Saturday, 20 November 2010

Inundations of Food and Drink

TUESDAY: It's a cheesy week. Yesterday's lunch in the midst of chaos was Stilton and hot papaya chutney, and today it's Maasdam with stone ground mustard with real ale (in the mustard, not poured over the sandwich) with red pepper and spring onion, and my fruit consists of strawberries and slices of clementine and pear. It's a miracle I managed to slip away for my lunch break, as two of us have been retrieving books for students Argos-style. This is not because my dream of an Argos-style library -- where only staff members are allowed in the aisles of books -- has come true. But more on that in a minute.

I was chatting the other day with a young English friend about the common British desire for wetness in one's food. I tend to like my food on the dry side, eschewing the need for gravy on my savoury pies and roasted vegetables. I even go so far as to use the minimum trickle of milk on my cereal in order to keep it from going soggy. I deplore soggy. I do like dressing on my salad, but in a sensible quantity that complements rather than conquers. We both agreed that we can appreciate the occasional "water feature" in our meal. But neither of us wants an inundation.

What a coincidence it was when I arrived at work the next day to discover there had been an inundation. Due to burst pipes in the ceilings, books were drenched and the carpets were soaked on two floors. As a result the book collection is roped off on one floor, preventing students access, until the problem is fixed and the area is deemed no longer floodable.

A few years ago it was for the same university that I worked on a research contract about the Sheffield Flood of 1864. A year after that contract ended I witnessed the Sheffield Flood of 2007. And now it's the Adsetts Flood of 2010. Perhaps I should dig out my old Red Cross Swimmer's Card -- achieved when I passed the advanced test at the impressive age of eight -- and have "Flood Survivor" added to my qualification.

THURSDAY: It's Day 4 of this superbuzzing Wonder Woman week. Yesterday afternoon the flooded floor was officially re-opened to students, the ribbons cut by the Mayor of Level 3. The Queen couldn't make it, nor could Charles or William and Kate, and sadly there was no champagne. I'll have to check the local newspapers later.

My sandwich is smoked Applewood cheddar on a wheat breadcake with chopped red pepper, spring onion, and two sliced cocktail olives. And it's mighty good: the cheddar is very mature but not over-smoked, and the olives are happy to make an appearance, seeing as how it's been months and months since they've been called out to grace any martinis. These are economically pinched times, sadly devoid of any trace of Bombay Sapphire or Absolut. Perhaps a Christmas treat will be in order...

Returning to the subject of food inundations, I suppose, although I'm definitely a "wet" where alcohol is concerned, you could call me a "dry" when speaking of meals. I do like sauces, especially on my pasta and rice, but in moderation so I can still recognise the tagliatelle or the couscous. And we did have gravy in the States, most notably the essential eponymous gravy on the Thanksgiving turkey, and even country (properly pronounced "cun-trah") gravy on baking powder biscuits that some breakfast cafes were proud to serve as an option to toast. But I don't recall any dessert ever being drowned in anything as liquid as custard or evaporated milk -- only ice cream or pleasantly puffy whipped cream. I do remember that when I left Southern California to move to Seattle, leaving behind my favourite chile relleno burrito venue, I was excited when I finally found two Mexican restaurants in Seattle that had chile relleno burritos on their menus, only to be disappointed when they served them on a plate covered with ranchero sauce. It's a textural thing: one must hold their chile relleno burrito in their hands and bite into it, not cut it with a knife and fork. It's just wrong.

FRIDAY: Lunch on this TGIF-style Friday is hard-boiled egg mixed with diced mature cheddar, Dijon mustard, yogurt, and capers and caper vinegar. lots of paprika, and crunchy bits. When I learned the Queen was in fact in Sheffield yesterday to open a new motor neurone centre I realised we should have delayed the reopening of Level 3 by one day so she could have popped in and cut the tape. I know she has a busy schedule, but it would have made the reopening special. And considering we now have to put up with the gradually increasing stench of book mildew and fetid carpet mould, it would give us something to be proud of as we sneeze, cough, sputter, and gag our way through our working days.

I think the university should provide SARS-style face masks for those of us working in this toxic environment. To honour Children in Need, perhaps they could be decorated with animal noses and whiskers. If the staff all looked like furry little animals, the students would be less likely to think they'd entered a contamination zone.

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