Friday, September 26, 2008

Hoorah ...

... I've cheered up! And no, my lifted mood has nothing to do with drinking copious amounts of my favourite autumn tipple (see recipe below); the sudden upturn has more to do with the other good things in life (a fabulous evening out with Molly Mudd, who has taken to wearing a little bird in hair and looks all the more gorgeous for it; a really lovely face-to-face interview with Jamie Oliver yesterday; pipeline plans for a week in the Loire Valley that suddenly feels within easy reach) than what I'm tipping down my gullet. Okay, so I have a bit of a cold - well so what? Things could be worse - and they're not. So, let's raise a glass to life itself ...

... cheers!
If you’re sick of listening to grumbles about the summer that never was, you’ve come to the right place. Autumn is the start of a food and drink season that only really warms up when there’s a chill in the air. Take cider. At long last, we can wave goodbye to those glossy advertising campaigns that urge you to take a pint of the apple nectar on ice. Fill your glass with something that’s guaranteed to kill those cheery, fruity flavours stone dead? I don’t think so. Now that (what should have been the) sun has disappeared for another year, the Animal Disco recommends that, to welcome you back to the cosy fold, you take your cider in another direction altogether.

Somehow less contrived than mulled wine, warm cider offers uniquely comforting depths. Trust your instincts (and your tastebuds) regarding which cider to use, bearing in mind that you can’t go too far wrong with a still, cloudy variety. Pour about four pints of cider in a big, sturdy pan, adding a sliced orange, a drizzle of runny honey, a handful of cloves and eight cinnamon sticks to the blend as you slowly bring it up to a simmer, taking great care not to allow it to boil. Ten minutes later, it’s ready to sup. Some folk add a drop of brandy or rum to the finished brew, others swear by allowing a pat of unsalted butter to melt into the melange. However you choose to dress it up, it’s the taste of autumn in a mug.

Monday, September 22, 2008

September Slump

Is it just me, or does everybody find the process of crossing the flimsy bridge that takes us from one season to the next slightly ... I dunno, if not entirely melancholia-inducing, then certainly a bit disconcerting? I could blame my current existential crisis on the fact that the weather refuses to comply with the calendar (Indian summer? Oh, spare me! This is Britain; we just don't do any kind of summer), but that's far too simple an explanation for my strangely delicate mood. Seasonally Affected Disorder, then? ADD would be closer to the truth. For I just cannot, no matter how hard I try, lift myself out of the lethargy verging on doldrums that sank upon me towards the end of last week.

Okay, getting ridiculously, childishly and unnecessarily drunk - partly at the opening of the gorgeous new Champneys spa, no less! - on Thursday evening didn't help my end-of-week mood; I spent Friday feeling physically and emotionally fragile, and hugely insecure about the wellbeing and feelings of those around me, without there being any solid, grounded reasons for feeling that way. I started Saturday in a much more positive frame of mind (and got loads of work done, too), only to sink back into the glums again after a particularly fractious (but not that unusual) spate of dealing with Medad. The BF (sorry, Dollface, for using your shorthand) eased the situation by taking us all to the Old Crown in Kelston for proper, pub-grub fish'n'chips eaten watching the sun set from the inn's orchard and the landlord arranged a special audience with his lovely rottweiler just for me (and the dog), but still, I came home feeling deflated and wanting to go bleeeurgh. Sunday was slightly better; after an air-clearing session with the BF (which loosely translates as me letting off steam about Medad and the BF patiently listening before giving the kitchen a clean-up makeover that's left it looking like the kind of culinary surgery that Gordon Ramsay might cook in), I spent a couple of hours in the sun on top of a nearby hill, flirting with squirrels while He practised his swing on the golf course. And then we went and reviewed Roger Monkhouse at the Comedy Cavern (ha ha ha! I'm happy to report that he was excellent - imagine my mood if that hadn't been the case!), and the weekend slowly turned into Monday ... and here we are.

