Saturday 21 January 2012

A New Year of Lunches and More Talk About British Food

WEDNESDAY LAST YEAR: I love the surrealism of daily life. I'm sitting in the Winter Garden on this cold wet day, nibbling a sesame seed bagel with smoked salmon, Quark, and sliced red onion accompanied by a couple of chunks of pomegranate while listening to the grey-haired and Santa-hat-sporting octet known as Sheffield Accordions play French cafe music and Christmas carols while I read about radon spas in Japan. Excuse me while I catch my breath…

Only a couple of minutes have gone by, and the six accordions are playing "When The Saints Go Marching In" while I read about radium suppositories. Fortunately I have finished my lunch.

Denmark has just introduced a "fat tax" on foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat. This is all fine and good, as is the proposed 10% "fat tax" on sugary drinks to cut obesity, especially in children. These are good health moves, as are banning useless and dangerous trans fats and lowering salt content in food items -- although Tesco still insist on creating salt licks out of their smoked salmon and smoked mackerel.

David Cameron has said that the UK coalition is considering levying the same "fat tax" on foods with more than 23% fat content. France already bans the making of high-fat and high-sugar foods for school menus, and this has worked fine. But the concept of high-fat foods should concentrate on items like Big Macs, chips, and processed food, not cheese as was specified in the British analysis. What about all of us skinny vegetarians with normal cholesterol levels who rely on cheese as a source of protein and texturally yummy relief from the potential boredom of an endless diet of vegetables, pulses, and grains? Not only are we skinny and healthy, but one of the reasons we're happy is because of that wonderfully wide and delectable world of cheeses. What would life be without Camembert? Without Stilton? Would a life without Wensleydale, Gorgonzola, mature Cheddar, buffalo mozzarella, feta, and haloumi really be worth living?

What about those folks who are actually buying and eating fried butter? Don't you think the Government should punish them instead? Let us be with our cheese boards, our toasties, our pizza, our Welsh rarebit. After all, man certainly cannot live on cheese alone. One must have bread and crackers as well!

THE FOLLOWING MONDAY: Lunch is another creation of leftover bits: the last of the Stilton, Cheddar and Kelham Island Beer Cheese on a fresh breadcake with chopped green olives, chopped red pepper, and the last sprigs of fresh dill. And once again, like many leftover creations, it's a winner. I'm eating a winner in winter in the Winter Garden, and here I sit, surrounded by pigeons, bundled up in my scarf under the shade of a giant fan palm. And some asshole of a young man just stomped loudly intentionally frightening away the pigeons. Why do so many people hate pigeons? These are my friends, these urban flyers. In fact I recognised the one in front, for whom I was about to accidentally drop a sandwich crumb.

A WEEK LATER ON WEDNESDAY: Being so close to Christmas one never knows what entertainment one will find at lunchtime in the Winter Garden. A month ago it was paralympic table tennis contender Farrel Anthony demonstrating his prowess, and the next week the grey-haired Sheffield Accordions. Last week there were a couple of choirs, and today a drumming circle is setting up to perform.

My sandwich is texturally exciting as well as flavoursome: some St Agur Delice cheese with chopped red pepper, chopped spring onion, and cashew pieces, imparting a yum-crunch-chomp-chew experience. It's a good holiday sandwich, it is.

Sorry, now it's back to being engrossed in Simon Singh's The Code Book...

TUESDAY IN THE NEXT YEAR: Lunch is surprisingly nice: avocado with thin slices of extra mature cheddar seasoned with guajillo chile powder, a sliced olive, sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper on a Tesco whole wheat breadcake. I do hope this child who just sat next to me doesn't chase the pigeons off like the little girl just before him. Kids these days…

On Sunday I stopped in my local pub and joined some friends at a table where there was the distinctly pungent stench of rotting prawns. As another friend, noted for once smelling like rotting prawns, wasn't in attendance, it was difficult to determine just where this smell was coming from. Was it the soup on the counter? No, that smelled pleasant enough. Was it a spill somewhere? Or somebody's breath? I finally discovered the smell was emanating from a nearly empty snack wrapper lying on the table. The contents, manufactured by Freshers of Wigan, were called Scampi Supper. Nothing more than my scientific curiosity led me to pick up a tiny crumb left in the residue of the packet and stick it in my mouth. Instantly my entire upper cavities were flooded with the pong of a recently abandoned prawn factory. It was an awful taste! I think some cats might possibly be attracted to it, especially with a name like Scampi Supper -- but at closer sniff they would be put off by the salty chemical ersatz character.

Who would buy such a thing? Worse still, who would actually eat it? And who did? And do they still have any friends?

ANO|THER WEDNESDAY: Yesterday I watched the young man sitting next to me as he nibbled on a container of raw vegetables. And I thought, surprisingly, yum! What a nice change of lunch that would make, seeing as how I've always liked raw vegetables of all types. So today I've made my version of a salad sandwich: a thin layer of St Agur Delice cheese spread topped with slices of chestnut mushroom and courgette and chopped red pepper, spring onions, and sun-dried tomato. And I've even accompanied my sandwich with carrot sticks. And you know what? It's delicious. One can obviously use whatever raw vegetables one prefers, along with perhaps a spread of Boursin instead. What a great idea.

THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY: My post-table-tennis lunch today is Polish Mystery Cheese with Dijon mustard and chopped pepper and onion. I think it's probably actually some sort of Swiss cheese -- Emmenthal or something similar. I found it in my local Polish-Iranian wonder of a deli as a remnant that been sliced off one of the deli case cheeses, wrapped in plastic wrap with the price written by hand, and left in the case with the prepacked cheese. I assume somebody chose it and then set it down and forgot about it, distracted by the delectable wonder boxes displaying all sorts of pickled herring mixtures, rye breads, mustardy condiments, sausages, biscuits, and countless other treats, all with wrappers written in Polish so one is never quite sure what one is getting -- unless one speaks Polish, of course. (Even my university-level Russian doesn't help much.)

I'm selfishly hoping that the recent Unilever pension strikes and resultant stoppages of production at the Port Sunlight and Norwich plants don't cause a respective shortage of Marmite and the sinus-clearing Colman's Mustard, two stalwarts of the British larder and two of my favourite features of the cuisine. Sometimes I wish that the sugar and sweetener factories would all go on strike, as I'm getting sick of the way so many British food manufacturers think every dish has to be sweet on the palate in order to sell. The other night I was more horrified than I've been yet with my first bite of Lyon's Thai Sweet Chilli King Prawns. My understanding, which is correlated by British Andrew's knowledge and experience, is that "sweet chilli" is a term that simply distinguishes the mild sweeter-tasting chillies from the dryer, more picante ones. But this dish tasted like it should be served over sponge cake: the sauce was so sugary and treacly it made me gag. Sure enough, on the list of ingredients, sugar was the second item listed. The dish was so sugary I was impelled to stop at once and go brush my teeth -- if I didn't fall into a hypoglycaemic coma first.

I think they should perhaps rename the product Lyon's Sweet Thai Chilli King Prawns. Or how about leaving out the ambiguous words and just calling it Lyon's Sweet King Prawns?

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