Archive for the Food & Drink Category

Arthur and the nights around the pub table

Posted in Food & Drink, Music on September 23, 2010 by Johnnie

A doffed hat and little bow to Irish Times’ reader Michael McEvaney, who had this excellent letter published in today’s paper:

Madam, – Happy Arthur’s Day, our annual celebration of Guinness’s stranglehold on the Irish brewing industry for the past 50 years or more, a stranglehold that means Ireland is the only beer-drinking country in the world where nearly every one of its thousands of pubs have the same handful of flavourless, mass-produced beers.

Devotees of Guinness’s stout refer to it regularly as the “real” thing: how something that’s churned out by the lorryload with preservatives and pasteurisation can be called the real thing is beyond the understanding of this particular beer drinker.

Real beer must be microbrewed – chemical-free in small batches, as is standard practice in other countries. This process allows the flavours to develop and emerge. These days there are several small, independent breweries, both in and outside Dublin, brewing stout and other beers in this fashion – in other words, brewing the “real” thing, and that’s what this particular beer-drinker will be celebrating this Arthur’s Day.

– Yours, etc,


For the life of me, I’ve never worked out how a nation famed worldwide for its ability to put away drink puts up with the spectacular lack of choice available.  As Mr McEvaney says, there only are a handful of the same flavourless beers in almost every pub, ones people are apparently happy to drink by the pint until they fall over.  One must therefore conclude that people drink them only to get drunk – it’s certainly not for reasons of palate or discernment. Continue reading


When a McMuffin top will no longer do…

Posted in Americans, Food & Drink, New Stuff on September 6, 2010 by Johnnie

It’s “grow your winter layer” time of year and no one seems more keen to give you a better weather-resistant, wind-cheating midriff than old Burger King.   We’ve covered  American contempt for the concept of  pizza here before, but this vile object really should have anyone with tastebuds and a modicum of self-respect reaching for their sick bags. 

It’s allegedly a “homage” to New York.  A 9.5-inch bun, a slab of meat, “mozzarella”, pepperoni and a no-doubt “authentic” pesto and marinara sauce.  Would you keep those ingredients in the same fridge, never mind lump it all together?   Just look at it – all 2,500 calories of it.  I’m not sure Elvis himself would have got off his throne to fetch one.  Even for Scots, the idea of such calorific intake in one gluttonous sitting is worth serious consideration.  And training.   In any case, it’s a prohibitive $13 – £8.40 in real money. Continue reading

Weed ’em and reap

Posted in Food & Drink, New Stuff on August 9, 2010 by Johnnie

I wonder when the gardening bug will finally strike.  When am I going to start feeling like growing my own vegetables?  I’ve been waiting a while but so far, despite a fine family tradition and many presents of kitchen garden books, I’m no closer to taking it up.

Obviously I’m writing this to give myself some sort of kick.  The photos on this post are of my mother’s garden.  She’s a genius, you see.  She’s turned an old, hilly Devon farmhouse into an exquisite terrace garden right out of her native Tuscany, full of the most beautiful flora and the most mouthwatering vegetable patches you’ll ever see.  What’s more, you can eat your dinner out of them.  In the picture above, there are, amongst other things, beetroot (complete with their delicious tops), courgettes (complete with their delicious flowers), spinach, radicchio and two types of rocket.  There’s a complete meal in itself, as far as I’m concerned.  My mum also grows the most delicious potatoes I’ve ever tasted.  Boiled and dressed simply in olive oil and chives, they are heavenly.  So why haven’t I done anything like that myself? Continue reading

Caught by the fizz

Posted in Food & Drink, Unwanted Comebacks on August 6, 2010 by Johnnie

I’ve noticed that Sodastream is making a rather loud comeback.  DIY fizzy drinks were all the rage in the 1970s/’80s, and I honestly thought we’d seen the last of them.  But no, they’re getting busy with the fizzy all over again.  It brings back memories, a sugary flood of them, in fact.  I can taste those memories.  How we must have despised our teeth back in the day, to think that carbonated water and several glugs of bright, sweet syrup were a good idea for regular consumption.  I must ask my former schoolmate who religiously brought a Sodastream cola in his lunchbox to school every day.  I must also track down the other schoolmate who made fizzy milk in his.  Terrible idea; the milk exploded during the carbonating process and within an hour the machine smelled like a giant, sunbathing stilton.

