A Restaurant Digest

Once upon a time in a previous life I dreamed of luxuries. These luxuries included such things as unaccompanied expeditions to shoe shops and/or clothes shops, attending the cinema and the theatre, stopping for coffee in cafés, having holidays, spending nights in hotels, visiting salons and, above all, eating out. [This was a life in which any journey must be prepared for by making sandwiches to eat in a lay-by].

In subsequent lives of course I have done all of these luxurious things. The clothes shopping is commonplace as is the coffee stopping. A salon visit is a regular part of life. Hotel stays are occasionally taken.

Despite all this, dining in a good restaurant remains the Holy Grail of luxuries to me.

I’ve posted my feelings about the fare in fast food chains before [Muckdonalds and Yucky Fried Chicken]. Macdonalds does at the least provide free internet and their coffee is acceptable, but their dining experience has to be one of the most impoverished and unsatisfying that exists.

Restaurant meals are about more than the food. Plastic trays with pouches of nasty, salty, fatty little chip sticks and polystyrene boxes containing polystyrene buns sandwiching rubbery, chewy little circles of something grey and burger-ish, the remains of which are to be taken by the consumer and dumped in a bin themselves; to view this activity in a place designed for ‘eating’ presents a vision of Hell. And yet Macdonalds is crammed with customers every day-in Gothenburg, where we stopped to get internet and a coffee, the place was thrusting with hordes of punters of every nationality-those who prefer this ghastly encounter to eating a sandwich on a park bench.

Some of the most enjoyable meals you can have are in modest, unknown, unadvertised cafes, cooked by untrained heros of the culinary world; like the meals we’ve eaten in Portugal, where you are plied with gorgeous nibbly things like olives and dips to sustain you while you peruse the menu and then a big box of fish is brought to the table for you to select your fancy. It will be simply cooked and presented with home-made chips, a salad and some bread.

Or a beach café in Thailand which serves up Tempura vegetables as a starter and the freshest, most appetising vegetables and seafood you can imagine, besides producing an addictive mango smoothie from nothing more than mango and ice.

So don’t serve me anything in a poly-box, or on a shovel, or on a dirty piece of wood or in a tangle of barbed wire [all of these methods of serving meals are being used as I write-including pork loin chops in a urinal]. Give me a plain, clean china plate and simple, beautifully cooked food served in a friendly, un-smarmy, unobtrusive way. OK?

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Check This Out!

It would be an understatement to say I flounder in the waves of new technology. No sooner do you begin to get a grip on some gadget, software or device then some new upstart replacement arrives and you must begin again. Nevertheless there is the odd innovation that I do, after some tuition and practice start to get the hang of-even derive some satisfaction from and appreciate.

Take automatic check-outs. At last, after studious avoidance, suspicion, trial, many failed attempts, instruction and practice I am able to process my shopping through the complicated business of self-check-out totally unaided [sometimes]; I am able to bag things without the strident voice admonishing ‘unauthorised item in the bagging area!’ I can manage to tell it I have my own bags and collect the points on my loyalty card. Even so there are blips, like this morning’s debacle of the machine refusing to acknowledge my bananas.

I can see the benefits of self-check-outs. They cut down queues, take up less space and time and negate the need to engage with real people. Wonderful! But actually I am getting to an age where I’ve begun to enjoy those mini conversations, those minor snippets of small talk-with the person queuing in front of me or behind me; with the baby sitting in the trolley, with the person sitting behind the check-out or the boy scouts helping to pack the stuff. And if those of us who have company at home want to speak to others-what of those who lead solitary lives, these moments of minimal chit-chat the only conversational encounters in their day?

And what will those check-out workers do when the machines finally edge them out of employment? Nobody wants to be labelled a Luddite or to stand in the middle of the road of progress, but what are the employment options for manual workers whose occupations are being usurped by machines?

The Japanese [who else?] have designed and manufactured a ‘drone waiter’; a flying tray that delivers meals to diners. I don’t know if it is programmed to intone ‘Enjoy your meal’ or ‘have a nice day’ or to return and ask ‘is everything all right for you?’ but I doubt if it can process the reply. What if your steak is underdone, your side salad hasn’t appeared or the wine is corked? What on Earth are all the resting actors to do to support themselves in between roles, if waiting at tables becomes a redundant job?

Technology has come a long way, no more so than in the field of communication; but the future holds a bizarre vision. Silent people queueing to commune with machines, restaurants full of silent customers jabbing at screens. Will we lose the power of speech and the ability to look anyone in the eye? Perhaps our personal machines can take on our communication for us? Why not? Get your mobile device to speak to your friend’s mobile device. Get it to select and order your meal-why stop there? Get it to eat the meal, tip the drone waiter, call the driverless cab and go home. Who needs people anyway?

What’s Cooking on the TV?

