Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fuss Free Shopping?

Oh shopping for food used to be such fun. Hand in hand we used to go skipping down the aisle, flinging whatever took our fancy into the trolley, laughing gaily at each other. Smoked salmon for breakfast tomorrow? Yeah why not. Ha ha ha. Oh look at those rib-eye steaks. Yes, those two please, yes the big ones. Ho ho ho. Champagne? Oh sod it, it's the weekend! HAHAHA! Total exuberant abandonment. And we never really had to rush so along the way we could take actually take time to smell and grope fruit, sample and taste cheeses and make lascivious comments about freshly baked baguettes. OK, shopping in Sainsburys on a Friday night may not be everyone's idea of foreplay but no matter, food is certainly conducive to arousing erm states of passion. Sometimes the shopping bags never left the hallway.

There are consequences though when you submit yourself to pleasures of wanton indulgence, wallowing in food, drink and lust. For us they came in the form of two little bundles of joy. A beautiful boy and a gorgeous girl who have brought so much happiness into our lives that it's impossible to describe. Yes, aw bless but let me just say that these terrific creatures have also mugged us of money, time and energy and when you have children, young children in particular, the food shopping experience is never the same. Friday nights (or Saturday mornings mainly) are now rather fraught affairs. The list is prepared and accounts for only the essentials. The car is parked and each child is plonked into a trolley, one already agitated because Upsy Daisy has been dropped onto the floor. We both run through the doors and then separate, knowing that we only have a small window of opportunity before all hell breaks loose. I cover meat and dairy, my wife covers fruit and vegetables. We meet back at the tinned goods aisle. For a second, I take my eye off the ball looking at some Merchant Gourmet Dried Porcini and then I hear a crash. My son has pulled a whole tray of baked beans from off the shelf. My wife, clutching an armful of tinned tomatoes, shouts at me for not keeping an eye on what he's doing. What she hasn't noticed however is that my daughter who has been chewing on a packet of spaghetti, has split the packet and has been emptying straws into pretty patterns on the floor. So I shout back. Which in turn starts both children crying. And there's nothing worse than a child screaming in a supermarket. So I dash to the bakery aisle, grab a loaf of Soreen, rip the packet apart, take fistfuls of malty dough and shove them into the twin's hands. The rest of the shop is done double quick time, knowing that once the Soreen is done, repetitive demands of "Ineesomemore, Ineesomemore" will build into a crescendo of screaming and I'll have to grin inanely at the old lady who frowns and tuts as she walks past. Because if I didn't, I would have to punch her in the face.

All in all then shopping for food has become quite a stressful experience and it's one task that I generally do by myself these days. And that's still quite a difficult one to juggle given the time constraints surrounding work commitments and other chores around the house, the allotment, time for hiding in shed etc etc. And plus there is also the added factor of having to shop on a budget. So what can I do to make life easier for myself? Well if I were to listen to Helen from Fuss Free Flavours then by all accounts I should really try to find out if there are any food co-ops in my area. Like really really try. To say that Helen is passionate about food co-ops is an understatement. I met Helen again quite recently (this was long after she actually gave me my WMPC dinner I should say, slack posting strikes again) and I was quite taken aback by her fiery rhetoric with fists slamming down on tables. "I don't remember Helen being like this" I thought to myself but then again we did have a fair bit to drink at Bob Bob Ricard that night.

So what is all the fuss about about then? And why is Helen who by definition writes a blog that contains fuss free recipes getting so fussed up? I mean, what the fuss? Well the concept of a food co-op is very simple. A group or collective gets together and pools their combined buying power to make bulk purchases of food from suppliers and then via a box scheme or from stalls run at schools, churches etc, fruit, vegetables and other goods are then distributed back out to the community. All at a fraction of the cost that you would expect to shell out at the supermarket. The produce is usually standard grade, no organic, bio dynamic frippery here but it is fresh, affordable and accessible. Helen's mantra is that simple good food like this should be available to everybody and as I said, a large proportion of the recipes on her blog are created from her weekly box which she gets from her local food co-op in West London. With vegetable and fruit laden boxes costing £3 each a week, the concept is certainly attractive especially when you consider a family box from Riverford or Abel and Co costs between £17 and £20 (yes, ok it's organic). Of course the rub is when I looked on the Sustain website, my local co-op was 15 miles away across the river. And I don't own a boat. There is always the prospect of starting one up in my area myself but again, I really don't have the time and plus I really like hiding in my shed. However, it is a very laudable scheme and certainly benefits many people, families in particular who struggle to make ends meet. If a food co-op did spring up in my area then I would definitely use it.

So what did Helen make for me from her box of delectable goodies? Well Helen did say when we met for the exchange that she had felt fairly cooked out from the previous days exertion of feeding Messrs Torode and Wallace so had opted for a simple meal of Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes, followed by Lime and Elderflower Posset. Oh and she threw in some of her homemade Elderflower Cordial. Yeah, like I said, she really couldn't be that fussed to cook. Yeah right. It had been a rather warm day so it was nice to finish work early for a change and dine out on my patio when I got home and equally, this light supper was just the ticket. The mackerel was nice and delicate with just a smidgen of mayo and some chopped chives. The salty slivers of parmesan contrasted well with the salad that had been neatly dressed in balsamic vinegar and her potatoes were very nice indeed. I love a caper but never thought about tossing some throwing them in with spuds for a tangy, piquant kick. The posset was good but may have suffered a bit from travelling, jogging around in my backpack on a sweaty train. The cream had started to separate but I wolfed it nevertheless and got the subtle lime flavour. And finally Helen's cordial was very freshening to wash everything down. I am definitely going to have a crack at Elderflower cordial next year. And vodka, most probably. And for this exchange, all Helen would take from me is a paltry tomato juice in the pub but I like to think that my conversation was riveting and entertaining enough to warrant cooking for me. She only yawned once.

