Friday, 30 September 2011

Purple Rain

For all it's magic health giving properties, the humble beetroot don't arf give you a scare sometimes. One minute, there you are, scarfing a couple of juicy, purple balls of vinegary joy from the plate, happy in the knowledge that you are plowing a rich vein of vitamins and antioxidants into your system. And the next, you're lying prone on a stretcher, racing to A&E in a blaring ambulance because you've visited the bathroom, swooned at the sight of a resultant skid mark and cracked your head on the sink. I am sorry to get all scatalogical on you but when talking about beetroot, these matters must be addressed. And why is it always a surprise anyway? What is it about the human psyche that makes us forget in that first initial instance? I dunno, it's all a mystery to me. I am still trying to work out why asparagus (and Sugar Puffs) makes my wee wee smell funny.

But these are questions that I suspect the folks from lovebeetroot.co.uk would like to avoid for the time being. Having sent me a batch of beetroot to sample, I suspect that they wanted me to come up with a fan dabbi dozy recipe to promote this delicious veg. To work say, into a cake or a soup or a dip or something. I can highly recommend Silvena Rowe's Beetroot Falafel recipe from her book, Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. It's a bloody gorgeous method for using up beets. However, I've used the lot making my new favourite lunchtime snack, corned beef, salad cream and beetroot sandwiches and if you haven't tried them, then I suggest you do. Satisfyingly cheap and dirty, combining lush sweet, sour and salty flavours, this sandwich currently reigns supreme in my household. The twins can't get enough of them either. Although after wolfing them down they are probably wondering why Daddy keeps getting them to repeat "why so serious?" for the video camera.

As for potty time, well they never bat an eyelid.

Corned Beef, Salad Cream and Beetroot Sandwich

Take some bread, some corned beef (cheap stuff is fine, I wouldn't bother with the quality stuff which is far too salty in my opinion), some salad cream and some sliced beetroot. Make a sandwich with all the ingredients, it's not rocket science.

I never meant cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain........

Corned Beef, Salad Cream and Beetroot Sandwich

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Get Yer 'Ands Orf My Cobnuts!

There is an elderly owner of a fruit and veg stall, down a market very close to where I work, who is a right miserable so and so. I don't why but every encounter I have with him seems to be marked by some grievance on his side. I've been reprimanded for taking my time when eyeing up his apples and pears. My enthusiastic appreciation of his blood oranges has been met with derision. And he once gave me a right old rollocking for, as in his own words, for "fingering his figs". One episode in particular lingers long in my mind. I had made quite a hefty purchase of various bits and bobs from his stall and after handing my cash over, I went to grab what I thought was my blue carrier bag, when he snapped, "oh no sunshine, what do you think you're doing?". "I'm taking my stuff", I said. "That's not your stuff, this bag is for someone picking up their stuff later, your stuff is in that bag", he barked, pointing with one stubby finger to another blue carrier bag. "How do you know that's not my stuff?", I countered. "Because your stuff is different to her stuff". "Her stuff?". "Yes, her stuff". "Well, what stuff did she get?". Unfortunately, the conversation stopped quite abruptly at that point as Mr Grumpy simply shoved a blue carrier bag into my chest before turning and walking off, muttering under his breath. I think he might have even called me a stupid bar steward. Which was a shame because I was enjoying myself. Despite this somewhat abusive relationship, I always return because his responses appeal to my absurdist world view and as time passes, the opportunity for mischievous and surreal exchanges grow and grow. After this latest conversation however, I think he is beginning to let on that I am a bit of a wind up merchant.

"These nuts, are they cobnuts?

"Yes"

"From the cobnut tree?"

"They come from Kentish Cobs"

"Ah and where do they come from?"

"They come from Kent"

"Ah, hence the name"

*pause* "Yes" *pause* "Do you want some?"

"What's the difference between a green cobnut and a golden cobnut?"

"A green cobnut is fresh, a golden cobnut is older, nuttier, without the husk"

"And how fresh are your nuts today?"

"Do you want some cobnuts or what?"

"Hmm, nah, maybe not. Do you have any hazelnuts though?"

