Sunday 27 June 2010

Being American in Britain during the World Cup, Spanish Dancers, and Art in Squash Courts

MONDAY: I'm sitting in the Winter Garden again enjoying some peace and quiet, interrupted only by a faint rumble of voices and the bladder-stimulating splash of at least 2 water features. I have a very special treat for lunch today: homemade feta, created by my friend Albert, famous for Albert's Pies at the Nottingham House. Not as dry and salty as your typical feta, it more closely resembles haloumi and is absolutely gorgeous, made with love a very short distance from my own front door. I was a bit worried this morning when I realised the crusty roll I hastily bought yesterday is actually a cheese roll. But not to worry: the cheddar in the bread is very mild so the feta still shines through. Although I've added a tiny bit of red pepper and spring onion, this feta can easily stand on its own, as if it's a Greek version of my nostalgically favourite sandwich Camembert which consists of nothing more than a good French Camembert on a buttered baguette.

TUESDAY: It's another Winter Garden lunch on an unusually cold June day. I'm wearing 3 layers and thinking of my mother, undoubtedly withering away in Southern California heat and wishing it were still winter. Ah, well, no pun intended, but everything's relative.

Including the time. My Bay Area friend Mistah Rick has just told me how one of his favourite Oakland pubs is opening early in the morning to show the World Cup matches from South Africa. I remember one of my local pubs doing the same thing during the last World Cup that took place in Japan and Korea. Although the idea of having a pint at 9:00am is decadently intriguing, I'm afraid my own personal sun doesn't cross over the yardarm until noon -- with the exception of champagne brunches, of course. But I don't experience those very often these days.

The first 2010 World Cup match I watched was England v. USA last Saturday night. After spending the afternoon at the Peace In The Park festival at the Ponderosa, encamped between 2 drumming circles for the last 2 hours, I was feeling quite burned out on drums; so the nonstop drone of the vuvuzelas only heightened my sense of inner short-circuiting.

As I watched the match, my head feeling like a large bottle filled to capacity with mosquitoes, I admit I was quite relieved by the outcome: UK nil, USA nil. I realise this is a bit selfish, but it means I won't have to endure a fresh round of stupid questions and comments by my British acquaintances asking me how I feel because a.) my team, USA, won, or b.) my team, USA, lost. I mean, I live in the UK, I'm American, I love Mexican food as well as cask ale, and as far as I'm concerned I'm both American and British. So I'd be happy for either side to win. But I won't go on about that because some people just don't get it...

WEDNESDAY: As it's a sunny breezy day I'm spending today's lunch in Tudor Square, sitting on some inset seating in one of the new planters, with the Crucible Theatre on my right, the Winter Garden on my left, the Lyceum behind me, and a view of the top of the Sheffield Wheel to the front of me peeking out behind Starbucks. And some sort of distant live music. Is there a concert in the Peace Gardens? Or is it someone's portable stereo? As I enjoy the view and the sounds I'm eating my second Albert's Feta sandwich for the week.

I've just gone inside the Winter Garden in search of the music source, and now I'm sitting on a bench under the palm fronts and glass ceiling watching a bevy of Spanish dancers. How thoughtful of them to have provided me with some lunchtime entertainment. I have no idea who they are and what part of Spain they're from, because there are elements of bellydancing as well. Oh dear, the recorded music has been miscued and the girls are angry…

THE FOLLOWING MONDAY: Lunch on this warm sunny Summer Solstice is an orange Orkney cheddar with red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh thyme in a brown breadcake. The cheese, although not very sharp, is very flavoursome. Dining on Orkney cheese makes me think of the 8-mile walk I took across the Orkney main island almost exactly 3 years ago with two friends, where we reached the most northernmost point I've been on this planet: the village of Twatt.

In a much shorter feet-related feat, yesterday I walked/sprinted/sprang 5K in Sheffield's Race For Life to raise money for cancer research. I did this with the 10 other members of the Cobden View Girls, all of us wearing pink ruffly knickers as we battled our way through over 6000 other pink females. I've never dived between so many bodies and bounded over so many prams in my life. At least we raised a good chunk of money.

THURSDAY: Today's lunch is at a secluded table in the university's atrium, with a view towards the building I had been told was Ponds Forge but isn't. I spent a half hour this morning searching for Ponds Forge, an extremely out-of-the-way sports and conference centre, but I'm glad I finally found it because I was there to see the Sheffield College Creative Exhibition 2010. Unable to find the exhibit of a friend whom I had come to see, I was about to leave when I ran into Josh, who took me over to his out-of-the-way exhibit wall in this out-of-the-way exhibit hall. As a young photographer who wants to become a successful photographer, he was pretty pissed off about the lack of exposure, if you pardon yet another pun, for this exhibit. (I learned later that this exhibit room is normally used for squash courts.)

After the trek back to the University I have just enough time to eat my lunch, an oddly precarious sandwich consisting of very dry and solid hazelnut tofu and sun-dried tomatoes glued to a sesame seed bagel with a bit of nontoxic cream cheese. My fruit is a gorgeous sunset of peach, strawberry, apricot, and peace/apricot hybrid slices. It looks loaded with Vitamin A, the better to help me view my art.

Friday 11 June 2010

Meetingspeak, Food Festivals, and Rebellious Eating

MONDAY: Lunch today is cheddar, tapenade, and sun-dried tomato on a very tall, very whole-grainy, and very seedy Somerfield roll. I intentionally chose cheddar because it was less likely to crumble up or squidge out the sides as I forcefully shoved down the sandwich box lid on this statuesque roll. When I just now opened the box I expected my sandwich to come leaping out like a jack-in-the-box. But fortunately it didn't. And it's yummy and wonderfully chewy.

