Posts tagged with “food”

Posted 1 year ago

Hot Cross Buns from St John Bread & Wine (Spitalfields) via

Consider the Hot Cross Bun 

The OED’s first reference to [Hot Cross Buns] dates to 1733 and the familiar nursery rhyme, but the buns are far older than that. The Ancient Greeks baked small loaves to mark the spring, and even the Egyptians offered breads marked with the image of ox horns to their goddess of the moon. When archaeologists excavated the Roman city of Herculaneum – buried by the same explosion that preserved Pompei – they found two small, carbonised loaves among the ruins, each marked with a cross. The pagan Saxons baked breads slashed with crosses to honour Eostre, their goddess of spring and fertility and the source of our word Easter. The four sections symbolised the four quarters of the moon, or the seasons, or something else.
The truth is that the cross is such a common, ancient sign it can represent almost anything. And since one can yoke so many meanings to the symbol, breads decorated with it have developed an exceptional number of superstitions and legends. It was popularly believed that a bun baked on Good Friday would never go mouldy, that if it was hung in the kitchen it would improve a cook’s baking and prevent fires from breaking out, and that if you stashed a bun in a heap of corn it would keep the rats and weevils away. One Lincolnshire family has apparently kept a hot cross bun in a box since 1821.
Sailors, always a superstitious lot, took buns to sea hoping they might ward off shipwreck. There’s a pub in the East End called The Widow’s Son, named after a woman who lived on the site in the 1820s and who baked some hot cross buns for her son who was due home from sea that day. He never arrived, but she continued to bake a bun for him every year and hang it in the kitchen. Every Good Friday, a dozen or so members of the Royal Navy present the pub with a large hot cross bun in memory of the lost sailor, and the pub tells me it lays on free hot cross buns and other food for anyone who drops in for a drink.
 

How to make perfect hot cross buns via The Guardian

Posted 1 year ago

The BFI continues to turn out some lovely and unusual choices for the festive seasons. Last year they screened Meet Me in St Louis, and this year it’s Babette’s Feast (1987) - a film I had never seen, despite being best friends with a professional chef who adores it.

The story: in the middle of the 19th Century a tiny religious community in rural Denmark witnesses the arrival of various strangers (a Swedish captain, a French opera singer) who seek to woo and marry the local pastor’s two beautiful daughters. The daughters are bashful and devoted to their religion, and partly by choice, partly by accident, they end up embracing spinsterhood. A final stranger arrives, this time a French woman called Babette, who is on the run from Paris after the revolution kills her entire family, seeking to stay in the village as a maid and cook in the pastor’s house. The two -now elderly- sisters tell her they can’t afford to pay her services (even though they are quite well off), but she agrees to stay on and work for them regardless. She settles into life in Jutland, learns Danish, strikes up a series of friendships and working relationships with the villagers, and is generally accepted as a mysterious and extravagant member of the community. One day she receives a letter telling her that she has won a huge prize of 10,000F in a French lottery. It appears obvious that she is going to leave the village and move back to France, but before leaving she asks the sisters to be allowed to prepare a special French dinner for the 100th anniversary of the parish. The exotic ingredients begin to arrive - caviar, Burgundy, Champagne, quails, and even a giant live turtle - and the villagers’ religious beliefs begin to shake: won’t all this excess seem depraved in the eyes of God? 

On my way to the screening I read this review on Little White Lies, and with it in mind I sat in the cinema, feeling a little worried that I was going to see something placid and superficial - if not outright perverse at a time of global financial crisis. Fortunately I think the reviewer is mistaken on many counts, and most of all on the understanding that this is a story that celebrates consumerism, expenditure and wastefulness as opposed to spiritual richness. Only a strict Calvinist, or somebody who has neither tastebuds, nor appreciation of the social and emotional value of collective dining, let alone an understanding of the experience of cooking for others can come up with such a reductive idea.

This is not simply a film about the earthly delights of eating, and it’s far from the epicurean selfishness of the gastronomy fanboys glorified in so many recent popular TV programmes. On the contrary, Babette’s Feast is a celebration of generosity and the shared pleasure of offering one’s talent and taste to others. Food in the film is a social and emotional catalyst, something to thaw the frozen mind and enlighten the spirit’s way to goodness and joy.

It also isn’t an anti-religious film. While Babette’s Feast certainly does criticise the Puritanical meagreness of this Jutland community - dictated not by poverty, but by enforced tightness and suppressed pleasures that lead to unresolved tensions - the film is also a deeply spiritual meditation on the idea of service and sacrifice: Babette offers up all the lottery money she unexpectedly wins to buy the extravagant ingredients for the dinner. It’s not a wasteful gesture because it is done to honour the household that took her in at a time of disgrace. She spends all the lottery money for others who helped her, not leaving any money behind for herself alone to be able to return to France: the dinner is a heartfelt thank you note written with her genius and talent, a gift to those who were kind to her. 

This strikes me as a profoundly Christian idea - think of the parable of the talents: he who hides his talent in the ground does not make it fruitful and wastes it for himself, his master and his community. For a long time I was very confused about this story - although I couldn’t articulate it, I found its moral greedy and capitalist, and couldn’t get my head around it. I recognise now that its significance is that even the most apparently useless talents we are given must be put to good use for others.

Babette’s Feast does precisely that, and it proves a wonderful, alternative Christmas movie for the non-religious. For surely even an agnostic like me understands that the only joy in life is the joy we share with others, and if I can bring some joy into your lives by telling you to go and see this film, then even my silly talent for talking endlessly about films will have been put to a good use. 

—-

PS. A practical note of advice: do not watch this film on an empty stomach, or if you do, make sure you have a sumptuous dinner ready when you leave the cinema - you’ll be very, very hungry.

