Food Stuff

A Gig, and the astonishing price of beer

I went to see a band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. I went on my own – on my Jack, so to speak – as my wife was holidaying with old school chums, their annual get-together.

Cheltenham is just up the road and I know it well enough to park for nothing, despite the crowds, and walk the ten minutes to the gig. Still, it felt weird going to a gig all on my lonesome, for the first time, I thought, until I remembered this is what I did when I arrived in Sydney, Aus. I found out the Opera House hosted free concerts some days and encouraged by this, I even went to a few paid events. Anyway, that was years back and it felt strange all the same.

I went to hear the relatively new Scandinavian trio, Rymden. While I’m not familiar with pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft, I knew of the other two, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström – double bass and drums, respectively – from their time in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., as they became. I had planned to see this band sometime but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a tragic accident whilst scuba-diving. The two remaining members went their separate ways, I thought, until I saw this gig advertised. So, there I was! It was a good gig; I enjoyed it.

Magnus Öström handled the introductions and mentioned their was a CD out, but he also said it was available on Spotify, but if you listen to it on Spotify, he joked, you have to listen to it a lot of times!

This obviously implies that certain artists get a lean deal with the streaming platforms and perhaps buying a recording is better. I have said that buying records isn’t necessary now – the ownership argument notwithstanding – as everything is usually on the internet somewhere, and CDs aren’t cheap – and vinyl is, I see, even more expensive!

It’s not like I’m paying for Spotify either – I find I can bear the ads – but now I must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty. Or am I looking for an excuse to buy?


Whilst on the subject of shelling out, do you know what the average price of a beer is in pubs and bars in the UK?

I’m here to tell you it’s £4.40 – and that is 60p more than the average Brit expects to pay! These figures are from 2018, the latest I could find, and I had to look it up as I’m one of those people who doesn’t check the price of everyday items. I’d be perfect for interviews as a Home Secretary or Minister for Food.

However, my suspicions were up at the festival bar when I saw – unless my eyes deceived me – a pint of beer costing between £5.50 and £6.00, depending on brand. The daft thing is that Cheltenham isn’t a remote festival where you are a captive audience. It is slap bang in town, surrounded by numerous pubs and bars. They were even serving it up in plastic “glasses”. There are some things beyond the pale.

Is Life Ever Long Enough To Peel A Beetroot?

When I was in regular work, I was in the habit of packing a small container with a handful of assorted nuts and dried fruits. This would be my mid-day meal along with a banana and a muesli bar. I say “mid-day meal” but it was easily convenient to pop open the container at any time of the day and graze, though the banana and bar I always kept for lunchtime.

As soon as I stopped work, I hit the bread. It’s one of my foodie weaknesses, especially as it comes in so many tasty varieties. As does my other food weakness – cheese – so I lazily hit the cheese roll/cheese sandwich habit.

Sorry to be crass but the trouble with habitual bread eating is it bungs up the old system and I find few things spoil my day more than a sluggish constitution. In an effort to regain my previous health, I substituted bread for a mixed veggie bake down. This comprises half a butternut squash, two or three bell peppers, three banana shallots and whatever else I find or fancy. Often there’s half a fennel bulb going or maybe some spare root vegetables.

Once baked, I peel the skins off the shallots and peppers, but not the squash – it doesn’t need it – cut it all into bite-sized pieces, mix in a little dressing, and pop it into a container for the fridge. That’s my lunches for every other day of the week, alternating with the nuts and fruit as I did before.

Yesterday, I fancied some baked beetroot and put four in the oven as well. They bake a treat and their flavour is sweeter and more intense, but this means ending up with beetroot juice stained fingertips which no amount of scrubbing seems to remove.

It looks as if I’ve been out and multiple-voted in an Afghanistan general election!

My wife says I should have left the skins on but I think the burnt skins can taste a little too gritty. Now I’m wondering if she isn’t right.


And here’s one I pre-prepared earlier.

Would you say what I’ve done is “pre-prepared” my lunches? I’ve seen this term used before and recently in a Food, Health and Wellbeing article advising against so-called “ready meals”, or as they called them “pre-prepared meals”. For me, the term not only looks tautological but it doesn’t roll cleverly off the old tongue either.

What do you reckon? According to the OED, the pre- in prepared stands for before or beforehand, so pre-pre- logically stands for before before. Isn’t that just one too many befores in the process? What do I know, English is crazy.

Fat Tuesday, No Pancake

So, today is Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras, if you prefer, or Pancake Day here in Britain.

I don’t know about you but pancakes are one of those foods which you imagine are better than they actually are. Fried batter with raw lemon juice and white sugar. Yum. Like you could eat any of those ingredients on its own, in quantity, with relish.

In my youth, I vaguely remember an eatery chain dedicated to pancakes. What was it called? Pancake Hut? Pancakes R We? Flat Batter Fry House? I honestly don’t remember. Inside, the menu was almost entirely pancakes. You chose a savoury filling for the main course and a sweet filling for dessert. I think the savoury ones were stuff like chilli con carne, ratatouille or fried beans; the sweets were predominantly stewed fruits with ice cream on top. It was somewhere to take your girlfriend when you wanted to impress her without much money. We were young, see!

