Yoghurt and Pistachios

From now on I want to be an anonymous blogger (and keep my job for the time being)

*No doubt if you are reading this and have told me a secret, you are now crapping yourself.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Conversation With Nanny FU

Last Tuesday, I visited my Nanny Pat, a legend in her own lifetime and took along with me the latest WMPC offering to share and get her opinion. The following is a rough transcript of our conversation that afternoon which contains strong language so please take caution when reading.

(phone rings)

Hello Nan.

Hello Dan?

Yes hello Nan.

Dan? Dan is that you?

Yes Nan it's me, are you alright?

Where are you?

I've just got out of the station, I'll be there in about 5 minutes.

Oh good, will you get me a paper? Get me the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard. Go to the cornershop at the bottom of the road but don't go into Londis, make sure you go into the cornershop. The Standard should be free.

OK Nan, see you in a minute.

(knocks on door)

Hello Nan

Ooooh hello Dan, come on, come in. How are you doing you alright? Come on sit down.

How are you doing Nan?

Ooh I'm alright, you know same old, same old. Now you want a cup of tea? I can't give you a piss of cack* I'm afraid, I've got nothing in.

Yeah, a cup of tea would be great and don't worry I've brought some food with me. We can have that in a bit.

Ooh really, you been shopping?

No I got this from someone I met earlier today, another blogger.

Ooh did you? That's good. How is your blog coming on?

Yeah, really good. Been up to lots, I should be writing more really but....

What is a blog anyway?

Er, well it's erm a place where I can write stuff, which is mostly about food.....erm I suppose it's like a personal record or diary. I think.

Is it like the Internet?

Well, it's on the Internet, if that's what you mean?

Oh I don't get all of that stuff, your Mum prints your stuff off for me. Yeah I like it, makes me chuckle, although maybe you could cut down on the swearing.

Yes, well...

Have you met Lawrence Keogh, he's got a restaurant at Borough Market.

No I haven't but you never know....

Have you seen that programme on television where people come to each other's houses and they cook for each other, oh whatsit called...

Come Dine With Me?

That's it! Bloody car crash tv. What a load of bitchy people! Would you ever do that Dan?

I don't think so.

No I bloody wouldn't either......oooh bollocks!

You alright?

Yeah it's just me knee. Can't wait to get it done. I'll get moving in a minute.

Well you've only got to wait a couple more weeks, how are you feeling about it all?

Oh I'll be fine. I saw the consultant that other day, nice man, he had a lovely pair of shoes on. Always like to see a man in a classy pair of shoes.

I like brogues.

Oooh yes, I like brogues too, classy shoe. Thanks for bringing me the papers by the way, you did go to the cornershop didn't you?


Good. I don't like that Londis, bloody shithole in there. Mind you, the whole place is a shithole. Makes you laugh but they're trying to set up a market down there. Maida Vale Market they want to call it! Ha, it's nowhere near bloody Maida Vale! Trying to gentrify the area they are but it won't work, it's more like a ghetto around here. It's all the bloody foreigners moving in. Mind you, everyone down this street is nice. They all look out for me and the Muslims next door are lovely.

You're kind of sending out mixed signals there Nan, maybe you should stop reading the Daily Mail.

What? Oh don't mind me, I haven't seen anyone for two days, gotta have me moan haven't I, I am 77 you know.

Are you still calling up BT customer sales wanting to complain to the Chairman?

(chuckles) I haven't done that in a while, last time I kept someone on the phone for half an hour, I wasn't going anywhere until they put me through, they kept suggesting that I write a letter Mrs Keogh but I wasn't going anywhere.

Naughty. Are you hungry yet?

Yeah go on then, what have you got?

Lamb shanks. With mashed sweet potato and shredded cabbage I think. Oh and a mango dessert.

Ooooh lovely.

How are you getting on with the oven we gave you?

I don't like it. I can't work it and I don't like the gas hob, too expensive to run.

Er OK, right well I'll just warm the oven up then.

So how did you get all this food?

From another blogger. It's part of my project called Where's My Pork Chop? where I get other bloggers to cook for me and I write about it afterwards.

Oooh they give you food for free? Oooh that's good.

Well I did buy this blogger some lunch and a beer in return. I always exchange something for the meal, that's the deal. Mind you, he was supposed to be giving up beer for Lent.

Oh not a very good Catholic then! Mind you, I can talk. So it was a bloke was it? What's his name?

