Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flippin' 'eck!

It’s Pancake Day, so happy birthday to my lovely German Shepherd dog Jazz, who now lives in the great dog paddock in the sky but is never, ever far from my thoughts (even though she travelled skywards over a decade ago). Later on (or to be precise, tomorrow – I’m too hungover to make a good batter today) I’m going to make Pepperpot Beef pancakes, as invented by my mum and dad when they owned the Everyman Bistro in Liverpool. PB is actually just a slightly more exotic version of savoury mince, made with green peppers, garlic, red wine and a sprinkle of dried chillies. As you can probably imagine, it’s great on top of rice, but it’s also an excellent pancake filler, and a nice little trip down Memory Lane for me.

I loved the Bistro years. They ended when I was around seven and we moved to Wales, but I’m pretty sure that hanging out in the kitchen with the chefs when I was but a tiny crumb planted the seeds of the fascination I have with food today. It was in that kitchen that I first tasted proper French bread (with butter and Lyle’s Golden Syrup, no less), chilli con carne (even though I was supposed to be vegetarian) and pasta that didn’t come in a tin. Here too I was introduced to the delights of Leonard Cohen, Dionne Warwick and – I must ask my mum how this happened! – Liberace, not forgetting, or course, The Beatles. And in this instance, I use the term ‘introduce’ literally. I once held an art exhibition in the Bistro bar (precocious, moi?) and sold a Crayola sketch of a princess in a castle to Paul McCartney (or it might have been John Lennon) for 4d. Whichever Beatle it was, I wish I’d either kept the coins or got him to sign my sketch and hand it back – after all, I’m sure it never went on to be hung on the walls of a mansion. But still, the memory is priceless (even though I don’t remember much about it, and much of what I do recall is based on hearsay).

Gosh, I’m experiencing Bistro memory overload now – when I’m feeling a bit more lively, I’ll probably ramble on the subject some more. But for now, all I want to do is watch daytime TV and keep my fingers crossed that Poncy and Chancer – the two dogs we’ve just put a reserve on at Bath Cats and Dogs Home – really are going to become official family soon. I don’t want to tempt fate by getting too excited about this yet, which is why I’ve kept quiet about the plans so far. But hey, watch this space! And may all your tossing escapades be successful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Don't panic, dear - it's only wind

I worry about women. Or rather, I worry in case I’m not a proper, bona fide version of the genre. Because if I take the average portrayal of my gender during the food-related TV ad breaks as standard, I’m not really doing a very good job of this girly thing at all.

I’ve never been chased down the road by a chocolate muffin, I’m not stupid enough to believe that the right combinations of vitamins can “melt fat away” and if chocolate doesn’t have enough calories in it I don’t have to “find new ways to be naughty”. Further to this, my version of “being naughty” doesn’t involve either trampolining, spraying the gardener with a hose or burying me fella’s DVDs.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need a slimming class instructor to explain to me that I’m not obliged to eat their mushed up, snot-sprinkled leftovers. I’m confident too that if ‘dad’ dressed up in (bad) drag and brought a bucket of fried chicken home, I wouldn’t react as though I’d just won a three week cruise around the Med. Give him a makeup lesson, yes. But feed the family a bucket of misery? No way.

When I “feel bloated”, it’s because I am bloated ... with curry and two bottles of wine from the night before. So instead of frowning prettily and rubbing my tummy gently before reaching for the yoghurt, I just fart. And if that doesn’t get rid of the ‘bloating’, I don’t use the “my handbag is full” analogy to explain to the pharmacist that I’m in search of laxatives.

What’s wrong with the ad men (and judging by these examples, they must surely be men); don’t they know that real women have bowels?

I just wish they wouldn't do that annoying thing with the lower-case 'd'...

Since I rather selfishly went and got meself a fella, Medad – who used to appear regularly on these pages as ‘guest’ in many guises – has been a bit neglected. Time to redress the balance. “Come on, Medad!”, I trilled. “We’re going to demuths, Bath’s long-established contemporary bistro renowned for elegant vegan, vegetarian and largely organic food and drink” (okay, I didn’t put it quite like that - Medad and I tend not to talk in ad-man lingo, but you get the idea).

Despite being one of toytown’s most venerable institutions, demuths – much like Medad, really – doesn’t ‘do’ laurel-resting. The food and décor constantly evolve, and on the evening we visited, both sparkled with colourful innovation.

I started with tortellini because girls love dinky portions of Big Stuff. Having said that, my very fresh pasta parcel came abundantly stuffed with fennel, sage and thyme, accompanied by oyster mushrooms and perfectly caramelised roasted parsnips, and resting on a creamy saffron sauce; you won’t even get close to imagining how good this dish was. And while Medad wasn’t as impressed with his carrot, coriander and cannelloni pate as I was (“it’s all a bit too heavy for me, dear”), he found much to wax lyrical about when it came to his cheese soufflé main, which thrummed to the addictive tang of smoked cheddar and came with a classic combination of sautéed kale, red onions and pinenuts, all topped with a sticky red onion relish. The cumin infused celery root and potato puree confused things a bit, but not so much as to distract me from wishing I’d ordered what he had. Because on my side of the table, there was something a little bit too student dinner party-ish about my Mexican mole (oh of course I'm not talking about those cute, furry, mammals! That would be a really pathetic joke to make. In food world, mole comes from the Aztec word ‘molli’, meaning, in this instance, sauce. And it’s got chocolate in it. Lecture over). But it has to be said that any disappointment was more my fault than a blunder to blame on the chef. Did I honestly expect a combination of spicy vegetables, coriander beans and rice served with tortilla, salsa and sour cream (the chocolate got a bit lost along the way) to offer anything other than a return to the halls of residence days I never had? If I’d chosen the Revitalising Salad instead, I bet I’d be raving by now. As it is, I’m feeling a bit ho-hum and more than a tad bloated. Hindsight, eh?

But despite the fact that I was starting to resemble a puffa fish, pudding was on the near horizon: a huuuge portion of honey and ginger ice cream - rich, creamy and just sweet enough – and a deconstructed redefinition of baklava for Medad: loosely layered pistachio and fig filo sheets interspersed with baked pear, all drizzled with star anise-tinged orange syrup and served with vegan-friendly vanilla ice cream; satisfying posh food with a heart. Just do it.