I'm sorry about feeling sorry for myself because life's very good indeed, and I'm fully aware that not everybody is fortunate enough to feel that way, so I deserve a good shaking. As it is, I'm going to cook my way out of this emotional quagmire (see below), then put the results in the fridge for tomorrow night's dinner, as tonight is Curry Club so somebody else is cooking for me. I'll shut up now. Thank you for listening! See you soon.

Cook your way out of an Emotional Quagmire with the Animal Disco!
Courgettes, acorn and butternut squash; peppers, carrots and fabulous apples: put ‘em together and what have you got? A huge, colourful, wallet-friendly pile of September good stuff ... that can overwhelm rather than inspire the home cook. So here’s what to do.

Strip the squash of their thick skins, strip out the seeds (but don’t throw them away) and cut the flesh into chunks. Roughly chop the unpeeled carrots, courgettes, peppers and apples (yes, the apples too) into similar-sized cubes, adding a chopped onion to the mix. Tip the lot into a carrier bag (bear with us!), drizzle the contents with olive oil and a couple of grinds of sea salt and massage the lot together before tipping them – in a single layer – onto a preheated oven tray before roasting for around 50 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

Meanwhile, pour boiling water over a bowlful of cous cous, adding black pepper, a handful of fresh sage, some chopped tomatoes and a glug of balsamic vinegar once the water has been absorbed. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking time, sprinkle the vegetables with the seeds from the squash. When everything looks sumptuously soft (and possibly a bit charred around the edges, which adds to the overall flavour), stir the roasted vegetables into the cous cous, whizz some tahini, plain yoghurt, lemon juice and honey together and serve with the cold dressing drizzled over the hot vegetable salad. Serve with roast pork, lamb or grilled fish fillets, and you’ve got September on a plate; if that's not food to lift the mood, I don't know what is.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Bites

Scenario: a local food critic is being followed around Bath by a film crew making a ‘reality TV style’ documentary about local food critics.

Director: what about here?

Local food critic: here? It’s a tourist clip joint!

D: well couldn’t you pretend to like it?

LFC: wouldn’t that sort of defeat the object?

D: (irritably) okay. Move on, guys!

LFC: (two minutes later, around the corner) what about here? I really like it here

D: here? But if this documentary goes national, nobody will know where we are. We need A Big Name

LFC: in Bath, this place is ‘A Big Name’

D: (sighing) okay then - here

D: (two minutes later, inside) no, don’t sit there; we want you by the kitchen – the best table in the house, and all that

LFC: in a corridor?

D: our viewers will expect you to sit by the kitchen...

LFC: okay, let’s sit at the worst table in the house, then

D: ... and order foie gras

LFC: they don’t do foie gras!

D: well do a piece to camera about how you successfully campaigned to stop them serving foie gras!

LFC: but I didn’t. Anyway, I know what I’m having...

D: (horrified) you can’t order a burger!

LFC: I love the burgers here!

D: well tell our viewers that they’re made of that Kobi beef stuff

LFC: but they’re not

D: and that waitress was terrible! Ask for the manager and complain about the service.

LFC: but she was lovely!

D: (exasperated) well complain about something else then. I know – have a fight with the chef!

LFC: but I don’t know the chef

D: Jesus – are you sure you’re a food critic?

(to be continued over 36 hours of footage that eventually gets binned)

Reality TV, eh? Life as it happens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And now for something completely different (AKA normal service has been resumed)

After the sort-of seriousness of the previous post, I decided it was time to be silly again ... please find below my tribute to the Scotch Egg. And if you're wondering about the suitability of the accompanying photo, you try finding a dog-related picture to match the blurb. Anyway, those puppies are cuter than cute, therefore much deserving of a starring role here.

Take a hard boiled egg, wrap it in sausage meat, roll it in breadcrumbs, deep-fry it and give it a nonsensical name that confuses its origins: the Scotch egg (invented by posh London food emporium Fortnum and Mason in 1738) is about as eccentrically British as food gets.

