Category Archives: Other things

Garlic overdrive

IMG_6387

Am I the only person who thinks that the automated announcer at Heathrow T5 is – and I choose my words carefully here – demented?
“Stand clear of de doors” she implores, in a monotone that makes even Marvin the paranoid android sound cheery. And this, the first taste of a British accent that our overseas visitors get to experience when they arrive? Is it really a fair representation of how anyone in our country sounds? I’m pretty sure that I have never met anyone in real life who speaks in this way. My mate Yorick suggests that she’s Dutch (Yorick is also Dutch, but he seems to have a basic ability to annunciate, so I’m unconvinced). Can we please have a re-record and choose someone a little more cheery (and who can pronounce the word “the” properly?) Really, they can be from anywhere – Blackpool, Glasgow, Scunthorpe, Penzance, Leigh-on-Sea – anywhere just as long as they can spit a sentence out in a way which is representative of at least one small corner of our fair island.
In the meantime, as we wait impatiently for this ghoulish voice to be replaced, we may as well stick something in our mouths that will make us wince and smile all at the same time – so here come two dishes that will make you feel like you’ve been punched in the face with a big fat bulb of garlic. In a good way.

Anchoiade
We used to do this all the time in France and it then just disappeared from memory until I was at my sister’s a few weeks ago, so here it is again…
There are loads of ways of doing it, and I’m sure this isn’t the classic recipe, but it turned out pretty well in the end.
Finely chop all the following things and put them into a blender: a little tin of anchovies, a handful of black olives (don’t forget to remove the pits. And don’t buy pitted olives), a few small tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic, a handful of basil, plenty of salt and pepper and then lots of good olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Blend it for a little while so that everything is chopped finely, but still has some basic form. Taste it and then add more of any of the above ingredients to your taste. The flavours should be very potent as you only serve this in small bites.
Now take a (proper french) baguette – not one of those flabby engligh ones from the supermarket – you need a skinny one for this. In fact, a ficelle, if you can get it would be best here, or a baguette a l’ancien. I know I’m starting to sound like a wanker here, but it will help, and I know you can get all of these things at any decent waitrose/wholefoods or whatever. Cut the loaf into thin slices and bake in the oven with a dab of olive oil to make little toasts.
Spread the anchoiade thickly on the toasts and you’re there.
Garlic overdrive part one complete – now for the killer…

Aioli
Start by making your mayonnaise (don’t even think of buying it) – it takes less than a few minutes: stick two egg yolks, a sprinkle of sea salt, a decent amount of pepper, a tablespoon of dijon mustard and a good splash of white wine vinegar into a mixer/blender. Set if off at high speed and then start to pour your oil into the mixer very slowly – i tend to use a mix of sunflower oil and rapeseed oil. Don’t use just olive oil – it’s not right for this sort of thing – you don’t want the flavour of the oil to take over (that’s the garlic’s job). Keep pouring in the oil slowly and you’ll see the mix start to emulsify and lose some of its colour (although hopefully not all of it – that’s one of the best things about your own mayonnaise – it doesn’t have that sickly pale hue that we’ve all had to become accustomed to). Stop the mixer once you have a decent consistency (you’ll probably have used about 300ml or so). Have a quick taste – if it still has an eggy twang to it, you probably need a little more vinegar or salt, and you maybe need to mix it a little longer also. Anyway – you’ll know when it’s right.
And that’s your basic mayonnaise done.
I often use grainy mustard to give it texture, and you can add all sorts of herbs too if you like – tarragon is really good. You can also substitute some of the vinegar for lemon juice if you fancy. Have a play. Go crazy.

Now take half a bulb of garlic. Yep, half a bulb. Crush each clove with the back of a heavy knife, peel off the skin, chop very finely and add to the mayonnaise. And add more salt too. It should burn your tongue when you taste it. If it doesn’t, add more garlic. If you think you added too much garlic, you’re wrong (and you’re a pussy).

This was perfect accompanied by my Nic’s slow roast shoulder of lamb – see pic.
(and yes, the lamb accompanied the Aioli, which was of course the main event…)

From cook to coach?

