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Archive for the ‘Food Related’ Category

Beer

Any examination of beer consumption, though it may start with a scholarly look at consumption in general, must unavoidably slope off into excess — ribald songs, naked dancing girls, orgies — the whole sordid intemperate story. Sad to relate, but that seems to be the way of things. If there is a deep end, we will go off it.

Records from the sixth century indicate that monks were obliged to perform fifteen days penance if they were “in drink” to the point that they couldn’t speak. The existence of the penance proves the need, and illustrates that monks were at least occasionally speechless from ale.

Beer barrels resting between rounds *

Clerical laws in Saxon times ordered monks to avoid drinking in public places where ale was sold. Now, ostensibly, this could be seen as a curb to ecclesiastical excess. In reality, though, it mustn’t have been too hard to bear. The monastery provided its inmates with two drinking horns of ale per day (that’s two Saxon drinking horns, the big ones, which could have amounted to three or four quarts), and on festival days, of which the calendar was nearly full, twice a day also with wine. Certainly a well-lubricated day.

A pint of the real thing.

Along the same lines is the documented story of William Lewis of Wales who died on the 30th of November 1793 at the very moment he was downing a 40-ounce flagon of ale. Well, there are worse ways to go. A man of upright habits, he read the Bible every morning, and drank eight gallons of ale every night. It was said of him — almost a eulogy, you might say — that in the course of his obviously happy life, he consumed enough ale to float a 74-gun ship. Can you ask for a better epitaph?

In the end, when the discussion of beer consumption is over, the Germans — who else? — have the last word:

“It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile.”

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* Photo: www.CGPGrey.com

* Photo: www.CGPGrey.com

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The Chef

The chef/owner of one of my favourite restaurants regularly serves supper to 50-60 patrons at almost one and the same time.

Think: Over 50 people, arriving at different times — say, between six and eight pm — ordering any of 30 or 40 different dishes, rare, medium, or well done, and he handles it all by himself; no sauce chef, salad chef, fish chef — just him, the culinary one-armed paperhanger. The logistics are awe-inspiring.

I have a tough enough time getting the bacon and eggs to arrive at the table at the same time (but you’ll have to wait for the coffee, I forgot to turn the stove on under the kettle. I only have two hands, you know).

Chefs preparing dinner at the White House, Washington.

I have never heard of my chef ever making a mistake.

As the author Nicolas Freeling says in his book “The Kitchen”, a chef never uses a recipe book; he knows what to do because he’s done it so often before.And this is the aspect of chef-ing that saddens me.

Like so many occupations, it must rapidly become boring, the same dishes, prepared (for reliability) the same way, in the same place, same materials, same everything.

The Cook and the Cat, by Augustin Ribot (1823–1891)

So many other occupations, too, exhibit the same mind-numbing repetition, day after day, for a lifetime.

Creative pursuits seem to offer the most reward for our daily efforts.

Visual artists say, or writers, though I’m not saying for a moment that chefs are not creative artists. They might take exception to being classed as non-creative, and you don’t want to step on the toes of the guy who’s feeding you …

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On Coffee

The most revolting coffee I ever have is in other people’s homes.

Automatic coffee makers? The ones that supposedly give you “perfect coffee every time”? Don’t trust them, especially if they belong to other people. There is no such thing as a coffee maker that produces coffee without human intervention, and humans always intervene.

My wife has the best automatic coffee maker in the world. It’s called me. Every morning I get out of bed and automatically make coffee.

Ready for the boiling water. And — something to bear in mind if you have a hangover — it only took a minute of preparation to get to this point.

But you can’t have me getting out of your bed every morning. My wife would have something to say about that. So let’s look at the making of coffee.

Faced with the substantial costs of coffee, some cut down on the amount used. Great money-saving idea? Right; saves money. Great cup of coffee? Never. In the end it’s a double loss: You still spend money, but get bad coffee. Many people forget the universal and unavoidable fact: If you want coffee you have to use coffee.