Originally an intrinsic component of the Georgian-era picnic hamper, these days we’re more likely to associate Scotch Eggs with desperation food purchased in 24-hour garages rather than anything more elegant. Posh delicatessens offer excellent reproductions of the original article, but the more commonly know, bastardised examples of the genre are likely to made with tiny, battery-farmed eggs (complete with greying ring twixt white and yolk) and wrapped in ‘meat by-product’ that claims to be ‘28% pork’ and is probably around 60% fat. What those orange ‘breadcrumbs’ are made of is anybody’s guess, but once you’ve ripped through the plastic wrapper and torn your way into what can only be described as a full English breakfast three weeks past it’s sell-by date, orange dye and ground rusk is the least of your worries. And yet, Scotch Eggs are a disturbingly compulsive addiction. Find them in the supermarket above the pork pies and right next to close cousins the picnic/savoury/party eggs – weird, golf-ball sized mini-versions of big Scottie, stuffed with a dry, crumbling adaptation of egg mayonnaise. Who, exactly, eats these victual aberrations? We do - by our millions, apparently. And you know you’re one of them ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

There's a moose loose? Let's keep it that way!

As regular readers are already aware, I'm not that big on political commentating. But today, I'm going to make an exception to that state of affairs, if only in my usual, second hand way.

I urge you to read Paul Theroux's gorgeous piece, as it appeared in yesterday's Guardian. It's called 'The Bloody Rise of the Vote Hunter' (go on, clickety-click) and it really, really struck a chord with me. I bet it does with you, too - either way, please let me know?

As for Sarah Palin winning 'the feminist vote' in America - well, to say pah to that would be putting it mildly. If there's anything left of the original cause itself, she's put it back around a hundred years. But hey, that's just my opinion. And as we've already established, I'm not that big on political commentating ...

Enjoy what's left of the weekend, y'all!

Friday, September 12, 2008

... when you say nothing at all?

So, was it the life-changing experience I'd set myself up for? All will be revealed in good time ... but that time is not now. I'm exhausted, I'm behind deadlines (of course!) and I'm - for once! - stuck for words. So I'm going to take my own advice (below) and keep quiet about how the London junket experience Rocked me, thereby (hopefully) avoiding the trap of falling into tragic clichés when recounting my latest set of adventures. But before we go there, may I just whisper an advance apology to the BF, who has just bought himself a snazzy new iPhone-type thing/gadget, but has most definitely NOT, in any way, provided me with any of the inspiration for the following ramble. Oh, and might I also extend a warm welcome to Marmite Lover, who has just gained herself an Access All Areas pass to the Animal Disco. If you've got any coffee break time left after bearing with me, go and check her out - you won't be disappointed. As for me: I'll be back over the weekend, by which time I might have caught up on some sleep!

Blah, blah ... blah?

“Yeah, no; at the end of the day, I’m like, loving that you get what I’m saying”. Sound familiar? It should do. Because all around us, everyday, everybody is talking in clichés ... and saying absolutely nothing at all. We fill up valuable airspace with chatter that flaunts a palpable lack of substance, integrity or consideration for others, while thinking before we speak has become an archaic notion. “I see they’re all off to Beijing for the Olympics/sending more troops home from Iraq/putting fuel prices up again,” we say flippantly, as if ‘they’ are nothing to do with ‘us’. Meanwhile, the story beneath the headline is of far less importance than the ability to reiterate the big-text information; if we manage to sound as though we’re informed about current affairs, job done.

But even hours of flippant, thoughtless guff are marginally preferable to enduring endless protracted lectures revolving solely around the advantages of having a BlackBerry, the pitfalls of being registered with Facebook and the glories of the new iPhone - ironically enough, three devices supposed to enhance communication. And what do the techno slaves do when all their connections finally run smoothly? Text each other with yet more banal inanities, usually involving information about ‘upgrades’. As for iPhone man’s status within the global village - he’s had his eyes opened by a reality check that involved a steep learning curve and actualised his skill set. “Ultimately, I just needed to think outside the box,” drones yet another poor sucker as he exits Carphone Warehouse, his bank account drained and his Tedious rating sky high . “I was literally dead on my feet, but there’s nothing worse than ...”. Aaargh! If only he’d spent the time wasted on a soon-to-be obsolete gadget that’s never going to work properly anyway on a trip to the bookshop instead, where Roget Thesaurus swiftly puts all those who abuse the word ‘literally’ back on the right track and the experiences of millions upon millions of original, genuine blue sky thinkers prove that there are, in fact, many, many situations far worse than being tired when trying to network your PDA.