DISCLAIMER – Before you read any of this, please be be clear that it is of zero value. It is complete and utter rubbish. I am (historically) the worst person I know at relationships so the idea that I could give any advice at all to anyone is laughable. Don’t read this and get all angry with me because I’m giving bad advice. I’m telling you now – it is bad advice, but that’s all I know. And it’s not very funny either, in fact it’s not funny at all. And to be honest I don’t even think it’s interesting, or saying anything you don’t already know. But I’ve written it now and it’s taken me an age to write so I’m going to post it anyway. If you still want to read on, you do so at your own risk…

Last year, I put together a little diagram to illustrate a point I was trying to make about how to develop magazine apps (I know, riveting), and, thanks to some mild praise it received at the time, I’ve been trotting it out ever since, firmly believing that I hit upon something truly revelatory (I know, deluded). Anyway, after I showed it to Chantal the other day, she wisely suggested that it might in fact help describe something far less prosaic than app development, and could even, at a push, model how two people in a relationship interact with one another.

So I played around with it a little and presented it with great fanfare to Zoe and James from the office who promptly laughed at me and called me a tit. Undeterred and with great resolve I carried on tweaking and caressing it until I had what I am about to share with you here. I don’t have a name for it yet (suggestions welcome), but, give or take, I think it pretty much describes the universal model of relationships. Not at all ambitious then.

Kaldor's universal model of needs

This is how it works:

It’s presented from the perspective of one person in a relationship with another. I expect it probably works with friendships and familial or professional relationships, but I’ve focused my attention right now on good old fashioned relationships of the romantic kind.

The circles a, b and c represent what your partner wants, what they actually need, and what you give them, respectively. Please understand that this is not about material things – it’s about everything: love, attention, romance, time, sex, food, support, space, kids, head, a home and anything else that they might need and you might provide.

As the circles intersect, you can see the likely outcome of each of the situations brought about by the various combinations of needs, wants and gives. None of these are mutually exclusive, in fact every relationship will hopefully contain a healthy mix of all the areas within this diagram – the trick is to maximise the positive ones and minimise the negative ones.

And so, starting from the centre, this is how it works:

The ones to work on:

1. Long term contentment: The simple one – they want it, they need it, and you give it to them. This is where expectations are met and the outcome provides for stability and longevity. The person on the receiving end knows what they need (if you’re lucky they might even articulate it to you), and you provide it to them. There are no surprises here. It’s safe but it’s good stuff.

2. Delight: You give your partner something that they didn’t ask for and that they didn’t even know they needed, but when you give it to them, they realise that they can’t live without it. This is where expectations are truly exceeded and with this comes delight. It’s what Apple did years ago with iPods and iPhones: we didn’t know we needed them when they launched, but once we had them in our hands we became almost addicted to them. In fact that’s the thing about this area – once you have provided this illusive gift, your partner soon realises that they do in fact need it and so you quickly move into the centre circle where the delight is replaced by contentment (which is just fine – don’t fight it). In any case, while you’re in here, this is a really good place to be – the problem is that you have to keep coming up with new stuff if you want to stay. High effort, high reward.

3. Short term happiness: Your partner desires something even though they don’t need it and you give it to them. This is good short term fodder for your relationship – it’s often (but not always) romantic. It’s the cream on top. It’s the little details and it’s the grand gestures. None of them are actually needed individually, but that’s ok – it’s still good stuff and should be celebrated. And while the individual things you’re providing in here are not necessary, the area as a whole is an important one if you want to avoid relationship stagnation. Equally though, if you want more than a string of fun dates with someone, then you’ve got to start to operate in the other areas too.

The ones to avoid:

4. Immediate unhappiness:  Bit of an obvious one, as your partner knows they need something (and hopefully, they are telling you about it) and yet you still fail to provide it. Best to be avoided if you can. And if you do find yourself in here, then you’re either not listening or you’re being a bit of a shit.

5. Long term unhappiness: This one is more illusive both to identify and to avoid. Neither of you know that your partner needs it but it turns out they do need it and you are not providing it. The long term result of being in this place is a slow but inevitable move into the unhappiness zone. On the upside, once they find out they need this, then they’ll want it too and it will move towards the want circle at which point they’ll hopefully let you know about it so that you can resurrect the situation – so perhaps not one to worry about too much. In fact come to think of it, don’t even spend a moment pondering over this one as there’s bugger all you can do about it in any case.

6. Wasted energy: There’s always that risk that you get a bit ahead of yourself and start throwing yourself at your partner, providing those things that are neither needed nor wanted. Bad idea. You’ll end up exhausting yourself, you’ll get little thanks (why should you?), you may start to feel resentful as a result, and you’ll certainly make your partner feel more than a little uncomfortable. Don’t confuse this with romance. It’s not romantic to give somebody something that they don’t want to have. There’s plenty of romance all over this little picture, but don’t kid yourself – it’s not in here.