James Ramsden. His blog is called The Larder Lout, well it used to be.

Lager lout?! No wonder he couldn't stay off the beer.

No, Larder Lout but he's changed it. He's a writer too, perhaps he thought Larder Lout was too frivolous. He trained as a chef too.

Oooh really, where?

In Ireland, er Ballymahony? er no that's not right, erm...


Something like that. So once we've got the oven warmed up, I'll heat the shanks through. Where's your saucepans so that I can heat the veg?

Oh sod all that, why don't you use the microwave?

I didn't know you had a microwave? Where is it?

Up there on the fridge. I don't use it much mind.

OK, let me zap the shanks first and then I'll just give the veg a quick blast.

So does this James Lager Lout know Lawrence Keogh?

Er I don't know.

Well find out. Then you can tell him that your uncle has the same name.

Yeah I will do, this shouldn't take much longer.

Smells lovely, what is that curry?

Ah yes that's right, James said that the lamb shanks were spicy. Here you go....oh hang on, wait, I've got to take a picture. There we go. Hey we should have a picture of the two of us tucking in!

What with all this mess in the background?

Yeah, don't worry, it'll add er...a nice human touch.

But the place looks like fucking Portabello Road!

Don't worry Nan, the place always looks like fucking Portabello Road. Right here we go, the camera is on timer, ready?

Stop swearing.

Sorry, OK cheese! Right come on then Nan, get stuck in.

Ooooh this is nice.

Hmm it looks pretty good eh?

Yeah, what's he put in the mash? He's put something in the mash.

Erm, yeah, what is that? Strange, I can't put my finger on it.

The lamb is nice, hmm ooooh it's tender isn't, that lager lout must have cooked these nice and slow. That's the best way to cook meat you know....oh it's got a kick eh!

Yeah not too bad, it's not too hot for you Nan?

Ooh no, this is just fine, ooh it's lovely. What's this on the cabbage or are they greens?

Ah yes, he said he put mustard seeds in. I think. I wasn't really paying much attention, nice though eh? I like the way they pop in your mouth...


Eh, ginger?

He's put ginger in the mash, ooh that's different, hmm nice, goes lovely with the curry, yes mops up lovely doesn't it.

Hmm ginger, yeah I'm getting that now, wow that is different, makes it fragrant too.

There's only one thing wrong though.

What's that?

I think you should of warmed the shanks in the oven, look the sauce has congealed in the microwave.


I don't think I can eat all of this, can I save some for later?

Sure Nan, you want some dessert though in a bit?

Yeah let's wait a bit.

(five minutes elapse before she crumbles)

Come on then let's try that dessert, what did you say it was?

Mango fool, I think.

You better bloody ask next time, no good eating something that you don't know anything about, someone could poison you!

Yes Nan, I'll remember that, here you go.


Hmm, that's nice.

Hmm, it's an aquired taste I'd say.

What don't you like it?

No I do, it's the consistancy that's funny, what's he put in it? Tapioca?

I dunno. I still like it though, mind you I love mango. Oh look, there's almond flakes in it, that's different.

Is there lime in it too?

Hmm yes I think you're right. Do you like it?

It's nice but it's an acquired taste though, make sure you put that down when you write all about it. Say it's an acquired taste.

OK, I might do. Maybe I'll just ask him what was in it when I see him next.

Oooh what is he going to cook for you again?

Oh no, no, James is organising this event, this food debate where people talk about the one ingredient they couldn't live without and they go head to head and it goes to a jury as to who was the most convincing. I think.

Ah what so it's some kind of slanging match then?

Yeah sort of, I expect it'll get quite heated especially as it's in a pub.

What ingredient are you going to argue the toss for then?

Well I've not put my name down as a speaker, I thought about dessicated coconut though.


I'm only kidding.

Ooh well that sounds like a laugh, I do like a good row. Shame they don't have Kilroy on anymore though, I don't like that Jeremy Kyle.

Well you should come along Nan.

Where is it then?


Ooh fuck that, that's too far........

I think I'll end it there so thank you James, it really was a stellar meal even if your dessert did throw up some interesting questions, I really enjoyed it and I know my dear ol' Nan loved it.

*the "piss of cack" comes from a book I bought Nan for Christmas one year. It was a compilation of homework spelling mistakes from young children and the term translates as "piece of cake". I know it tickled her highly when she first read it and she has been saying it ever since.



Food Urchin and Nanny Food Urchin