Thanks again Helen, keep up the crusade and get the message out there.

Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes

Great eating on a summers evening

Posset, whyst did thou split on me?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire

You know when you've been out on the razz with the lads and consumed half your body weight in beer and spirits, smoked 40 Rothmans, eaten 12 packets of pork scratchings, laughed, jeered and snogged each other and rolled around on the floor and then been kicked out of the pub not for fighting but for suggesting that Wendy Richards (RIP) is prettier than the barmaid after which you'll make your way home, falling through numerous hedges on the way and then narrowly escape arrest for swinging from a lamppost. Yeah you know when that happens..............ok you might not but I do have to ask, why oh why does the curry house at that point seem so appealing. Actually that is a silly question. Of course it's going to be appealing. You're starving but you're drunker than 10 sailors who've taken on Ollie Reed (RIP) in a drinking competition and the Raj of India is the only option available because they're the only ones, bless them, who will take you in. No the bigger question is why oh why when surrounded by your mates, do you suggest with drunken bravado that we should go for the hottest things on the menu?


Because the male mind, thick, languid and blotted with alcohol cannot make reasoned choices and when goaded will happily decide that a phaal is the perfect end to a night out. Created in response to years of abuse from small minded pissed up oiks, the phaal really is a ridiculous dish that will leave you red-faced, sweating, crying with streams of snot running from your nose. Your mouth feels like someone has poured molten lava into it and that a brigade of fire ants are exercising their mandibles on your tongue and no amount of Kingfisher, water or sugar will douse the flames. Worse still, in the morning the pain will revisit but at the other end as you go through your ablutions on the porcelain throne, eyes closed, teeth clenched. If the Spanish Inqusition had the phaal at their disposal, then surely it would have been preferred tool for extracting confession over the red hot poker. After some very dainty wipes and a hurried telephone conversation to your protocologist, you swear later that you will never ever ever do that to yourself again. And I haven't. Not since my single days anyway. I have matured, I know better. But every now and then, the 'ring sting' echo of the past comes back to haunt me. And a certain young man going by the name of Nick and who writes Lost In The Larder was responsible for the most recent one.

Having reread that last sentence, I think I should just clear up that it was Nick's Cochinita Pibil Tacos that caused the last episode, nothing more, nothing less.........filthy gits.

I met Nick a few weeks ago now. He was coming up from his native Bournemouth into the big smoke to collect a huge stash of magazines and to attend a symposium organized by some Danish butter manufacturer. This could be considered as slightly odd behaviour but I was happy to meet Nick again as we had bonded at Bloke's Eat Beef and ever since then he had been eager to take part in WMPC. Nick was over an hour late getting to the arranged meeting point that day but given he that had to drive all the way from Dorset and make his way into Wimbledon before coming into town and was feeding me to boot, I forgave him (do it again though Nick, in the immortal words of Rory Breaker "I'll kill ya!") So we ambled around to Smiths of Smithfield for some brunch (club sandwich) and chat and after a short while it soon became clear that this guy was very passionate about food. Displaying a thorough knowledge of the produce available in his area, Nick earmarked local farms, shops, restaurants and deli's with great enthusiasm and reverence. You know how it goes in conversation when you often want to respond in kind to a subject, I have to say I started to feel like a dork and a fraud. What the bloody hell do I know about stuff grown, sourced and produced in Essex? Not much, I soon realised as we talked further. Nick's main thrust then turned to setting up a network in Dorset similar to the strong food community that exists in London where people engage with producers and restaurateurs at events, eat and drink with each other and write up about it in blogs and the like to get the information out there. That was the reason why he had 100 magazines to collect, he was putting on an event in Poole centering around a screening of Food Inc and was picking them up for goodie bags. Of course it has since happened and was very successful by the sounds of it and at this point in the game I can only feel a personal sense of underachievement. In fact I am the tardy one here. Damn these young go getters is what I say. Hats off to Nick for what he's doing though, it's certainly admirable that someone is making great efforts to showcase local food in it's infinite variety outside the capital.

But what of his contribution is Where's My Pork Chop? And what the hell did he do to my bum?

Actually his Cochinita Pibil Tacos didn't really wreck that much havoc, the initial school boy theme of this post came from Nick's enquiry the next day when he asked did I suffer any side effects to my posterior, making me giggle and think about past misdemeanors. No his meal of traditional Yucatán tacos were indeed delicious. Constructed from 7 hour slow cooked Dorset pork, corn tortillas, shredded cabbage and radishes with a chilli salsa and pink onions and I savoured every last bite. The pork was wonderfully tender and sweet with strong tones of citrus which contrasted well against the chilli salsa. The salsa did have a decent kick to it but it wasn't up the top end of the scoville scale and I was grateful for that. The addition of the plain shredded white cabbage did seem unusual to me but for texture it worked well and the onions which I presume had been marinated in vinegar added a lovely tart flavour. All to be washed down with some chilled, freshing Mexican Modelo lager. By the way if you are thinking of participating in this project and think that I can be won over by some alcohol then you'd be right. If I was to be at all critical with Nick's dish, I would say that he could have done me a favour and drained off some of the juice from the meat as my shirt certainly got a good Pollocking. But then again, that's nothing new.

Thanks again Nick, for a fantastico contribution to WMPC. Keep us posted on further events down in Dorset.

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Chilli Salsa

Succulent pork

Delicious combination of flavours

Will you respect me in the morning?