7. Bruised ego: You’re entering the danger zone here – not giving someone the things that they want even though you know they don’t need them sounds totally reasonable, but it’s something you do at your peril. That said, unless you spend your life doing this on a regular basis, you’re unlikely to condemn your relationship to the dustbin. Either way I’d still keep my arse out of this little place as much as possible if I were you – here lies angst and bitterness. 

Bringing the circles together:

While we would all love to be able to navigate each of these areas with the precision of a sun bleached sea salt, another way to minimise the risk of getting in the shit is to try and push the circles closer together. In fact the best possible version of this diagram is with all three circles totally superimposed, with complete alignment between what your partner wants and needs and what you provide – the perfect relationship. Sadly that’s totally unrealistic and would probably be bloody awful, but nevertheless, the closer we can get the circles aligned, the better we are going to be in our relationship. and there are a few forces (some of which we have no control over) that can work to this end:

Self sufficiency: If your partner is easy going, well balanced, independent and therefore needs very little from you, then your job in providing for those needs is going to be easier. The risk here of course, is that you end up being the needy one in the relationship. Oops. 

Self awareness: By knowing what you each need, you and your partner are going to be better at understanding what you really want, thus bringing the wants circle closer to the needs circle.

Communication: Add to the above a healthy dose of talking about stuff and you will better understand exactly what those needs are, so that you can respond accordingly.

Generosity: Simply understanding someone’s needs isn’t enough – you have to want to respond to those needs, and it’s only through true generosity of spirit that you will be able to consistently do this. This is a tough one as generosity is innate and not something you have much control over, but it’s certainly worth remembering that you have to make an effort. It’s not always going to come naturally to you and if it feels like you’re sticking your neck out from time to time, that’s probably a good thing (you tight bastard).

Aligned goals: No matter how generous you are, if the needs of your partner are in conflict with yours, then things can become very difficult. It’s at this point that you need to decide how far your generosity should go – you can’t compromise your happiness for the sake of someone else’s, and generosity can go too far, to the point that it’s harming you – that’s the point at which it is no longer a good thing for either of you. On the other hand, if your goals are aligned, all of this becomes so much easier (I did warn you that all this was bloody obvious didn’t I?)

So what’s the point of all this?

I’m buggered if I know, but I had fun writing it. One important thing to leave you with: don’t forget that you play both roles in the diagram, you’re not just the provider, you’re also the needer and the wanter so remember that your responsibility isn’t to just give, it’s also to be self sufficient, to understand your own needs and to articulate them to your partner so that they can make some bloody sense of this too.

Postscript

As I read this back something concerns me – it would make me sad to think that someone would manage their relationship in a methodical way such as this. this is simply a set of observations, it’s not in any way supposed to drive behaviour.

Just be you, and be considerate to the person who you’re with.

That’s all any of us can do isn’t it?

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…

Wheat-free me

Or fad at the weekend perhaps? I hope not…

Thanks for the photo Sally

Those of you who know me will be familiar with a florid range of rather unattractive nasal challenges that I seem to have to deal with on an almost daily basis. It’s always been like this, from waking up every morning as a teenager at school adorned with other people’s pillows, shoes, books, porn mags (in fact, anything to hand that they could throw at me in the middle of the night to curtail my incessant snorting), to (as I found out recently) whole swathes of staff and colleagues at EMI and News International over the last 10 years firmly believing I had a nasty habit (I don’t. I mean, I do have plenty of nasty habits, but none that make me sniff incessantly).

And without getting into too much detail, I have, from time to time over the course of my life, taken a variety steps to try to do something about this socially debilitating affliction but to no avail – making me slowly but surely come to the conclusion that I must accept my fate as a terminally snotty man.

So, while chatting to a friend of mine a few days ago and answering the question that I get asked on a pretty regular basis: “why do you seem to have a constant cold?”, it dawned on me that I really needed to sort this once and for all. And as luck would have it, it turned out that she had an approach that could indeed help me. Not with surgery or medication, but by removing certain things from my diet and making a few other simple life changes. Never one to shy away from a challenge I thought I’d give it a go – and as I journey through the process, I’m going to bore you lot with all the details – a problem shared and all that…

These are the instructions that she gave me:

1.       Nutrition – no grains, no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar. So for 2 weeks your diet will be made up of good wholesome natural foods: meat, fish, eggs, veg, seeds, nuts and limited fruit (1 piece a day max) Make sure you have protein with every meal (protein shakes are a good snack) and try to get your carbs from green veg (kale is amazing as is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts) Sweet potato is a great source of starchy carbs and as you’re burning lots of calories cycling you might want to make sure you add these to your diet.

