Category Archives: Drinking

The healthiest thing you can stick in your mouth?

Monkswood green

Here I am in Canada, the nicest, calmest, healthiest, most considerate, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, smoke-free, peaceful place on the planet. And here I am on Saltspring, island, the nicest, calmest, healthiest, most considerate, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, smoke-free, peaceful place in Canada. I’m trying very hard to fit in, idly chatting to hemp-clad new age market traders about the breed of sheep they lovingly milked to produce their extra-creamy feta along with the organic feed and alba-oil massages they are treated to thrice daily (sadly the market traders have to make do with a handful of Mung beans and a polite slap in the face from their ultra-nourished partner).

Anyway, I’m here with Sally, Mark, Eliot, Felix, Fin and Ollie, who are looking after me in this perfect place and I’m determined to live up to at least one of these British Columbian ideals. Given that I’m a nasty, uptight, inconsiderate, ungreen, aggressive, animal-hating (so I’m told) habitual smoker, I decide to focus on the healthy – and here it is, straight from the anti-cancer battlefield. Surprisingly enough, it’s delicious. And there’s no doubt that you get a sense of piety when you drink it. I’d give it a go if I were you…

Green uberhealthy smoothie

Take a bunch of fresh kale, a few apples, a thumb of ginger, the juice from two lemons, lots of coconut water, a handful of mint, a scoop of Maca powder (yeah right) and a tablespoon of hemp hearts (yaha) and blend them together with a few cubes of ice (if you don’t have the Maca powder or hemp hearts, don’t worry too much, it still tastes great).

And this is where you should be drinking it:

Monkswood (Photos courtesy of Sally Kaldor. Yep, she demanded a photo credit)

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Rhubarb…

Rhubarb compote

I have my father to thank for this one (and my ex wife who let me steal the rhubarb from her garden…)

It’s a great way to use up fruit and it makes a better breakfast than most (t’s also surprisingly good when you get back from the pub). And it means you can stick two fingers up at Pret a Manger who’ll try to charge you £3 for the same thing.

Rhubarb and Banana Compote

If this takes longer than eight minutes to prepare, you need help.

Cut up your rhubarb stalks into chunks and put in a large saucepan with a few tablespoons of caster sugar (vanilla caster sugar if you have some prepared). Throw in a few tablespoons of water and a star anise, then heat gently until the rhubarb starts to break down just a little, stirring regularly. Chuck in a sliced banana and continue to cook for just another minute and take off the heat. There should still be plenty of pieces of rhubarb just holding their form.

Let the whole lot cool down and stick it in a container in the fridge – it will do you for at least a week. Serve it with yoghurt and a little mint, and a couple of spoonfuls of granola if you’re feeling adventurous.

Thinking about it – it would be the perfect base for a rhubarb martini too – give it a try (maybe without the banana and yoghurt…)

From Beijing to Hangzhou (via Changsha)

Tea picking

I suspect many westerners have a handful of preconceptions about China, primarily driven by what we see on the news and read in the papers, and all coloured by the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the terrible government backlash that ensued.

But if you visit, I think you’ll see a very different place to the one you are expecting. People are more enthusiastic, more intelligent, more energetic, more interesting, more opinionated and enjoying life more than most people I meet in London. Everywhere you look, people are going about their daily business in the same way people do here in the UK. Of course the press is controlled by the government, and Twitter and Facebook are blocked and replaced by Chinese versions that are automatically monitored and censored (mainly through keyword searches), and of course there are serious human rights issues that are a real concern. But despite all that I think it’s fair to say that for the vast majority of people, life over there is just as it is over here. Business is booming, people have good jobs, eat good food (far better than we do), drink lots of beer, go to bars, drink more beer, play dice, drink more beer and fall down. Oh and they smoke a lot. Really, all the time. Remember when you used to have an intercourse fag at the dinner table? (about 20 years ago…) They still do that in China. I hesitate in saying this for fear of my own little backlash, but that’s pretty cool…

And so to the food. Wonderful. Fantastic. Unbelievably good. And not at all like the british Chinese food we get to eat over here (mainly I think, because we generally eat Cantonese food here in the UK, rather than Mandarin). Every meal feels like a banquet, and rice is rarely served. Normally about 20-30 dishes, all shared and all perfectly balanced with each other: pork (Chairman Mao style is the best), steamed fish, fried fish, soup, noodles, pak choi, beef, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, beans, prawns, snails, duck (although the tongues are not my faves) and tofu. Always tofu. What is so perfect is that everyone helps themselves from the centre of the table and takes only what they enjoy and only what they need.