In its wisdom, the BBC has opted to schedule on Channel 2 a big, blockbuster ‘food season’. This is much heralded and promises to inform in ways we have never before been informed about-food. Yawn. Really? How many more programmes about food can we take? And how many more times must we be told that refined foods, salt, fat, fast food, takeaways, sweets, chocolate and the demon sugar will be the undoing of us?

Let me see. ‘Masterchef’, ‘Hairy Bikers’, ‘Nigella’, ‘Saturday Kitchen’ and on and on-the programmes exhort us to produce more, varied and extravagant meals using more, varied and exotic, unheard-of ingredients. We sit and watch, munching our takeaways or our toasted cheese sandwiches and nodding-‘mm, yes, that looks nice’. How many viewers rush out to the supermarket next day for Tahini paste, syrup of nasturtium seed or essence of wild boars’ scrotum? How many search online for a high temperature vacuum bath or a freeze-drying machine? Heston Blumenthal has much to answer for.

It was all vastly simple decades ago. My childhood diet followed a weekly timetable that varied little beyond which meat to cook for a Sunday roast or what was available in the back garden vegetable plot. Mondays would yield up something with the remains of Sunday’s roast, the remaining days repasts would revolve around Spam-with mashed potatoes, with chips, with beetroot or eggs from the hens at the end of the garden-omelettes, fried eggs and mash or chips. We children never questioned or grumbled. We had no dislikes and would clamour only for an orange or a banana since these were prized items [rationing was not yet a distant memory], although as I’ve mentioned before we were only permitted a banana if it was accompanied by a slice of bread.

If the first course was a little sparse there would be a vast rice pudding or a suet sponge for the purposes of filling us up. Meals always consisted of two courses. Not only did we survive on this regime, but we were relatively healthy and never became in the slightest bit overweight, still less obese, even though the occasional day out to the seaside would conclude with fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.

How ironic that the more elaborate and fiddly TV chef meals become, the more the population capitulates to fast food and fry-ups, snacks and sweet treats.

Here in Portugal, where we have fled to escape the UK’s wintery temperatures we de-camped on our first evening-after five days of driving- to the village restaurant where we were shown a box containing assorted, gargantuan fresh fish, from which we selected our favourites. They were taken away and grilled with a little salt and served with a salad, crusty rolls and a plate of fried potatoes. No sauces, ‘beds’ of anything, snotty-looking foam or those stupid drips and smears dotted around the plates. The result? Completely delicious.

The Housebot is Coming!

                It would only be fair to say that these days, here at Schloss Lessageing, the family home and domestic hub that houses us, domestic chores and hum drum routines are shared on an equal basis. This is not to say that there aren’t tasks which one or other of us has adopted as routine, or that one task falls under an individual’s remit more than another. Husband, for instance is more inclined to put dustbins out for collection each Sunday night, although I do undertake this job on occasion. It is interesting to note, however that when neither of us is present the bins experience a less regular evacuation. On one occasion I discovered, while tidying the garden, the corpse of a cat, which I’m sorry to say I dealt with by manoeuvring it into a plastic bag, wrapping it in a number of layers of newspaper plus more plastic bags and depositing into the refuse bin. [I’m aware that this appears callous, but time and opportunity did not allow for a more dignified disposal]. On our return I gathered that this bin did not get emptied for several weeks, resulting in a powerful stench as the said corpse deteriorated. Luckily our neighbours are still speaking to us.

                Meal preparation, vacuuming, laundry, polishing of furniture-these are all chores which are designated either/or. This way we all get some time off for good behaviour, although myself, I do not hold the same contempt/disregard/reluctance for domestic tasks that I had as a proper working person, in fact I may even, on occasion derive something approaching satisfaction in their execution. This is because it is possible to accompany chores with pleasurable activities such as radio listening or story composition. In other words, they are mindless and allow the brain to think about anything one likes.

                But I am not so far removed from the world of proper work to have forgotten how utterly exhausted I used to be on my return each day and also at weekends [when it would take until Sunday night to recover from the rigours of the previous week]. So the news that Dyson, the vacuum cleaner manufacturers are pouring mountains of cash into research into a variety of domestic robots seems, on the face of it to be encouraging-that is, until you look forward to the time when these domestibots begin to be commonplace.

                You will be able to sit watching the TV while the hooverbot revolves around the room. Your only movement will be a slight lifting of the feet as it nears the sofa. You will be able to read a magazine as the tablebot clears the plates; only needing to raise your paper as it takes your plate. You may lie, comatose on your sun-bed as the mowerbot beavers up and down the lawn manufacturing its perfect stripes, and you can continue with your next level of ‘Candy Crush’ as the refusebot empties the bins, the laundrybot sorts the garments and the chamberbot makes the beds.

                And if you are very, very lucky the hoistbot will come along and lift your [by now] obese form from its dent on the couch and transport you along to the hospital for your heart transplant. What’s not to like?

To Eat Meat or not to Eat Meat, that is today’s question.