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue,” whispers Truman Capote from the shelves. "That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm, quiet interchange of sentiments,” Samuel Johnson responds. “But a human being cannot resist the opportunity to reveal himself and express his personality, which conversation gives him,” Agatha Christie counters. “Every time, he will give himself away”. Yes indeed, Aggie – but these days, such revelation is tragic to behold. Meanwhile, what all three of our decorous dialogue devotees failed to account for in their ponderings is that a day would come when it didn’t matter if we all stopped making sense when talking – because we’ve all stopped listening anyway. For proof of this fact, consider how many people you know consistently, persistently start every sentence with the word “I”; the ‘me’ generation are a bunch of raging egotists who care little – if at all – about you think, say or do. Little wonder, then, that even the most basic conversational civilities have become redundant. Ask somebody how they are, and you’re likely to be met with an abrupt, ill-mannered “I’m good, yeah”. Say thank you to the waiter who brought you your cup of coffee, and you’ll be told it was “no problem”. Goodbye has been replaced by “later”, few youngsters can relate any given experience without starting every sentence with “I was, like ...” (usually followed by “OHMYGOD!”, as though that phrase itself is all the description you need), and the word ‘random’ has come to randomly replace all critical faculty. (“What did you think of the film?” “It was, like, random”).

Ultimately, there’s nothing worse. I’m just, like, eeeew.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


PR people call them press trips, others call them junkets - some even call them work. I, however, call it a great day out: I'm off to see 'We Will Rock You' at London's Dominion theatre, before which I get to interview Arlene Phillips, Ben Elton and ... OHMYGOD, BRIAN MAY! Okay, so I'll be just one of a group worshipping at the feet of the world's greatest rock guitarist, but so what? It's the closest to Freddie I'll ever get, and I fully intend to make full use of the experience. And after all that, I get to lay my weary bones at one of the poshest hotels in London - really, what's not to like? Well, the nerves that are currently turning my skeleton and everything it holds together to jelly for one thing. The fact that I'll miss the second part of 'Lost in Austen' on TV for another. Oh lordy, what's wrong with me? If life is a cabaret, I'm about to take to the stage (albeit clinging onto someone else's coat tails yet again).

Anyhoo, I'm I'm fully aware that not everybody shares my Queen fixation. So when I come back, I'll not only have the forthcoming trip to fill you in on - I'll also be going on and on about my mixed feelings towards Vanessa Redgrave in 'The Year of Magical Thinking', the renovation of The Bear (pub) up the road from my house AND a funny story about Jamie Oliver to share. If, that is, the world doesn't implode on itself first; now that'd be a guitar solo we'd never forget ...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I think I actually preferred Old McDonald...

2004: American independent film maker Morgan Spurlock’s acclaimed documentary ‘Supersize Me’ is setting the chattering classes, erm, chattering, there’s a media storm brewing over the contents of our children’s lunchboxes and fast food is fast gaining a reputation for being the UK’s most lethal WMD – the perfect time, then, for Venue to send a weapons inspector off to review the Bath branch of McDonalds. To summarise the ensuing report, I most certainly didn’t have a very happy meal – and I never went back again.