But the same guy also taught me how to perform the most incredible fizzy-drink burps: you down an entire Sodastream as quickly as possible but make sure you keep all the gas in – this is very important; a short time later, usually when you’ve almost forgotten about the gas within, you will emit the most astounding, lengthy and earth-shuddering belch.  It works too.  Once you’ve mastered it, you can also begin to belch-speak.  You haven’t tried that?  You’re crumbling before me.  Start by saying your name.  Next time, your full name.  By the time you’re on your 18th Sodastream, you’ll be belch-speaking entire sentences.  I met someone who could actually belch “the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Envoy Terry Waite” – that’s talent.  I’m not making that up. Continue reading

The curse of rosé-tinted glasses

Posted in Food & Drink on August 2, 2010 by Johnnie

A friend once told me a story about an associate of his who asked him for a restaurant recommendation for a first date.  Trying not to be too harsh, but still having to acknowledge that this associate was not perhaps the most sophisticated of individuals, the friend suggested a pleasant enough little pizza place in the city.  The day after the dinner date, the non-sophisticate diner approached the friend with annoyance.  He was not happy with the restaurant he’d been recommended at all, not one bit.  The reason?  He had decided to ‘impress’ his date by choosing the wine for her, and had asked the waitron for a bottle of the establishment’s finest rosé; when he was told there was no rosé on the menu, he took his date and stormed out of the restaurant “in disgust”.  When I heard this story, not only did I wheeze and snot with mirth, I decided that this restaurant can’t be as bad as I’d once thought.

It may sound like the height of ingratitude or snobbishness, but I’ve always thought that dinner guests who bring rosé are showing little else but contempt for their hosts.  Rosé is a lamentable excuse for a drink and should never, ever be presented to anyone who claims to enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner.

I’ve been handed rosé by no fewer than three dinner guests in the past; each time, I simply assumed they’d taken leave of their senses and discernment and/or gone teetotal.  I’ve never expected guests to bring wine anyway, and I’d sooner they arrived empty-handed than present me with a bottle of this vile, perfumed Barbie water. Continue reading

Tea-time tale

Posted in Food & Drink, Words on July 27, 2010 by Johnnie

A few days back, a colleague and I were discussing the timing of some inconsequential matter, and I happened to estimate it occurred “around dinner time”.   He smiled and said, “so that would be tea time for me”.  It reminded me of a recent piece by an Irish journalist I’m fond of reading, who disparaged the type of people who have their dinner in the middle of the day.  Is it, I wondered, simply a class issue, or are people who still have their ‘tea’ as the last meal of the day caught in a time warp?

It took me back to the first time I had to think about the nature of the names we give our meals.  Back in the early 1970s, we were very much a ‘breakfast, dinner and tea’ family – those were the words I was taught to use, and when you’re finding your way in the world, you form comforting associations with words, times of day and, most particularly, food.  But then, only a couple of years later, the children of some friends of my parents rudely introduced me to the word ‘lunch’, and those comfort zones were destroyed forever.

To this day, I still think the word ‘lunch’ was invented in the mid-’70s by snooty, upwardly-mobile bullies.  I have no idea why I adopted it, but it was probably under duress, as I remember quite clearly being sneered at for not using it.  Continue reading

It’s the demon drink talking, again

Posted in Disasters, Food & Drink on July 21, 2010 by Johnnie

Three pieces in the morning papers got a rise out of me today.  First and foremost, an excellent opinion piece in the Irish Times by Brian O’Connell about the appalling situation regarding cut-price or below-cost alcohol sales; then, a shocking (to my eyes) report on how the Irish are apparently at odds with the rest of the EU’s views on drink-driving; and finally, the depressing story of a gang of young arseholes who put their infantile driving ‘antics’ on YouTube, complete with their Toyota car registrations and ‘crazy’ nicknames.

All of them make frustrating reading in their own ways.  Both drink and driving are clearly major problems in Ireland, never minding the horror of what can happen when the two go together.  But I have too many questions about what constitutes common sense in these situations.  What is the problem with drink-driving?

It depresses me beyond words that such a swell of Irish residents (31% of those surveyed) believe it’s a ‘minor road safety issue’.  What is this mindset to do with?  Is this really a mentality issue?  Is it due to the slack attitude of the successive governments who allowed people to drive by themselves without a full licence for so many years?  Is it really to do with the preservation of the mythical ‘rural way of life’, where drink-driving is actually considered ‘a way of life’ and not of potential death?  Or is the drinks industry’s relentless whingeing about pub closures actually an influential factor here?  Continue reading