Posted 1 year ago

What’s for dinner?

Glad you asked.

We have bacon-wrapped roast pheasant with a blueberry and juniper reduction, crushed potatoes with mustard, and a side of savoy cabbage, carrots and bacon tossed in white wine. 

After a canal-side walk this morning listening to Johnny Flynn and Glen Hansard, and an afternoon cuddled up under a blanket with Peter Ames Carlin’s new Bruce Springsteen biography (a really good read for consummate fans and newbies alike) I feel like the greyness of this chilly November day has been well and truly conquered.

Posted 2 years ago

Mission burritos are an institution. They are cheap, giant and delicious. Imagine a tube the size of a bazooka shell, filled with spicy grilled meat, guacamole, salsa, tomatoes, refried beans, rice, onions and cilantro. It has the same relationship to Taco Bell that a Lamborghini has to a Hot Wheels car.

There are about two hundred Mission burrito joints. They’re all heroically ugly, with uncomfortable seats, minimal decor — faded Mexican tourist office posters and electrified framed Jesus and Mary holograms — and loud mariachi music. The thing that distinguishes them, mostly, is what kind of exotic meat they fill their wares with. The really authentic places have brains and tongue, which I never order, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother. (with thanks to tanbureru)
Posted 2 years ago

Arrived in Lake Tekapo last night in time to catch the sun going down behind the mountains while soaking and swimming in open air hot pools at the local spa. 

In the morning we went to a (fairly dull) local fair that reminded us of quaint Midsomer Murders-type countryside, complete with cheese scone competitions, terrible hot beverages, souvenir tack, and overpriced local crafts (minus the murders, we think). The lack of delectable foodstuffs got us wondering.

With some exceptions (a glorious meal with green-lipped mussels, charcoal grilled snapper and kumara mash in Russell; a great organic beef fillet, and the crayfish in Kaikoura; home-cooked meals by our amazing friends), food has been a bit of a disappointment here. The local ingredients tend to be fantastic, but somehow the food culture is not very refined or satisfying. Having said that, I had the best sushi of my life, and some mouthwatering Japanese-style dredge oysters from Bluff, in a sake bar in Epsom, Auckland just over a week ago - never mind the sake hangover that followed it. However, the national New Zealander dish appears to be fish and chips, and we had no intention to leave one nation that thinks that battering and deep frying fish is the natural way to respect the deliciousness of the sea (sorry, Great Britain, but really) to find another that practices the same religion. New Zealand: down with the Commonwealth of beer-batter! Undo the chains of culinary colonisation and embrace the wholesome ways of grilling!

This tirade on kiwi cuisine was the product of a nice trek to the top of Mount John (1029mt), where Astro cafe sits on top of the world, towering over the lake, and facing directly towards the summit of Mount Cook (3754mt). There we happily consumed soup and muffins, and entertained conversations with some exhausted German, Taiwanese and American trampers. Mt John is a UNESCO-protected starlight reserve, and the location of an astronomical observatory that belongs to the University of Canterbury’s department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and that doubles up as a night-time attraction. Great work is done here to protect the area from light and air pollution, while at the same time promoting knowledge and observation of the skies.

We walked back down and along the glacial lake and skimmed stones on its clear surface. The colour is jaw-drop beautiful, an intense turquoise with sensational transparency. In this part of the world the sky and waters are so incredibly alike and influenced by each other’s presence that you would be forgiven for thinking that the mountains are set in place to prevent them from merging.

At night you can see not only stars, planets and satellites, but whole clusters, galaxies, universes. Looking at unfamiliar constellations last night sent me into dreams worthy of Philip Pullman’s imagination - entire worlds placed alongside each other with thin, permeable borders. But once awake you realise that these lands are spaces for superhuman silence, wind, darkness: in all this sublime, vast nature, one feels small, noisy, clumsy, like a restless, messy guest. 

We’re resting tonight (hence the time to write such a long post) in preparation for driving the long way to Manapouri tomorrow, where for the final leg of our stay in New Zealand beings. Looking forward to the magic of Fiordland - we’re pining for the fjords, so to speak.

*Picture nr. 1 - Tekapo Starlight via
Posted 2 years ago

More beasties from down under: a chocolate-dipped gingerbread kiwi, “made with love”

Posted 2 years ago

Monday Gras: it’s Rosenmontag in Hessen (a carnival day) and we’re eating the traditional Krebbeln - aka Berliner/Krapfen.

Posted 2 years ago

A very Italian Christmas to you

Posted 2 years ago
nobordersdaily:

(via 10 best budget eats in Bologna | Travel | guardian.co.uk)
Bologna is known as “La Grassa” (the Fat One), and this friendly city can stake a strong claim to being at the heart of Italian cuisine. This is the home of fresh pasta, the famous mortadella sausage, and nearby there are the finest producers of Parma ham, Parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar. There is no better place in Italy for eating out, and it really is almost impossible here to pay a lot of money for a meal.

nobordersdaily:

(via 10 best budget eats in Bologna | Travel | guardian.co.uk)

Bologna is known as “La Grassa” (the Fat One), and this friendly city can stake a strong claim to being at the heart of Italian cuisine. This is the home of fresh pasta, the famous mortadella sausage, and nearby there are the finest producers of Parma ham, Parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar. There is no better place in Italy for eating out, and it really is almost impossible here to pay a lot of money for a meal.

Posted 2 years ago

Pumpkin (apple, ginger and carrot) soup bubbling in the pot, braised red cabbage in the oven, pear cheese and watercress salad in the fridge, gingerbread skeletons on the cooling rack, and a Jack-o-lantern called Egon: we’re ready for Halloween.