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.

Sunday 14 November 2010

The Vanishing Twist-Tie and Rhyming Cheese

MONDAY: While the rain, wind, and cold rage outside, I'm sitting in a very quiet and empty staff room eating a sandwich with avocado, Pyrenees cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes on a past-its-best rustic cheese roll. It's a chewy but pleasant combination.

THURSDAY: The rain continues, the students are rioting over tuition fee increases, and the First buses to Walkley are getting more random every day. Is it Mars doing a tango with Venus while Jupiter trines nearby, seething with jealousy? Or is it all to do with the economy, rain included? It seems like a waste of water to me, all those rivers running down the pavement. We should be collecting this water so we can save it for, um, a rainy day? Hmmm...

This morning the rare twistie -- aka twist-tie -- I use to seal my muesli bag finally broke, leaving me wit the realisation that I now have no more of these amazingly useful little bits of wire. I don't really know what happened to twisties, as I had a whole drawerful in my kitchen when I lived in Seattle, back when common grocery items like bread wrappers were secured with them. Nowadays one has to grapple with that sticky plastic strip that loses its stick almost immediately after the bread wrapper has been opened for the first time, and with those ridiculous plastic tabs with the cut-out in the centre that always break in half. I've become used to using rubber bands to close things now. But certain bags and wrappers still beg to be properly closed with a twistie. Manufacturers still seem to think twist ties are good for keeping electrical cables tidy. Does this mean I have to start buying unneeded electrical appliances regularly just to have my twisties?

FRIDAY: I'm in the Winter Garden before work, watching a scantily clad family group pose under the fan palms while the very serious photographer bunches them together and orders them to smile. Two of them, a woman and a man, are holding hands. Is it a wedding in process? After they leave another dressed-up group arrives. This time it's two parents photographing their son in his graduation cap and gown. What's coming next -- a supermodel shoot? Or perhaps a new boy band video in the making?

Lunch is more of the Pyrenees cheese with just a small bit of sun-dried tomato, red pepper, and spring onion, and a sprinkling of thyme. It's very pleasant on this cold and windy day. I like this cheese. In fact, I could say that this Pyrenees cheese is the bee's knees. But I won't. Oops, too late...

I apologise ahead of time, but I now have the urge to see how far I can go with the rhyme. Let's my Pyrenees cheese continues to please, as I sit under the trees away from the freeze and shoot the breeze about the increase in fees, the man next to me emits a sneeze, then a wheeze, and his knees seize and I suspect he's filled with quease and ill at ease. And the woman over there agrees as she jingles her keys, and she's teasing the bees hovering over the sleazy peas...oh jeeze, all right, I'll cease!

(I obviously have nothing else to say right now...)

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