Sunday, 13 March 2016

Table mats

My brother William has long had a naughty streak. On one occasion, aged six, he was caught by my mother in the school playground throwing a little girl's mittens into a muddy puddle and then stamping on them while giggling furiously.



But he was a teenager when staying with my aunt CeCe and several cousins. CeCe had straw table mats and Will insisted that they would be infested with weevils. To prove his point, he picked one up and tapped it on the table - tap, tap, tap - and all around it gazed as tiny white creatures began to crawl slowly around. CeCe became mock-furious with her nephew and for ever after, the words "Tap, tap, tap" have been used to tease her.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Lobster

One of Joan Aiken's short stories has a character called Gloria who is a lobster. Delightfully, we are told that for her lunch she has mayonnaise.

The first time I ate lobster was on my first night in Portugal in a restaurant a short walk from the house where I was staying with my uncle and aunt and cousin Tom.  We were able to select our lobsters from a tank. They arrived grilled and buttered. I shared one with Tom, who elected to divide it horizontally rather than vertically so he had the claws and I had the tail. This suited me extremely well.

Another memorable lobster supper was in a restaurant called "Lobster and burger". The menu was limited to a choice of - lobster and burger. I chose the lobster roll: sweet-tasting lobster in a soft white roll. Delicious.

Roald Dahl writes entertainingly about lobster in "My Uncle Oswald". This is what he says: "by the way, don’t you love it when you are able to draw the flesh of the claw out of the shell whole and pinky-red in one piece? There is some kind of tiny personal triumph in that. I may be childish, but I experience a similar triumph when I succeed in getting a walnut out of its shell without breaking it in two. As a matter of fact, I never approach a walnut without this particular ambition in mind. Life is more fun if you play games."

Sausage rolls

Sausage rolls can be a delight or not worth eating. As a general rule, the smaller they are, the better. I tend to like the artisan ones with roughly cast pastry.

Palmiers

If I had to identify a favourite pastry, this might well be it. Heart-shaped, sugary puff pastry. I first discovered them in France, where they were available as a special treat on Thursdays only in the bakery local to my parents' house in the South of France. Most satisfactory when the mouthfuls are soft rather than crisp.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Pancakes

"They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide foam."

One of the most evocative descriptions of pancakes ever, it is that of William Allingham. Thinking a little more closely about the poetry, however, I have to say that I prefer my pancakes not to be crispy. Also the idea of yellow tide foam sounds faintly repellent. Like yellow snow.

In my opinion, pancakes are not worth ordering in restaurants because in the time it takes to get them from pan to table, their point is lost. The times I have had soggy, sodden, cold disappointing pancakes. In a kitchen straight from the pan and on to the plate in front of the eater. Ideally the person producing them is not overly keen on eating them.

As for fillings, forget, please, about over-elaboration. Lemon and sugar are all that is required. Thus the perfect pancake will have contrasting flavours as well as contrasting textures.

Delia Smith has the best recipe in her Complete Cookery Course.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Cannibalism

"I had seen a sailor who had visited that very island, and he told me that it was the custom, when a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the slain in the yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they were placed in great wooden trenches, and garnished round like a pilau, with breadfruit and coconuts; and with some parsley in their mouths, were sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just as though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys."

(From Moby-Dick)

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Bacon and waffles

Certain combinations of sweet and savoury can be disgusting. I am thinking of raisins or pineapple in curry. On the other hand, I was quickly converted to the combination of bacon and maple syrup, served with potato waffles. The combination of the soft, bland potato, the salty crispy bacon and the unctuous sweet syrup. I first learned of waffles in Susan Coolidge's "What Katy Did at School" when one of the characters orders them with alacrity. They are less popular in an episode of "Rentaghost" when one of the spooks asks his colleague "What is a waffle?" Warning him off them - ghosts cannot eat - the other replies: "It's a sort of heavy duty biscuit, with a non-skin tread."

Maple syrup I encountered in another work of Americam children's fiction - "Little House in the Big Woods" when there is a chapter about sugar snow and numerous ways of handling and eating maple syrup described.