Well, much like Christmas mornings and Hallowe’en, Pancake Day hasn’t a lot of traction without kids about the house. I think we may forgo them this time. We have some venison meatballs in the freezer and I might do a wild mushroom and shallots gravy, some parsnip mash and lightly steamed cavolo nero. Enjoy your pancakes!

image: detail from The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel, the elder (1559)

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

Fishless January

It seems a bit cruel to decree this a month in which we must abstain from alcohol AND meat when most of us are struggling to give up CHOCOLATE.

It’s staggering to read there are now probably 3.5 million UK citizens who identify as vegans. This is about 7% of all British men, women and children. Though, significantly, the motive has shifted from mainly cruelty concerns in farming to personal health benefits and awareness of climate change, and given a tremendous lift by social media and following celebrity lifestyles.

I’ve received a bulletin email from my supermarket of choice, Waitrose, announcing a launch of their “Fishless Fingers“. Presumably it’s aimed at people who shamefully admire fish fingers but wouldn’t eat fish. This is, surely, imitation-alternative gone too far; the food equivalent of jumping the shark.

I remember the debates back in the 70s as to what part of the fish their fingers actually came from. Today, I find that their history goes way back to 1900, and the commercial product gained popularity in Britain in the 50s. Clarence Birdseye, the doyen of frozen foods, first marketed them as “herring savouries” though public opinion preferred cod fish, so he dreamt up instead “battered cod pieces” which sounds like the aftermath of a terrible fishing accident. His employees rescued the day in an opinion poll, considering “fish fingers” to be the most attractive marketing name.

I’m sure they used to be a way to get young kids to eat fish – which was considered as “brain food”, benefiting their developing intelligence. However, more recently, and with improved quality, it has found favour with adults as a convenient and easier way of packing fish into a sandwich. Hence, I suspect, the necessity to invent the Fishless Finger alternative.

Beyond the year 2050, when we’re all vegan, what will future generations who won’t have known meat make of the term, Fishless Fingers? Or will it be just a flash in the pan?

Sex Words

With luck, our forthcoming house move will happen in the new year and I am beginning to look at home improvement and gardening projects more and more. Only this morning I looked into how to wire up a wall-mounted TV above a fireplace before moving onto asparagus beds. In our allotment years, we had inherited an asparagus bed from previous tenants and the fresh shoots, cut, cooked and eaten within a half hour, were so divine, a new bed is at the top of the list of gardening endeavours.

I hadn’t realised asparagus is sexed. That is to say there are male and female plants, the females bear fruit while the males push up more spears, and are more desirable to cooks. Of course, I then remembered about the holly and hunting at this time of year for red berry bearing twigs to make Christmas wreaths – the female plant again bears the fruit.

The British don’t really think about gender beyond the animal kingdom and even within it, they tend to make crazy assumptions: how many readily assume any cat is a “she” while any dog is a “he”. I remember listening to a man wax fondly about his banger of a car. It was “she’s a good little runner; she doesn’t like hills as much as she once did though; I can still get a good many miles out of her for a gallon…” etc. while I’m thinking “it’s a car: bits of metal, rubber and plastic”. Fair enough, I’ve never been one for cars.

When learning Spanish as a “foreign language”, or French or Italian, the native English speaker will have some trouble with gendered words. Not only are we required to use the correct grammatical article before the noun, and the correct adjective form after, but we trouble our logical minds with why certain things are masculine or feminine in the first place. For example, why is a man’s jacket (una chaqueta) female and a woman’s dress (un vestido) male?

I suspect the problem arises with our chronic presumption about gender assigned characteristics. A woman can wear a jacket and a man a dress. For native speakers learning their words from birth, there isn’t a problem; it is what it is (I believe this is a secret to learning new languages too – don’t over analyse, just accept it).

Sorry if I’ve misled you with the title. Did you know asparagus is considered to be an aphrodisiac? El afrodisíaco, in Spanish, even though Aphrodite was a goddess? Don’t over analyse!

He regresado

As you guessed, I have been away on a short break. They do have internet in Spain but I choose not to indulge in normal habits on a break. Ironically, even my daily Spanish lessons (Duolingo) were put on hold.


In the Province of Granada in southern Spain, it appears that complimentary tapas is obligatory in bars when you order a drink. It’s certainly the case you don’t have to ask; you simply order a cerveza or a vino tinto or any round of drinks, and a few minutes after they arrive, the patron presents you with a snack. This varies between a humble baked potato with garlicky mayonnaise to finger-licking sticky kebabs or grilled, spicy chorizo and morcilla, a melt-in-the-mouth black pudding.

I used to think you couldn’t beat a traditional English pub but now I’d settle for a Province of Granada bar. It’s a lovely touch and for two beers, you won’t want for lunch.

