taste

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

A Tin Opener

In Britain, before the can, there was the tin. I mention this only because, I think, in America it is a can whereas we seem happy to interchange between tin and can now, although for a long while it was only a tin. Some bifurcation in English probably occurred with “tin can”.

When I was a kid, a lot of food was bought in tins, mainly because domestic freezers weren’t in common use. “Pudding”, as dessert was then called (and still in our house referred to as “pud”) invariably meant opening a tin of fruit, divvying it out into bowls, and pouring on a serving of evaporated milk, again from a tin.

Tinned fruit favourites were apricot halves, sliced peaches, pear halves, mandarin orange segments, pineapple rings, and fruit salad (sometimes labelled as fruit cocktail). All of these fruits were canned in a sweet syrup presumably made from fruit juice and sugar. All in all, it was extremely calorific.

Other foods I remember my folks buying in tins were beans, peas, soups, ham, corned beef, “pink” salmon, “red” salmon, sardines, and tuna. And not forgetting the SPAM!

I believe you could buy anything in a tin in these days – even a steak and kidney pie! – but you had to draw the line somewhere. Tinned potatoes? Unless you were expecting a nuclear attack and preparing a bunker, tinned potatoes or almost any root vegetables, seems unnecessary.

Celebrity frugal cook, Jack Monroe, is in the news saying we shouldn’t be snobbish anymore about tinned food. I’m not sure it is, or was, snobbery though there must now be a case for revisiting the tin what with all the bad news about plastic waste. Surely the quality of food in a tin need not be different from similar food in a carton or plastic container.

Come to think of it, in our kitchen, some tinned goods have never gone away. Tinned tomatoes are a better product than fresh in our climate, and are always chosen for chillis and bakes in preference. Tinned beans, though not quite as good as dried, are far more convenient. And lately, being fed up with disappointingly dry, fresh grapefruits for breakfast, we have been buying tinned grapefruit segments in juice – now a store cupboard essential. Along with succulent tinned prunes, and a spoonful of natural yoghurt (albeit still from plastic tubs), it makes a perfect breakfast first course.

I draw the line at tinned tuna though. Such a noble fish, and expensive too, ruined by boiling it ready for the tin. It’s simply not the same product as fresh; it ought to be banned.


Stop being snobby about tinned food (Telegraph)

Thinking about…

Cooking eggs.

How do you like your eggs, fried or boiled?

Apparently, the answer is geo-cultural. According to the Co-op as reported in the London Evening Standard,

A Co-op study of just more than 2,000 people found that Liverpudlians prefer poached eggs, fried tops the list in Cardiff, Edinburgh loves an omelette, Glaswegians like a hardboiled egg while Belfast opts for soft boiled.

Londoners, like me, like theirs scrambled, like I do.

Old Woman Cooking Eggs by Diego Velázquez

My mum, who I’d observe at the cooker in order to learn, would make scrambled eggs by boiling them in a little milk and butter, in a milk pan, stirring all the time. And it did take time, waiting for the mixture to “catch” on the pan and continuously lifting it away. This method was adapted to the microwave oven when they became available though stirring would need to be intermittent.

This is how I made scrambled eggs for a long time until I read a story how a British actor once had scrambled eggs cooked by Jack Nicholson. He cooked beaten eggs in a hot frying pan with a little melted butter. It takes seconds, and they taste better.

Much, much later, I cottoned on that there’s little to gain by beating the eggs beforehand. Simply beat them in the pan while cooking. (I think I got this idea from an Asian cookery source – but I could be wrong.)

Fast food isn’t all bad.

The Co-op on Eggs

More thoughts…

I think maybe sometimes nothing is better for lunch than a soft boiled egg sarnie. Soft yolks but not too runny, between buttered, crusty white bread slices, liberally seasoned with salt and black pepper before closing…

When my Gran was living alone, I would visit her every Tuesday, after college, and she enjoyed feeding me, as I think all Gran’s do. One favourite was egg and chips, with a slice of bread. Simple but Gran had a way to make it taste memorable. I know she only ever had white pepper which gives a different bite to the more fruity black. Her “chips” were round slices of spud shallowed fried in a frying pan. Soft, runny yolks, liberally peppered. Exquisite. I can taste them now…

Poaching is a tricky business but done properly, they look good on a kipper or any poached, smoked fish. Brown bread and butter on the side…

Omelette with homemade baked chips is my go-to quick dinner for one, usually if I’m heading out and it’s too early for the others to eat. It’s automatic but joyful. Two cheeses grated in the omelette, three parts Cheddar and one part Parmesan. I’ll have a generous dash of HP sauce all over this, and the customary slice of bread…

There used to be a transport cafe near where I first worked. A small, round, motherly woman did both the cooking and the serving there; she really looked after you. She did a wonderful cheese omelette and chips, always eaten with brown sauce. And a mug of good tea. Her superb apple pie or crumble served in a pool of custard to follow…