Tag Archives: jam

Vin et Fromage – stretching my blogging legs

So. After four months of exam-and-frolic-based neglect, I decided it’s about time I resurrected my poor dusty blog before it got relegated to the back of the shelf like an out-of-date packet of cup-a-soup.

It wasn’t an entirely unprompted decision – as usual, it had something to do with cheese, and quite a lot to do with coffee.

Last week, I reluctantly returned from France. The reluctance was twofold. Firstly, it was a 4am ferry, so every follicle and molecule was urging me to sleep. But secondly, and much more importantly, I was leaving behind not so much the land of milk and honey, as the land of wine and cheese, where each day was spent in the warm embrace of a soft chevre, a speciality of the Loire Valley, and a glass of cool red.

Coming back to the wonders of a Shell garage somewhere on the M4 didn’t really help. Somehow we’d swapped cafes selling salads which sang with yesterday’s plastic sandwiches, glowing with E numbers.

It’s not as cheap now anymore, of course, and skipping round a supermarket knocking about 2 euros off the prices is a thing of the past. Plus now Milka and Mikados are available in the UK, part of the joy I always used to have on school exchanges has gone.

But – the coffee! No more decaf-half-fat-frappe-latte-milkshakes masquerading as coffee – in France, it’s either white, or black, small or big, in delicate cups. Strong and smooth, it goes hand in hand with a ladylike glass of Stella (no wifebeater jokes here) and should send shivers of fear through Starbucks.

And I’d forgotten about the bread. Forgotten how a 70 cent baguette from the baker’s in the square manages to be better than the poshest, posing-as-artisan bread here. The crust crispy but chewy, the inside white, fluffy, verging on sourdough as it stretches gently when you pull it apart.

And of course bread, and a jug of water, come with everything, almost without asking. And salads aren’t relegated to the bottom of the menu and doused in Caesar dressing – they are bright and bold, with delicate vinaigrettes, sizzling lardons, molten cheese, generous slices of cured ham…

They cost virtually nothing in labour, and at 8 euros is probably a bit cheeky, but it’s so much nicer to see maybe three or four salads on a menu, with perhaps a quiche and a croque, than a whole litany of ‘and chips’, chosen by the not-so-discerning hands of the freezer and microwave.

But the most striking thing of all were the two lonely shelves in the supermarket selling British food. I will defend custard and HP and Marmite and all the rest to the hilt, but Loyd Grossman, really? And Batchelors’ Pasta ‘n’ Sauce? And Tiptree jam at four times the price of rhubarb Bonne Maman?

Is dried pasta in powder really the best we can do?

Of course not. But good food is taken for granted in France – it’s still a 50/50 gamble here.

Commonplace rant over. I’m going to go and bake a (frozen) pain au chocolat, and pretend I’m not really in Suffolk.

Advertisements

The nation’s favourite chef – why mums will always be the best

Nigella, Jamie, Delia – at one time or another they have all been declared as the nation’s favourite chef. But in reality, we have always had the same number one. Our mothers.

It doesn’t matter if their speciality is a painstakingly prepared roast dinner or the dubious “baked bean surprise”. There’s nothing as comforting or reassuring as your mum’s cooking.

Some of it lies in the food itself. Warm golden soup, magically produced from the remnants of yesterday’s chicken; miraculously crispy roast potatoes which you’ve never been able to match, even after years of experimenting with goose fat and dripping and olive oil; steak and kidney pies, oozing with gravy. And of course, the desserts, especially Victoria sponges, filled with jam and buttercream and covered in icing sugar, twice as high as you could ever hope to make them.

Mum's perfect chocolate cake

Yet delicious as they all are, much of it lies in the memories. I loved standing on tip toe waiting to lick cake mixture off the spoon, or donning an apron three sizes too big and being allowed to cut out biscuits, even if I never could do it as neatly as mum.

But until recently homemade food was looked down upon.  “Shop-bought” cakes were the pinnacle of respectability, and the rough edges of a homemade pie looked passe next to the perfect shape of a pre-packaged one. Now though, the twin forces of the credit crunch and a turkey-twizzler-wielding  Jamie Oliver are sending us scuttling back to our mothers’ neatly- typed recipes, and homecooking is suddenly in vogue.

Except it turns out all those hours spent eating cake mixture and cutting out biscuits may not have rubbed off on us as much as we’d hoped. We are struggling to make the leap back from pasta and pesto to steak and kidney pie.

According to a new survey, we are losing the basic skills integral to traditional homecooking. In the ‘70s, two-thirds of women could make gravy from scratch compared with one-third today, and half of them knew how to make shortcrust pastry without needing a recipe. It’s just 16 per cent now.

All this has the “shame on you” faction running for the burning torches. If the supper you’ve whipped up after a long day at work doesn’t simultaneously save money, the planet and your children’s health then you may as well hand in the Cath Kidston apron now. Sensible as a frugal, healthy and downright old-fashioned approach to food is, there’s nothing to gain from turning it into yet another stick with which to beat  already over-stretched mums.

With a full-time job and errant children, it’s hard enough to get something half-decent on the table without trying to perform lamb cawl and bara brith gymnastics. We should preserve the things our mothers taught us, but it’s unrealistic to pretend we can still do them every day. Better to save the Cath Kidston apron and the  weighing scales for weekends.

So, this Mother’s Day, rather than feel guilty for not being Delia as well as Karren Brady, go and take refuge in a slice of your mum’s cake. Or take her a slice of yours – but don’t beat yourself up if it’s only half the height