Though tapas is available elsewhere in Spain, I don’t think it’s complimentary. In Seville last year, we had to order it separately and there wasn’t the element of treat or surprise. I tried to image it happening in English pubs but all I thought of was a bowl of peanuts and pork scratchings.

Bakery Fakery

Amongst my news feed is a finding that from 19 supermarket loaves marketed as “sourdough”, only 4 were identified as genuine. The rest contained yeast which, as anyone who knows sourdough, is like putting feathers on a pig and calling it chicken.

But is anyone surprised about the loaf fakery? To be honest, if a loaf looks good, feels good and proves to be tasty, they can call it what they like as far as I’m concerned. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and when they said, once you’ve tried sourdough, there’s no going back, they were wrong. As fabulous as sourdough is, and it is, variety still remains the spice of life and other breads are just as exciting.

So, yes, a slap on the wrists of all those naughty, cynical supermarkets but come on people, teach yourselves discernment.

Thinking about it, bread is probably my favourite food of all time. You know those restaurants which give you a basket of bread samples while you wait for your order. With luck, there might be sun-dried tomato bread, some bread infused with herby flavours, or seeded bread and even fruity breads. I eat the lot. When the waiter comes for the order, I sometimes feel like saying, forget the starters, just bring me another plate of those fine breads, my good fellow! (because that’s how we speak in England, in restaurants, don’t you know?)

Thinking some more, I used to have a go at baking my own. Maybe I ought to get back into that too.


image by Helena Yankovska via Unsplash.com

The Great British Fake-off

A Bit of Englishness

In Winter months, on occasional weekends, we like to have a traditional roast in a country pub: moist, pink beef slices, roast potatoes, baked root vegetables, sour red cabbage, cauliflower cheese, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Delicious, bit really it’s all an excuse to sit in a pub on an afternoon and enjoy a decent English ale.

When the warmer weather comes, albeit unreliably and all too brief, a roast isn’t always agreeable, but the pint still beckons. Our considerations turned to the Ploughman’s Lunch, and here’s the thing: pubs don’t seem to be doing them much any more. Not around here, anyway. It’s either gastropub menus or sandwiches.

This lunchtime, we tried out the pub in the Cotswold village of Withington, about nine miles from us, though this was our first visit. Things were looking up as we entered the car park and found parking under some trees, out of the sun. We walked through the open garden which had plenty of tables, many unoccupied, and almost all with wide parasols. Inside the quaint, old building, on top of the bar, there was a small chalkboard on which was written: PLOUGHMAN’S LUNCHES – Stilton & cheddar or Ham & beef.

We sat in the garden, a table on the lawn by a babbling stream. The sun shone in a clear sky but the breeze was cool and gentle. A church wedding was in process – we’d seen it on coming into the village – and the church bells rang. Somewhere behind us, through some trees, there was a tennis court and when the bells paused, they were replaced by the softer puck, puck, puck of a tennis match.

The only thing the scene lacked was a vicar strolling along the lane and a bobby on a bicycle.

If only every day could be like this.


photograph: Pinterest

Compound Interest

You know that trick about Compound Interest? You start early, put a modest amount away regularly and then some years later, you see what you have and find it’s quite an impressive amount, and accumulated relatively painlessly.

Then you kick yourself, wishing you’d put a little more away and started even earlier, instead of blowing it on silly things like magazines and take-out coffees and designer label jeans. My own stupid awakening has shown me I could have paid off my mortgage a decade ago and be retired by now. Hindsight, eh? Never mind.

I think I’m becoming aware of other things which act not unlike compound interest but in an intellectual sense rather than a financial one. Reading has to be the most profound and obvious of these. Since I was about sixteen, I’ve nearly always had a book on hand, reading. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid reader and I’m definitely not a fast reader, rather a continuous and steady one. I think my tastes have been broad; I tend to mix it up, avoid getting into genres or sticking with a particular writer’s oeuvre to exhaustion; it’s been a varied habit. And it has taken on the character of a habitual endeavour. Often I can’t remember the books I’ve read, can’t recall the story precisely or its conclusion. But I do remember most of the best details; they seem to embed themselves automatically in my subconscious. I’m sure it’s the same for most people who read.

Lately, I’m becoming aware of the benefits of a longterm reading habit. Knowledge, wisdom, facts and ideas seem to crystallise and form an interconnecting whole. It’s a bit like reaching for an ingredient whilst cooking and finding it close at hand. It feels quite wonderful.

In its own way too, cooking is an art and a life skill acquired with a modicum of effort, regularly over time. I’ve always liked to cook; funnily enough, I enjoyed cooking probably before I enjoyed eating; I used to be a fussy eater as a kid. Without much effort, I now have enough confidence to prepare a good range of meals without recourse to recipes, have an understanding of food pairings, flavours, nutrition and diet, all simply from getting stuck in in a small way, from an early beginning.

And there are other skills, picked up in a similarly effortless way, which pay dividends in time. Simple life skills. I trust you’ve each got one or two of your own. I can’t help thinking, if we’d only dismissed the stupid, trivial, nonsensical things we habitually do over a lifetime, we’d be better people in the longer term. Is that wishful thinking?