                Whilst the news that beefburgers are to be grown for our consumption is not really a surprise I was unable to suppress a grimace at the thought of such comestibles. Since developing countries are now demanding the quantities of meat that we are used to, supply will not be able to keep up with demand. Presumably folk in the developing countries that are craving this meat will then become prey to the diseases that scoffing big lumps of meat on a frequent basis allegedly causes the rest of us, the time honoured over-consumers of flesh.

                If I sound like a rampant vegetarian I confess that I am not. Meat is something I do not want to give up. I like nothing more than tender steak, fragrant roast lamb and crispy pork. But I also like fish and I am happy with vegetarian fare, provided-and this is the crux of the matter-it is not some nebulous, bland substance masquerading as meat. The vegetarian sections of supermarkets are crammed full of such fabrications; veggie burgers, vegetarian sausages, hot dogs, chicken-style pies, cottage pie, schnitzels, chicken-style nuggets. Why?

                If you would be a vegetarian, why do you want meat-style products?

                In our house we do a fair amount of cooking from scratch-probably more than most. I believe that to eat healthily as a vegetarian a great deal of culinary expertise is required. You have to ensure the protein elements of the meal-not easy if there is to be variety. You have to concoct tasty, nutritious items from nuts, beans or pulses. If you do not undertake these time-consuming practises you will be stuck on an escalator of cheese pizza, cheese pasta, cheese nachos, jacket potato with cheese and veggie burgers-not especially healthy fare, but there are limits to fast food options of the veggie kind.

                I suppose it all comes down to the reasons for vegetarianism. For some it may be a simple aversion to the taste or texture of meat. Fair enough! For others it may be a protest against the horrors perpetrated against cute, furry animals. And for a third group, it is the fact that the world could be fed adequately if the land taken to raise beef, lamb, pork, chicken etc were used to grow crops. This, to me is the most powerful reason for vegetarianism.

                But surely we would all fare better if we took a third way. We humans are omnivores.

noun

  • an animal or person that eats a variety of food of both plant and animal origin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                The clue is in the word variety. I’m not prepared to conjure cunning treats from ‘tofu’ or make mouthwatering meals from pretend mince, OR eat meat made in a petri dish. If you’re going to make a vegetarian meal-use vegetables!

                That’s all. I’m off to the supermarket.

Muckdonalds and Yucky Fried Chicken

                Fast food is too cheap. It is also too easy to obtain and too gratifying. It creates weight gain, litters the streets with non bio-degradable cartons and contributes to health problems.

                When you walk past a ‘Macdonalds’, a ‘Pizza Express’ or a ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, how often is it unoccupied? The abundance of food takeaway outlets in any shopping street is testament to how popular they are. Not only does the country need to raise revenue to address the debt left by the bankers [who have not been asked to make recompense-but that is a different issue], but it needs to reduce the burden on the National Health Service. So why isn’t there a substantial tax on fast food?

                If fast food were taxed so that prices were in line with average restaurant prices, the revenue could be used in any number of ways. It could, for instance be used to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables; or it could supplement the support we currently provide to developing countries, where finding enough to eat is their problem, not overeating!

                It may be a generational thing, but I’m not tempted by Macdonalds or Burger King. I did try a ‘Big Mac’ once or twice, but the experience was akin to chewing on a piece of lumpy rubber sandwiched between two bath sponges, accompanied by a bag of nasty, salty, fatty, greasy little sticks. I tried the ‘root beer’ –a strange, straw coloured liquid tasting vaguely of chemicals. We have been lured into Macdonalds on occasions when travelling by their claims of free internet access. We would only need to purchase a coffee to use the facility. Sadly, though, the access is rarely available. It has usually ‘crashed’ or the signal is too weak to get an email or anything else. The coffee, to be fair, is palatable.

                Similarly, I tend not to choose pizza when dining out. What an incredible profit there must be on these large circles of stodge and fat, for there to be so many pizza outlets and takeaways! It must be the easiest, cheapest way to make a buck in the food world! A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I thought I’d give pizza making a go. I’d made versions of pizzas with children before, but using bread mixes, grated cheddar and such items as might be transfigured into ‘faces’ and so on. This time I was going to make proper, grown up pizzas with mozzarella et al. I used a BBC recipe. Reader-it was easy. Even the bases, formed from a yeasty dough mix, were simple.

                And what about the famous Colonel’s chicken? The advertising alone is enough to induce a grimace. There is nothing recognisably ‘chicken’ about the images, which portray blobby orange lumps protruding from bags or boxes and accompanied by the ubiquitous, greasy, stick-like ‘fries’.

                I believe if apples were to be individually encased in gaudy packaging that also included a plastic action figure toy they would become objects of desire to children. But shouldn’t kids be wanting to eat because they are hungry and because the food they are offered is delicious?

OK. Rant over. Blogging makes me hungry. I’m off to see what’s in the fridge…