Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Coffee Guy, and Forgetting St David's Day (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 7/3/14

Easy José the Coffee Guy came to visit me recently, because he’s going to supply my little shop in Ludlow with beans and machines and all the paraphernalia one needs to make a grown up cup of coffee. If you want to get serious about coffee (which I do), you’ve got to know a guy like Easy José. Have you ever met a Wine Guy? All “top notes of a wet pavement” this, and “bosky little nuances of tobacco and bog-myrtle” that. Loud corduroys and checked shirts? You must have met a Wine Guy.

Well, the coffee lot are less shouty and slurpy, and more poetic and pretty. José the Coffee Guy ran us through some of the treats that will be coming our way: Sumatran stuff that tasted like sweeties, Kenyan coffee both grapefruity and chocolately at the same time, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that was a flower meadow in a cup. It was a crazy way to spend the day and by the end of it my heart was palpitating and I didn’t sleep for forty eight hours. But, it was tremendous fun, and we’ll do coffee at Harp Lane like nobody else. We’re getting a little bar in where you can perch and knock back a perfectly constructed flat white. You won’t want to hang around (though you’ll be welcome to) because our coffee will be served at a neckable 65 degrees Celsius, and that’s the temperature to have it. So there.

Here in Ludlow, being fifteen miles away from the Welsh border I feel as if I should have done something about St David’s day last week. Didn’t even cross my mind I’m afraid. Nothing personal, I just forgot. I love Wales, I can just about see it from where I write. For a long time in I went for Welsh girlfriends. I’ve matured since then, but a Welsh accent on a lady can still turn me all wobbly at the knees. My first ever beau in fact was Wewish . Cracking. If you’re able, get you one of them. Jude wasn’t particularly Welsh, or Jewish, but a great combo nevertheless.

Hafod, Perl Las, Gorwydd Caerphilly. Three cheeses that would always make it into my top ten all time. I holiday in Pembrokeshire every summer and, I was schooled in Monmouth. Which is (I think) in Wales.

Look, enough cross-border appeasement. Happus belated Dewiwhatever to my Welsh readers.

I can’t be sure (partly as this column still very rarely makes it online – so it’s tricky to check dates) but I think this may be my 51st column for this paper, making next week my 1st anniversary. Not one week off, and 23,000 words. How about that? 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ciggies for Breakfast (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 28/2/14

And then it stopped raining. The first time since before Christmas. An orange orb hung in the air. At five o’ clock in the afternoon there was light. The Storm abated for a few minutes last week so I popped up to my veg patch, squelched it with the palm of my hand, hrrrumphed to myself and went back inside for a cup of tea. Don’t know about the rest of you veg-growers, but my patch is going to be unworkable until at least 2067.

Anyway, tea. I’m rubbish with tea, no taste at all. I do coffee, cheese, wine, truffles, foie gras, caviar and all that sort of stuff properly. But with tea I’m simple. In the afternoon I take a neat PG Tips with a dash of milk. I can’t be doing with supermarket own-brand teabags, they just don’t cut it. In the morning (and this is the important one) my preference is 50: 50 builders and Lapsang Souchong – two bags, one cup - with a Marlboro Light. *For me this is the perfect weekday breakfast, but it’s so terribly unfashionable to advocate a cigarette as part of a balanced breakfast that I expect this will be subbed-out.  *Subs: Please don’t remove this bit!

I really struggle with breakfast. Just can’t be doing with it, not on a normal working day. Toast and cereal just don’t flick my switch. The very thought of porridge makes me want to go straight back to bed. Midweek I’ll take a fag and a cup o’ tea. No better way to start your day, although I obviously don’t tell my baby girls that. I fill them up with weetabix and bran flakes and they’re happy.

Give me a Weekend Breakfast and I’m your man. Any time from 10.00am onwards. Full English, no beans, I’ll have that. If there’s fried bread, then so much the better. Beans make a fry-up too saucy, and bean sauce mingled with runny egg is intrinsically wrong.

Failing that I’ll have kedgeree please. With a glass of beer. On a Sunday, Desert Island Discs or the Archers omnibus on the radio. The bells of St Laurence’s Ludlow will be ringing.

Devilled kidneys and a cheeky bloody Mary, seed cake with a glass of Madeira; kippers with buttered brown bread and strong, stewed tea; eggs Benedict and the Sunday Times. A bit of leftover Chinese takeaway in the fridge poses a treat of higher distinction than almost anything else. For me, brunch is king, A meal to be revered. If like me, you’re a person of high and distinguished taste, you’ll take your breakfast late in the morning. If, however, you’re under eighteen then listen to your parents and ignore pretty much everything I’ve just written.

Everything Deep-fried is so Jolly Good (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 21/2/14

The other day I was enjoying a pint of Hobsons best bitter (one of my top five favourite all time beers) in the Sun Inn in Leintwardine (one of my top five favourite local pubs) when I got a bit peckish. They don’t do food at the Sun but there’s a fish ‘n’ chippy next door. So I popped in, placed my order and twenty minutes later a smiley lady delivered it to my table in the pub. Cracking arrangement. As I sat there ploughing through a delicious pile of fried stuff – with a massive pickled gherkin and a tub of mushy peas on the side – it occurred to me that so many of my very favourite things have spent time in the deep-fat fryer.

Spanish churros, dusted with sugar and dunked in bitter-sweet hot chocolate; doughnuts from the chap at the fair who looks like he could do with a good shower; hot samosas; Italian fritto misto; Clive at Ludlow’s Green Café used to do amazing deep fried pigs’ brains with sauce gribiche. Love it all. Deep-fried stuff gets a bum wrap, but hang it: the taste and texture implications far outweigh the scare mongering from the Association of Squeaky Clean Arteries. Live dangerously I say. Although maybe not as dangerously as I did once after a few ‘heavies’ one evening in Edinburgh after wrapping up a week’s worth of board-treading at the Fringe (there’s so much you don’t know about me).

Under the assumption that I’d purchased a humble cheeseburger you can only imagine my horror and delight upon bighting into this thing. The burger itself had been injected with lurid orange processed cheese then dunked in batter and plunged in boiling oil. Reader, it was truly magnificent. The following day however, I became more familiar than I would have wished with pretty much every single service station between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Stevenage.

Every year a gang of us go to the Ludlow point-to-point races and every year, I’m the Scotch Egg Guy. It’s a faff of greater worth than any other faff I know, because of all the stupendous stuff to come out of the fryer, there is none better than my point-to-point Scotch eggs. This is an actual fact. I don’t know who invented this much-molested culinary marvel but I doubt it was a Scotsman (I refer you back to the Edinburgh episode). This is the only time I ever deep fry as the smell of bad pub kitchen tends to permeate the whole house for days. A properly made Scotch egg, still hot, with a crisp exterior, moist sausage meat, and a runny yolk would definitely make it onto my list of top five favourite things to eat ever in the whole world.