Personal taste governs all things, of course. Depending on taste, coffee quality can vary, from lightly coloured water to a dark, turbid, barely fluid cupful of what seems like the waste products from the Alberta oil sands. It’s a dangerous world out there, drinking other people’s coffee. But I think anyone who really likes coffee will agree with the following guidelines:

You learn something new every day. I always thought Melitta was an Italian outfit. But here it is: Melitta-Werke in Minden, North Rhine-Westphalia. *

For a sensible cup of coffee (250 ml if you’re into metric), not too strong, not too weak, yet full-flavoured, you’re going to need a quarter of an ounce of coffee per cup (that’s seven or eight grams, or one old fashioned tablespoonful — not level; make it somewhat rounded). Avoid the mechanical coffee maker. I use the Melitta System for a very simple reason: It’s fast, it’s easy, costs pennies — and it works. Put the required coffee into the paper filtre, pour in the correct amount of boiling water, and in less than thirty seconds you have a cup of perfect coffee.

Really, the ONLY way to start a day. * *

Be guided by this simple recipe and you can’t miss. Feel free to play around with quantities to suit your own tastes, but don’t digress too much.

Trust me: These measurements, and the Melitta coffee-making system, will give you good coffee, and that, after all, is what you want.

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* Photo: Benutzer Aeggy

* *  Photo: Julius Schorzman

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Cheeses

Fat — in all its current transmogrifications — is apparently seen with distrust by many who are supposed to know. And this goes for cheese, too. Strange. I always thought cheese was good for you. And it is, of course. Wonderful flavour and topnotch nutrition. I mean, it comes from milk, the very basic food.

And try getting by without salt (sodium) in your diet. I suppose it is, as usual, a matter of quantity. A little goes a long way, so watch it. We should all observe the old maxim: Moderation in all things. (Frankly, I like to qualify that, especially when it comes to cheese. “Moderation in all things” — including moderation. Come on, let’s have another slice of cheese, eh? A nice big slice).

Cheese market in Holland, displaying rounds of Gouda cheese.

It may help you in planning your fat and salt intake to consider fat and sodium content in various cheeses:

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Percentages of fat and sodium in cheese are generally based on a specific serving of a three-centimetre cube — maybe a couple of tablespoons (30 grams) — which is not very much. Anyone who really enjoys cheese would easily consume three times that.

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There are few plates so attractive as a cheese plate. Most cheese retailers will happily make one for you. Go ahead, don’t wait for a party, get one just for you! (Think of it as your fat and salt quota for the day …) *

St Agur: fat 14% sodium 9%

St Paulin: fat 12% sodium 8%

Boursin: fat 20% sodium 9%

Havarti: fat 8% sodium 11%

Gouda:  fat 12%  sodium 6%

Gorgonzola:  fat 14%  sodium 10%

Roquefort:  fat 14%  sodium 18%

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Fat-wise, see Boursin and Havarti. And compare the sodium in Roquefort and Gouda. I wonder why the marked difference? Can anyone explain that?

You can’t help but think, regarding fat and sodium, that with some brands you might be wiser to eat the packaging instead.

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* Photo: D. Andress

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Snuff

Buried in the current warnings of the deadly effect of tobacco smoking, the very first tobacco habit — and its advantages — appears to have been overlooked.

Glancing back over the centuries, we see that 1559 was the pivotal year in the history of tobacco in the western world. A certain Jean Nicot, a representative of France’s King Henry II, brought some tobacco to Paris (the man’s name lives on in our word “nicotine”).

Earlier snuff-takers enjoying a friendly pinch (F. Barnard)

Tobacco was first used as snuff, powdered and taken in the nose. It took the English a century to acquire the habit, but when they did there was no looking back. By the year 1680 there were, in London alone, over a thousand retail outlets for “all sorts of snuff,” one outlet for every 250 inhabitants.

England’s King George IV, a bit of a nut in many ways, was no less odd toward his snuff: Magpie-like, he filled entire rooms with his stores of snuff. A blend still manufactured and sold in England is Fribourg & Treyer’s “Princes” which was one of George IV’s preferred mixtures (I have used and enjoyed it myself for over 30 years, importing it directly from Wilsons in Sheffield, England). The blend is so named to celebrate his decade (1811–1820) as Prince Regent. His mother Queen Charlotte was a fair hand at snuff-taking, too; she was called “snuffy Charlotte” (though never to her face).

Queen Victoria at 23 (FX Winterhalter)

Queen Victoria (reigned 1837–1901), granddaughter of Queen Charlotte and niece of snuff king George IV, refused to have anything to do with what some called “the filthy habit,” and destroyed every George IV snuff box she found, as a result George IV snuff boxes are a valuable rarity.