The lady standing behind me got served after that.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Life and Death in Cardiff

I don't get to spend as much quality time with my little skin and blister as I used to. We see each other a lot but our adult lives are busy. Days and weekends fill up fast and quick and with each passing year, time seemingly evaporates into thin air. Sometimes, I find it hard to believe we're the ages we are. Sometimes, a sunny afternoon spent fishing for sticklebacks in the river Rom with wellies and empty plastic ice cream tubs feels like it only happened yesterday. However, despite this onward march, we remain close and whenever we get a chance to pair off, we always have a laugh. You know I don't think we have ever really fallen out. I am proud of that. So when the invite came through to attend a banquet at Cardiff Castle, celebrating the best of Welsh food and the end of a very impressive journey for this lucky couple, I immediately thought of Tori (Mrs FU wouldn't be able to come along. I mean who would look after the kids?)

We rolled up at Paddington, bright and breezy on a Sunday morning and grabbed a coffee. Tori also wanted to grab a newspaper for the journey but I told her there would be plenty of papers for us to read on the train. We were travelling first class after all, 'expenses paid' exclaimed the boastful brother with a wink. Of course, there were no free papers to be seen anywhere, just free watery coffee so initially I had to face a surly sis as we pulled out the station and past the Westway flyover but we soon got chatting, making use of her iPhone to play Scrabble. "Ed-Ged??? What kind of word is Ed-Ged?". "It's 'edged', you prat". I was never that good at Scrabble. Along the journey we talked about lots of things. Funny stories, past and present, plans and dreams, collectively spitting on the floor at the mention of Tori's ex, who won't be mentioned any more. The unpronounceable Dolgellau came up in conversation, a drunken weekend with both sets of our friends in Snowdonia where I fell down a hill on a midnight walk and got stuck in a bush. Tori came to my rescue that night and I was about to agree to the suggestion that she was always the more sensible of the two but then, ten minutes later, she made rather disparaging comment about Jonathan Davies. On a train full of Welsh rugby supporters. Perhaps we are more alike than we realise.

We arrived in Cardiff with time to kill, completely missing the Millennium Stadium somehow, making a beeline instead for a pub just outside the castle. The sun was past the yard arm so a pint of Brain's Dark seemed to be in order. The barman was very convivial, asking what I was up to in Cardiff that day. "Sounds great. So you're a food writer eh? Who do you write for then?" God, the amount of times I get caught out with that one so I used my usual stock response, "oh it's a blog called *mumble mumble* ooh look a squirrel!" before turning and hastily making my way to a corner where Tori was sitting, taking a slurp of gorgeous nutty, malty beer on the way. Staring at her orange juice, I could tell straight away that Tori was regretting the decision to leave her car at mine and so we quickly mulled over some options. Leave the car and use the universal taxi service of Mum to get her to work the next day sounded best so she picked up her phone whilst I idly stared out the window, taking another sip. It was the tone of her voice that made my head swivel back. Ashen, Tori's face crumpled as she lifted her hand to her mouth and my stomach lurched. "What's happened?" I asked and with a whisper she told me that Andy, one of our cousins, had died that morning. Andy hadn't been well for a while but having visited him in hospital a couple of weeks previously, he seemed to be growing stronger, winning the battle. But he didn't. He was 31.

Leaving our drinks behind, Tori and I just walked out onto the street and hugged in front of the castle, crying, not knowing what to do. I phoned Mum again, trying to work out how quickly we could get back, asking what could we do and calmly she said "just stay where you are Dan, there's no point racing home to sorrow, just raise a glass for him and try to enjoy your day together". And that's what we did. As surreal as the whole afternoon felt, we stayed and enjoyed ourselves. Occasionally the mask slipped, which had to be covered up by a scramble to the toilet, I hate to think what fellow patrons made of my swallowed sobs coming from the cubicle. But we did it. It's strange but my memory of the day seems to be more focused on the people that we sat with. The food was amazing with a sublime main of tender Ifan Valley saddle of lamb but to be honest, the company of strangers stands out more. The girls from Wales The True Taste were great fun and so obviously passionate about the produce from their country but the main star of the day came in the form of Susan Fiander-Woodhouse, a woman who matures
cheddar cheese in an old mine in Blaenafon. As you might expect from someone who uses this unusual method, Susan was oh so slightly hat stand but also very funny and kept our spirits high at the dinner table. With a twinkle in her eye, she weaved a fair few tales of hilarity involving food, the EU regulating her 'chunks' of cheese and her serious twitter reporting of growing vegetables - "people have the right to know how my tomatoes are doing". If she turned around and said she grew leeks in her knickers I wouldn't have been surprised but I am very grateful to have met Susan. She made me grin from ear to ear, which counted a lot for that day.