So rather than trying to describe how it was all prepared (I have no clue), I’ll just leave you with a little peek at some of the dishes (with a few of the more challenging ones thrown in for fun – there were very few of them, but they have to be included for balance) – oh and the odd funny sign. No photo album is complete without a photo of a funny sign…

Thanks Fan, Jacqueline and Watson…

Brunch. Like you wouldn’t believe

When Kiliaen told me he was going to take me to brunch with his two recently married (and lovely, as it turns out) friends, I was expecting what any normal person would expect in the circumstances. Classic New York brunch – leather sofas, newspapers, eggs benedict, one or two cheeky bloody marys and back home in time to relax before the onslaught of another night out with Kiliaen – which, if you know him, is a thing to be taken lightly at your peril.

And so it was that the four of us arrive at Lavo at 2.30 in the afternoon, ready for a civilised, grown up and relaxed brunch. But rather than being greeted by a neatly pressed waiter in a white apron, Kiliaen is approached and hugged by two big guys who pull aside the purple velvet rope that’s holding back a line of about 45 twenty-somethings dressed not entirely differently to a group of girls out on the town in Blackpool on a Friday November evening (but being New Yorkers, they were of course beautiful, and not falling over and vomiting in the gutter).

And then we enter. It’s a restaurant. And if the lights were up, I suppose there’s a chance that people might have been sitting there quietly enjoying their coffees and the Wall Street Journal (sorry, still have my allegiances). But the lights aren’t up. There are no papers. There is no coffee. It’s basically a club. With food. Tables. Music. Lights. Whistles. People dancing on tables. Champagne buckets being flung around with dry ice billowing down onto the the beautifully manicured hands of the frighteningly pretty waitresses.

So we go to our table, drink too many bloody marys, eat too many oysters, just about manage to chat to each other, eat more fantastic food, narrowly avoid dancing on the tables, ammo fails to avoid having something rather sharp thrown at him from a distant table, Kiliaen gets the table thrown out and we have the best time I have had in far too long. It’s only after all this that we try to play tennis. Bad idea.

There are other things to say. But not here sadly. And thanks Kiliaen.

Not sure there’s a recipe in here, except to say that the next time you have oysters, make sure you have a bloody mary in your hand (and if at all possible, make sure you’re in Lavo while you’re eating and drinking them).

chat-en-oeuf

Terrible name, but a lovely tasting wine. You know how wine always seems to taste better when you associate it with a particularly happy event (usually downing a glass or two under the sun in the South of France while the sea gently laps at your feet)? Well I’m in Enfield, not the South of France, and it’s pissing down with rain but I’m watching the six nations, Italy just beat France, Wales are beating Ireland and this wine tastes beautiful…

Anyway – it’s on sale now at Waitrose at an uncharacteristically reasonable price – go and grab a bottle..

P.S. Is it just me or does that look more like a cat with a huge arse than a cat on an egg?

Another postscript – don’t try the red or white – they are awful..

Coffee

I just bought a Nespresso machine.

As a general principle I have a problem with the whole Nespresso thing. It’s akin to expensive ready meals, requiring no skill or effort apart from inserting a shiny little aluminium capsule (M&S meal for one) into the coffee machine (microwave). It goes against my most closely held food principle – don’t get someone else to make something that you can make yourself, better. It also follows the slightly chilling model pioneered by printer manufacturers and games console companies – sell the machine cheap (relatively that is) and make a killing on the ink/games/coffee capsules.

But despite all that, I went ahead and bought one. Mainly because I’ve spent the last two years trying to get a good cup of coffee out of a range of traditional devices and I have failed miserably. I bought stove-top espresso machines and expensive pump-driven Gaggias, yet still couldn’t make a cup of coffee that tasted like anything other than dishwater with a day old fag end stubbed in it.

It took me an age (and countless cups of truly revolting muck) to realise that unless you are making hundreds of cups of espresso every day, a traditional coffee machine will always give you thin, bitter tasting coffee – the same coffee that each morning in a decent coffee shop gets thrown away as part of the machine cleaning process (it’s a bit like the first pancake – sort of. Or the first pint of beer – hopefully you get the idea).

So it was with a heavy, and yet secretly excited, heart that I trudged (maybe I jaunted) along to John Lewis to buy myself a “Nespresso Citiz and Milk” machine. I know – crap name. It’s almost enough to put you off buying the machine, but the competition isn’t much better and with pride duly swallowed, I went ahead and made the purchase.

Bloody brilliant – I think that’s all I need to say – except I love it – apart from the fact that you can only buy coffee through their (wanky) website or at Selfridges (not elitist then), it’s completely perfect. All you do is turn it on, press a button to run hot water into your cup (to warm it), slip in a capsule, drain the water from your cup and press a button again. Done. Then just run it again without the capsule to clean it. Bloody brilliant like I said.

Oh and the result is very, very good – seriously – it makes a really, really good cup of coffee.

It also does cappuccino if you’re so inclined, but to be honest, you shouldn’t be.

And if you want an old Gaggia just give me a shout…