2.       Probiotic – healing the gut is key to good health. Here’s one I recommend. http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/shop/for-daily-wellbeing.html Its great value.

There are other things I have to do, but they are less relevant to a food blog, and to be honest, they will probably put you off eating for a good day or two, so I shall omit them for now.

Day one started badly, as I nipped into the supermarket to grab some provisions for breakfast and lunch, and went to pick up things that I might normally grab for a quick bite at work:

  • porridge – nope
  • yoghurt – naha
  • bacon sarnie – nein
  • falafel wrap – non
  • pasta salad – no way
  • bean salad – no
  • croissant – no
  • bagel – no
  • cappucino – no

and on and on and on.

So I end up with a bag of apples, dried mango, fruit juice, a bag of nuts and a crappy salmon salad. Feels like I need more practice…(oh and it cost ten times as much as the croissant)

I had a better start this morning – a cup of coffee and half a smoked mackerel. Most painful though is that I baked this for the kids and can’t even have a mouthful – it’s a sight that I am going to see far less off for some time…

More to come (and I might even post some new recipes up here too – that would be novel).

Bread I'm not allowed to eat

Thanks to Caroline, who’s training to be a nutritionist and who pointed me in the right direction…
(and thanks for the photo Sally)

Spice boy


It’s taken me too long to realise that buying spices from a supermarket in those little 40g jars is a really bad idea, for at least two reasons: Firstly and most importantly, it suggests an ungenerous  approach to the use of spices. They are not something that should be added to dishes by the milligram – a couple of grains here, a couple there. They should be used in abundance – you should know when they are being used in a dish. There’s no place for subtlety where spices are concerned – not in my kitchen. You have to be bold.

I have to thank Taimur and his egyptian salad (lettuce, lots of cumin, lots of lemon juice, olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, lots more cumin) for helping me finally understand this – the first mouthful took a big swing and punched me, very hard, in the face. Bugger subtlety – I’d much rather my food punched me in the mouth than blew in my ear.

Secondly, it’s a complete rip off – two quid for a tiny jar of seeds that lasts a couple of weeks. The worst offenders, and the ones that I have so far managed to avoid, are the bay leaves. Two quid for about ten leaves from a tree that grows in every municipal park up and down the country. Twenty pence for a leaf. Honestly.

So I’m going online to buy in bulk – I want a kilo each of cumin, fennel, peppercorns, coriander, star anise, caraway, cardamom and cloves. And I’m buying a bay tree.

Oh – and don’t ever buy the stuff already ground. Just buy a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder you lazy shit.

Anyway – if I do manage to get hold of eight kilos of spices, I’m going to have to up my game, so here begins the first of a possible series on how to better use your spices. I’ll start with cumin – probably the best spice of all, with just a few ideas:

In your bread – a couple of spoons in your bread mix – really good toasted with strawberry jam.

As a dry rub for beef – pounded with salt and pepper and rubbed over beef fillet 10 mins before frying.

In soup – added to cauliflower soup (or squash soup) – along with a few drops of truffle oil.

With chocolate – grind half a teaspoon and add to a chocolate torte or white chocolate mousse.

In chutney – perfect in a chilli plum and onion chutney

In every curry you ever make – how could you without it?

And of course in a lemon and cumin salad dressing – thanks Taimur

—–UPDATE—–

I finally managed to get hold of my spices (see below) – I got the lot – a Kg of each for £40. I then tried to buy the same amount on Ocado in those little jars – would have cost £360. Enough said…

Spices

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).

Marrakech

Had to put a picture from Marrakech in here – it’s a fantastic place, well worth a visit. One thing we got completely wrong however was the food – for some reason we had this idea that we would be sitting there with plates of mezze-like delights in front of us, rich with hummus, aubergines, olives and lightly charred flat breads. Why on earth we thought that we’d get Lebanese food in Morocco I have no idea, but we all get things wrong from time to time. Click the pics for high res views…

In fact, while the traditional food was fun (pastry parcels, tagines, couscous, pastry parcels, tagines, couscous, etc), the properly good nosh was to be found in the colonial restaurants in the new town and the frantic open air food stalls in the main square of the Medina. I urge you to give it a whirl – even for a weekend – it’s a lovely place with really lovely people…(and make sure you stay in a riad in the Medina, not one of those soulless hotels in the middle of nowhere)