Thanks for the invite Visit Wales, I think I know who your next poster girl should be.

The Piers and Emma Farewell Banquet

The Menu

Anglesey Shellfish and Crab Jelly, Caerphilly Cured Salmon, Spiced Penclawydd Cockle Cake, Tomato and Chilli Jam Salsa

Roast Saddle of Ifan Valley Lamb stuffed with a Leek, Garlic and Laverbread Stuffing, Braised Thyme Potato, Buttered Garden Vegetables and a Mint Jus

Hazlenut Merlyn Tart with Raspberry and Orange Compote

Welsh Cakes

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Moustache Lunchbox


For the last month or so I have been sporting some fantastically curious facial topiary on my boat race. Namely a 'handlebar' moustache. Ginger, wiry and oh so funky. Why? Well I recently got involved with a little project with the guys at Movember, purveyors of the 'Mo' and fundraisers extraordinaire, more of which I hope to divulge at a later date but naturally, any association with this charity requires a submission of the razor blade and a commitment to grow to a hairy caterpillar under your nose. So I went for it with great aplomb. I have to say though that opinion on the Mo has been divided, with some detractors commenting that I resemble a German porn star, a member of some cult or worse still, a Victorian paedophile. But other folk have been quite kind. Sophisticated, suave and sexy are just some of the adjectives that have swung my way, the latter coming from my good wife so I've persevered and I have to say, I reckon a lot of people are starting to look at me in a different light. Just the other day for instance, a gentleman in the public lavatory at Upminster station whispered across the urinals at me and asked if I was a friend of Dorothy. "I might be", I replied back, smiling conspiratorially before continuing with "didn't she used to serve behind the bar at The Golden Lion in Romford?" It turned out I that got the wrong Dorothy but still, he was a lovely guy to talk to. I've got his number at home, somewhere.

Accidental cottaging episodes aside, the really great thing about wearing a moustache becomes apparent at feeding time and let me just say, it really does make a difference to the whole process. Because to take a bite of cake, a slurp of soup, a nibble of cheese or a chomp of banana and to flick your tongue up and across, well it's blissful. And that's because (whisper it) with each mouthful, morsels and remnants of each bite often become trapped. Trapped by this unique, beautiful, baleen filter-feed type system. It's brilliant! It's like getting seconds before the seconds come out. Of course, I have been trying to spread the word, encouraging everyone I know to grow one, including my children and I've even boasting on Twitter about this new found application for a Mo, stating that the great thing about having a moustache is that you can store crumbs to snack on at a later date. Unfortunately the response so far has been fairly muted, apart from the faint sound of an electronic 'boak' across the ether of the Internet but then Eat Natural, the muesli bar people dropped me a line and asked would I like to try out their range of bars on my 'tache. I kid you not! They sent me loads. Thus began a bonkers experiment to test the viscosity, flavour and sticky attributes of Eat Natural bars, the hypothesis being - which of these breakfast bars, with the help of my beloved moustache, would help see me through a working day?

These are the results.

Toasted muesli bar with orange marmalade - A disappointing start as the muesli flake to moustache yield was quite low with only a solitary puffed speck of rice attaching after first bite. But still, the tangy aftertaste of the marmalade was quite pleasant.

Cranberries, macadamias and dark chocolate - After making a first crunch down upon this bar, I was quite pleased that a singular cranberry and piece of macadamia flew off and attached themselves in uniformity under each nostril. Fashionable but still not making the grade for sustainability.

Almonds, apricot and yoghurt coating - Now we're talking. One bite and this bar exploded and peppered my Mo with a luxurious even crispy, fruity base, ready to be picked off at intervals throughout the day. I would like to work on reserving yoghurt deposits in the corner of mouth with this one.

Dark 70% chocolate, brazils and apricots - Highly decadent with the chocolate making a heavy, deep penetration of the Mo, excellent storage for frequent licks, especially for that coffee break at 11AM. Scores bonus points with the wife as passionate kiss at the end of the day ensures a cocoa hit too.

Brazils, sultanas, almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts - The best of the bunch by far. Dense, squidgy and packed with nuts. A total meal in a bar and could feed the rest of the office at a push . I just wish my tongue could reach the tip of my nose.

This was as far as I got with this experiment. I should have tested eight in total but after the fifth bar I felt slightly queasy and as we all know, well those who have ever grown one that is, the last thing you want to find in your moustache is a half digested carrot.

But thank you Eat Natural for sending the bars my way.