Monday, September 20, 2010

A Pig in the kitchen

News just in: Venue have finally sorted a proper website out! You'll find me mostly lounging around the food and drink pages...

In other news:

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no more satisfying pastime than making a cake. Mary Berry’s Victoria sandwich, Nigel Slater’s coffee and walnut cake and, of late, Dan Lepard’s saffron, lemon curd and clotted cream creation are perennial favourites, but as autumn approaches, fruit cake, steamed puddings and - sooner than you’d care to think - Christmas cake will all be stirring up a delicious fuss in my kitchen.

But baking doesn’t have to be a fuss. There’s actually a cake (or cookies, or muffins) in everybody’s store cupboard: sugar, eggs and butter feature on most people’s weekly shopping list, while flour tends to linger on our shelves in a stoic, “I’m there when you need me” slump; use these ingredients wisely, and you’ve got a luxurious, frivolous, decadent treat literally at your fingertips.”But I haven’t got the time!”, I hear the naysayers yell; “and anyway, I can buy a decent cake at the supermarket”. Well yes you have and no, you can’t. A simple sponge cake takes 10 minutes to put together and 30 minutes maximum to bake, while muffins or cookies can be done and dusted (with icing sugar, perhaps?) in half that time. Meanwhile, the commercial versions of the same (over)sweet treats costs around four times more than the real McCoy and usually taste of nothing but and chemicals and cardboard. But even if you go down Slater Street or Lepard Lane and invest the necessary time and money in their sumptuous, seductive creations, the end result pays massive dividends - and you get to indulge in a spot of ‘me’ time that, at the finish, is made for sharing: a moist, softly crumbling homemade creation eaten in a warm, sweet-smelling kitchen on a chilly autumn afternoon; you can’t get that at the supermarket, can you?

By the way, if anybody's interested: I also occasionally blog about food-related matters and going out in Bath for The Pig Guide; enjoy (I hope?), but keep the source secret!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Funny Man

Patrick Monahan: I walked, I danced, I’ran

(Ustinov, Bath)

Admirably defying the contemporary entertainment directive stating that comedians must be hung up, strung out and obsessively egocentric in order to raise the prerequisite cynical chuckles, Patrick Monahan proves that it’s still possible to keep an audience laughing for almost 90 minutes without resorting to crass euphemisms, insulting anybody or using ticketholders as emotional punchbags.

Instantly likeable and eminently personable, Monahan interacts with audience members throughout his whole show in a genial, unthreatening manner, taking everybody with him on a vivid journey that largely uses both his and our observations on the north/south divide to provide the scenery along the way. A less imaginative tour guide might have used their Irish-Iranian/Teeside roots as a vehicle to carry us along in for the bulk of the trip but Monahan refers to his heritage only in passing, saving the culture clash quips for a finale in which he’s joined on stage by two hapless stooges for a spot of Iranian national dancing. In the hands of a lesser-skilled host and raconteur, such an innocent formula may not work quite so well. Monahan, though, is an instinctive good times vibrationalist: charming, quick-witted and refreshingly comfortable in his own skin.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grow up?

His fringe flops into his eyes, he has a permanently perplexed look on his face and he sleeps at random times, often in front of the TV or at the dinner table. He’s fascinated by shiny gadgets and his baggy, crumpled trousers come dangerously close to sliding all the way down to his chubby little knees every time he crosses the room on his skateboard - if, that is, he doesn’t trip on his shoelaces first. And when there’s something he really, really wants - a huge beaker of caramel-flavoured gloop from Starbucks or the latest iPod, for example - he knows exactly how to manipulate it into his grasp; any day now, he might even learn the words “please” and “thank you.” If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s 23 years old, unemployed and still living at home, he’d be soooo cute!

Kidults, adultescents, the Peter Pan generation: whatever you want to call the ill-mannered tribe of spoiled brats who refuse to grow up, it’s likely that a psychologist will have coined the phrase first, giving what’s actually a rather sinister sociological trend formal endorsement. Comedian Richard Herring recently turned his own kidult status into a commercial success, publishing his bestselling book “How Not To Grow Up” earlier this year. Herring recognises that choosing to live in a state of perpetual immaturity was never an option for his parents: “They had limited choices about what they could do professionally and needed to work to survive,” he told the Times recently. “A ‘proper’ job will soon make a 20-year-old grow up, whether they want to or not.” But how many young adults don’t need to work to survive today - and why wouldn’t a 20 year old want to grow up? Herring’s eventual life choices (which, whether he acknowledges it or not, resulted in a very grown up career indeed) don’t involve children of his own on which to dump his own neurosis, but many of his contemporaries are the parents of today. Instead of blaming the X Factor, the advertising industry and America for all the UK’s woes, is it actually the Herring generation who are (ir)responsible for the failings of today’s immature, infantilised young adults?

When I was a child, a trip to a restaurant was a really grown up, exciting treat. I was expected to behave (and eat) accordingly, not force-fed from a ‘kid's menu’ after having an activity book thrust upon me by a server dressed as a bunny rabbit. At the cinema, the film was the star of the show, not the ‘meal deal’ combos, sweet shops and video games in the foyer, and ‘playdates' evolved naturally rather than being scheduled in a month in advance. This may sound positively Dickensian to the kids of today, who expect indulgent, unnecessary extra-curricular activities, ‘rewards’ for making their own beds and a £300 frock to wear to the school leaver’s Prom to come as standard issue childhood ‘essentials’. But such essentials are often only essential to parents who are living out their own second childhood vicariously in a desperate bid to remain forever young themselves. Instead of breeding a generation equipped to cope with impending adulthood (and all the joys - yes, joys! - that go with that status), the kidults have raised packs of pampered poodles who still dress (and eat) like babies or Disney princesses, need constant external stimulus in order to stay awake and salivate at the sight of a new toy (usually a mobile phone, iPod or laptop destined to be lost, broken or obsolete within a month). As a result, we’re burdened with a whole generation of uninspired, uninspirational 20-somethings who lack the social skills, self-awareness and general wherewithal to claim their rightful places in the adult world, and are destined to raise children of their own who, should they choose to rebel against their parental blueprint, have little option but to claim Margaret Thatcher as a maternal role model. The kids are alright? I don’t think so.