The 18th century was The Century Of Snuff. Talleyrand, the French ambassador, consumed vast quantities. He claimed that “snuff was indispensable to a politician. Pausing for a pinch of snuff allowed time to form a suitably oblique response to a difficult question.” *

It was not unusual to find priests taking snuff during religious services. “In the mid-1700s, snuff-taking in church had received papal sanction from Benedict XIII, himself a devotee of snuff.” *

Established in 1720, Fribourg & Treyer provided snuff to royalty, and still provides it to guys like me.

Today nasal snuff is still taken all over the world. “In the 1980s Britain produced over 360 tons annually. Records in Washington DC of the same period showed that the manufacture of nasal snuff alone (disregarding chewing tobacco) averaged out to an annual nation-wide consumption of one-and-a-half ounces for every man, woman, and child.” *

I’ll save wear & tear on your calculator and tell you that’s almost 15,000 tons per year. And there seems to be no indication of a lessening of manufacture and use.

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* The Chase Almanac, 1979.

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Shrimp Diane

The restaurant’s second-storey terrace dining area.

Some days nothing goes right. A few days ago I was making one of my truly delicious shrimp suppers. It’s called Shrimp Diane, a favourite from K-Paul’s restaurant down south in New Orleans. I had served my wife, lit the candles, poured the cool wine, and turned on the soft music. Then I piled my plate with the gorgeous shrimps, the light fluffy rice, and the vegetables, then, plate in hand, I turned …

… but to handle the hot plate I was wearing an oven mitt, and the soft fabric did not give me a firm hold on the plate. As I turned, with a flourish like a matador who has successfully escaped the bull’s charge, the plate shot out of my hand and sent shrimps, rice, and vegetables all over the kitchen floor and halfway up the walls.

I was surprised I knew all those four-letter words.

Courtyard of K-Paul’s restaurant, New Orleans. The recipe I used came from owner/chef Paul Prudhomme.

I actually ate two of the shrimps that ended up under the fridge. Also half a sprig of broccoli that was stuck to the wall. Gave them a wipe with a towel; under no circumstances was I going to lose all of that delightful supper. But the accident just ruined my whole evening. The candles became pointless and childish; the music held no charm.

But I drank the wine. Many of us turn to alcohol in times of stress or tragedy.

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Zucchini

For starters, the name of the stuff is zucchina (plural: zucchine). There’s some loose talk about “zucchino” and “zucchini,” even to the extent of a listing in an Italian dictionary, and a mention that the Italians in Tuscany (one of whom is a “toscano,” two or more of them are “toscani”) call it “zucchino” (and thus “zucchini”). Me, I’m of the Feminine School: Zucchina and zucchine. After all, the word is a diminutive of “zucca” (a feminine noun) which is the plant itself, zucchina being the fruit thereof. The “zucchini” people are probably the same ones who say “scaloppini” instead of scaloppine (one is a scaloppina, two or more are scaloppine). Same guys say “salami,” using the plural form of salame to mean one sausage. And the odd thing is, these guys are not uneducated; you’ll never — or rather rarely — hear them say “The dog are” or “The dogs is.”

One or two, whole or sliced, the result is the same: Nothing, niente.

Anyway. Let’s look at “zucchini.” You’ve tried one, I suppose? What do you think? Tasteless, right? Like eating air. That’s my feeling, anyway. They’re squash. Or squashes (squashi? squashæ?) The whole family or genus or species or whatever, is without a single redeeming feature, really. How about you? Maybe you use a special sauce to liven them up, perhaps a cup or two of oregano, or a 5-day marinade in Trinidad Hot Sauce. Incredibly, my wife — who doesn’t seem to like food at all — thinks zucchine are great. Eats them cooked squishy (squishy squashi squashæ), with a touch of butter.

In a sense, I feel bad about not liking zucchine. All these squashes try so hard to please us. Look at the varieties! Every shape and colour imaginable. But, in my mind, their only purpose seems to be winning ribbons for size at county fairs. In the matter of zucchine I follow Hamlet: To eat, or not to eat — is out of the question. You want my opinion? (pause) Well, I’ll give it to you anyway:  In the culinary horse race, zucchine is a non-starter (or rather are non-starters).

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