THURSDAY: Today's sandwich is my typical basil tofu with slices of my first peach of the season and well as some pear, satsuma, and some surprisingly delicious blueberries. Summer seems to have suddenly arrived, and I'm looking forward to the berries, peaches, nectarines, and melons of the season. What more can I say?

Ah yes, there is more I can say. A couple of days ago I endured -- er, attended -- a staff meeting. Now, nearly everybody who works for a company or organisation experiences the seemingly useless ritual of the staff meeting. I remember the regular staff meetings held for our group when I worked as a software developer in California. Everybody took along notepads and pens, and some attendees actually jotted down notes, although many of us used the opportunity to hone our drawing and cartooning skills. When we had weekly morning staff meetings I quickly developed a hatred for the smell of microwave popcorn. I wasn't personally offended by the donuts and other cold snacks that would often be laid out for the attendees; but there was always some food-obsessed employee who thought that saturating the already stuffy air with the stench of ersatz-flavoured popcorn would be an excellent idea, not realising that some of us had only recently finished our breakfasts and had no desire to be assaulted by the smell of food.

But the main aspect of staff meetings I remember is the unique lingo: Meetingspeak, as some call it. In 1980s Los Angeles we would often "put the whole ball of wax on the back burner" so that we could "run it up the flagpole" in a future "time-frame". A few years on with a new manager we learned how to "identify the players", making sure that we stopped when "our plates were full".

Times and buzzwords change. I can't vouch for what they're doing these days at American staff meetings, but here in England we are busy turning nouns into verbs. For instance, everybody is into "evidencing", whether they have a job, are trying to get a job, or are still in university. And it doesn't matter if you're a book shelver, a secretary, a marketing professional, a psychiatrist, a quantity surveyor, or a politician: at some point in your job you'll be expected to perform the act of evidencing.

And if you're all finished evidencing you can always action a few things. Just think of all the things available at your desk that you could action. You could start by actioning up the PC and doing a little spreadsheeting, and then perhaps you could do some Powerpointing. Or you could keep it simple and stapler some pages together and then file-cabinet them. And after you've communicationed a couple of colleagues you could take a few minutes out for some coffeebreaking and relaxationing.

There's really not much pointness in communicationing or languageing anymore.

FOLLOWING WEDNESDAY: Lunch is experimental: some Pié de Angloy, a lovely creamy yellow Normandy cheese, with sliced baby beetroot in sweet chilli marinade (which was languishing in the fridge), with chopped spring onion, fresh thyme, and lots of fresh ground black pepper and paprika. I know it's another schizophrenic combination of spices, but it is good, like a Russian picnic in Paris -- or perhaps a French picnic in Moscow.

THURSDAY: I just want to mention another good sandwich, with lots and lots of avocado spread with a bit of olive tapenade, lots of fresh thyme, and thin slices of really sharp cheddar with spring onion. A little leaf would be good, too. I'm calling this the Michelangelo.

THE FRIDAY FOLLOWING THE FOLLOWING WEEK: As this is the first week of my summer break, when I'm working only three afternoons a week, the settings of my lunches will be varied. Today I am sitting on the grass in the Peace Gardens among throngs of other people enjoying the Sheffield Food Festival. I'm eating a slice of spinach and feta pie purchased at a stall. It's tasty but it would have been nicer heated rather than cold. And, of course, nothing can compare with my own spanakopeta, or "spanky" as a friend calls it.

It's a sunny day, sunglassed children are playing in the pools, and I'm starting to realise that my new straw trilby is not going to protect my back from the sun. I'm surrounded by people eating burgers, curries, Caribbean dishes, Chinese ice cream, and Italian pastries and sipping on smoothies, milkshakes, and beer. It reminds me a bit of the Bite of Seattle, except for the advantage of being able to drink one's beer and margarita outside the restriction of beer gardens. Ah, but it's still got a long way to go to match Seattle's festival. For one thing, there are very few restaurants involved, and there is no live music. It needs at least six different stages with music starting at noon and continuing until midnight. And, of course, a Russian stall selling smoked salmon piroshkies and a seafood stall selling barbecued pesto salmon wouldn't go amiss…

THE WEDNESDAY FOLLOWING THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY: As I just mentioned, this summer I'm enjoying eating my packed lunch in pleasant city centre settings before arriving at work. On warm sunny days I have the choice of the Peace Gardens, St Paul's Square, a shady spot of lawn by the Sheffield Cathedral, or even one of the fountainside tables in front of the train station. And when it's cold and/or damp my choice spot is on a bench inside the Winter Garden. Today, unfortunately, everybody else seems to have come up with the same idea, as the benches are all full up, and the only tables are reserved for Zooby's customers.

So here I am in the Sheffield Hallam University Atrium, sitting at a quiet table in the Cutting Edge café, consciously ignoring the sign next to my head that asks patrons not to consume their own food and drink at these tables. In an act of rebellion I openly brandish my extremely garlicky baba ghanouj and cream cheese sandwich made in my own kitchen as if to say, "Take that, you catering curmudgeons! I shall stand my ground and fight to the death for my right to consume my own strawberries!"

Besides, it's the summer break and the place isn't exactly buzzing with customers.

I will admit I'm a bit of a food rebel at times. Although I'd never foist the stench of a hot greasy meal on my fellow bus passengers I will happily much away on nuts or raisins on my homeward journey. A friend recently told me that eating anything is forbidden on the buses; but I think she misinterpreted the pictogram of the international "No" circle surrounding a steaming kebab. My raw cashews are never even remotely steaming, and my flame raisins are far from flaming.

So I shall continue to boldly nibble my snack like a rebel-rousing squirrel. Viven Los Anarcardos!

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