Since then, Morgan has been off on a fruitless search for Osama Bin Laden, Jamie Oliver has become the nation’s favourite school dinner lady and I’ve somehow managed to supersize myself (a situation I’m putting to rights at the time of writing). Meanwhile, things have moved on for McDonalds, too. Ronald seems to have retired (oh, if only this review didn’t have to be closely scrutinized by lawyers; I’d love to make a bad joke about glam rock stars who fall from grace here), his cheery countenance sidelined to make room for cheery cartoon farmyard animals and TV ads featuring cheery families foraging for fresh vegetables. A new McDonalds website – – has been set up in order to offer an ‘access all areas’ tour of the company itself, while multitudinous branches across the country have been the subject of major makeovers. In the Bath city centre branch, unforgiving neon strips and garish plastic furniture have been replaced by subtle pools of light, coffee’n’cream paintwork and leather seats. Staff wear uniforms designed by couturier to the stars Bruce Oldfield, Vettriano/Hopper style prints adorn the walls and there’s free WiFi access for all; in a totally bland, unchallenging way, it’s actually quite a good look. But what lurks behind the window dressing?

These days, you’ll find porridge and bagels amongst the double egg and bacon McMuffin™ breakfasts, Happy Meals™ come with a fresh fruit bag and eggs come from free range hens. Zeitgeist? We’re la-la-la-la-la, lovin’ it. According to the McDonalds website, there’s even a low fat option in amongst the deli sandwiches. But our server (efficient, friendly and polite, despite the scrum queuing up at the tills) didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when I asked which one it was, so I had to make do with sweet chilli chicken on brown bread (sans cheese), while he went for an Oriental BBQ beef meal (he said it was his way of paying homage to the Beijing 47; I say he’d probably have preferred a Big Mac™ but was too afraid to defy my instructions regarding trying something new). Elsewhere, the Pound Saver Menu™ makes it easy for the credit crunch aware to feed a family of four for under a fiver and, as long as you’re not vegetarian, the Salads Plus™ selection pays lip service to Nanny (just don’t follow it up with the omnipresent McFlurry™).

But despite the image makeover, it’s still very much business as usual at McD’s. The roll that kept my deli sandwich together was indeed fresh and brown, but the chicken within tasted only of the very, very sweet chilli dressing that bound it – I was left with a sugar-rush headache and a cloying aftertaste that clung to my gums for hours after eating it. His Oriental BBQ beef was, I’d guess, a similar experience (though meatier), but I can’t vouch for it personally because he scoffed the lot, making the most of the fact that he was actually being allowed to indulge in what is, for this little family at least, a rare ‘treat’.

At this point, it would be easy to totally denigrate McDonalds (albeit in a subtle, law suit defying way), awarding the head honchos axis of evil status while mewling over the prospects for a generation of obese, sugar- and fat-addicted kids who have never developed the ability to use cutlery. But hey, we read the Guardian - we all know the facts; do what McDonalds tell you to do, and make up your own mind. As for your intrepid reporter, my minds already made up: a return visit four years hence would be way too soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Something for the weekend?

When is a casino not a casino? When, apparently, it’s a Bingo hall. When debate raged over the licensing of ‘super casinos’ – Vegas-style, ‘destination’ gambling dens – there was nary a mention of the existing. Sharon Osbourne-endorsed venues overseen by the Gala Bingo chain, which operates 175 clubs throughout the UK and boasts around five million members. Bingo, it seems, is not a pernicious, big business money spinner, wheedling hard earned cash from the vulnerable – it’s a Great British Institution.

As a friendly punter sneaking a game-break fag on the conveniently situated, covered terrace of a nearby bar put it: “it’s not about gambling – it’s just a good night out!”. And indeed, the Bath branch of Gala is perfectly situated for such shenanigans, being right opposite the Theatre Royal and snuggled into a building that was once a big, old fashioned cinema. Due to the heritage city’s planning regulations, you won’t find the huge neon signs or the flashing lights around the door that pull Gala punters in elsewhere. But once inside, it’s all about the balls: a cavernous, cathedral-scale hall furnished with hundreds of Formica topped tables, a stage (altar?) at the front and a chapel full of slot machines off to one side, with a bar and diner offering ‘refreshment opportunities’ completing the scene.

We visited on a Monday evening, joining around 70 other optimistic, fellow punters ranging from friendly pensioners to serious young singletons. After registering as members (which is free), we each bought a £10 book that allowed us participation in 10 games (all of us, that is, except for one of our party who got a bit carried away, spending another £7 to join the live, national link-up game and a couple of other extras that we cheapskates opted out of). A very friendly instructor patiently explained the process to us: the caller reads out the numbers; you use a big fat fluorescent marker pen to stamp your game card appropriately. Drinks at the ready, eyes down – and we were off.

Anybody who enters Gala Bingo Bath expecting a seaside postcard scene of jovial ladies in flowery frocks chuckling along to the call of ‘cluck cluck! Two little ducks’, will be deeply disappointed. The bingo caller’s traditional script involving Two Fat Ladies (88), Getting Plenty (number 20) and Meal for Two (69) have been deemed politically incorrect, their innocent cohorts swept away with them. Similarly, the number generating, bouncing ball machines have been replaced by a computer, from which a sweet voiced young woman recites the destiny of your game.

You know those really annoying ‘brain training’ gadgets that are advertised on TV? Imagine playing one of those, with the added stress of possible prize money replacing personal kudos (or whatever the point of those gizmos may be), with further pressure heaped upon you by a group of friends who suddenly turned into a gaggle of recalcitrant teenagers the moment the first number was called: that’s what game one felt like, to me. But by the time we’d swiftly moved on to the next game, we’d all calmed down and there was no time for slacking; those numbers come thick and fast. “Here!”. “House!”. “Yes!” - the shouts went up all around us, as one-line, two-line and Full House games were won, mainly by solemn looking stalwarts who played with the concentrated dedication of the professional. Then suddenly, it was our turn: “Me!”, he shouted – and indeed, it was him. £15 was duly claimed, and we played on, each of us convinced that Lady Luck had joined us at our table. Except she hadn’t. Two hours later (including several even faster moving games played on tabletop boards for an extra quid a time), and it was all over. Someone, somewhere had won quite a nest egg on the national link-up, the couple sitting down the lane from us had won about eight games (although it has to be said, each of them had three times the amount of game books than we’d invested in) and someone else at the slot machines had, by the sound of it, struck gold. Between five of us, we’d spent £57 on game books, £24 at the bar and £3.60 on pie and chips (with the sort of curry sauce your grandma used to make) – a total of £84.60, minus that one, Full House claim.

But remember, it’s not about gambling – it’s just a good night out.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Attention! Attention!

Holy Moly! She posts nothing new for weeks, then she goes and shares this! Okay, the film itself ('Father's Day') ain't exactly a cheery start to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but oooh, it sent shivers down my spine; may it do the same for yours.

If you want another example of brilliant inspiration from my home town (and yes, I'm proud to admit it: my mates), then go here.' I Never Went to Eric's' and 'Brian' are my personal favourites; I'd be interested to know which ones float your boat.

So what about something groovy from the Animal Disco? Well, I went for a curry with 22 people last night - totally unplanned, no particular reason other than the fact that we just wanted to do it - and it was a very jolly evening indeed. Okay, there isn't usually a group of 22 people hanging around at a loose end on a Monday evening; there'd been a staff meeting/wine tasting at GP, and the invasion of the Boojon (sorry, this lovely little bring-your-own curry bistro doesn't have a link, but I think I might have posted a review here aaages ago) just seemed to be the natural direction in which to take the rest of the evening. Oh, and I forgot to mention in my last little catch-up post that I went to see George Michael at Earls Court a week last Sunday, and he was a bit good but not as camp as I was hoping.

So, seeing as I don't have a really cool piece of My Space/YouTube all of my own, I'm going to borrow one of George's and leave you with that instead (ah, swinging on someone else's coat tails - that's the way to do it!).

This song actually means a big, big lot to me, to the point where it ends up reducing me to tears, sending mascara skidding down my face, every time I hear it. There: if George can't be camp all on his own, I've done it for him.

Ciao, gang! See you at the premiere (someone else's, that is; not mine) ...