You're not allergic, you idiot

As a total foodie, I find that challenging your tastebuds and trying new flavours regularly is one of the joys of life. I always feel a bit sorry for people afflicted with allergies, pregnant women (who can’t eat soft cheese or sushi!) and diabetics.

While we all need to watch what we eat to avoid ballooning in weight or croaking too young from clogged up arteries, the people above need to be doubly careful since there are serious immediate implications to giving in to food they shouldn’t have – I should know, lovely Lynsey at work nearly sneezes her brains out if she eats anything containing gluten!

When I cook for friends, I love to introduce them to new food, without serving anything TOO weird… But when someone mentions allergies, it stops me right in my tracks. Uh oh, must really watch what I put in this dish! I would feel awful to cause a friend the kind of physical discomfort that comes from a bad reaction to nuts, for example.

However, there is a nuance. There’s real allergies, and then there’s what food sissies call “allergies”. When I hear “Oh, I’m allergic to red peppers, I once had a bad experience with red peppers”, whereby they mean they don’t particularly like the taste of them, or they ate a dish which contained bad prawns which gave them the runs, and to which they associate red peppers.

That. Is. Not. An. Allergy.

Comprendes? That’s a food dislike. It’s no more serious than my sister Julie disliking mashed potatoes and spending many childhood evenings alone at the table after dinner, left there to finish her potatoes if she wanted dessert. The only thing that could have killed her there was boredom.

A one-off bad experience with fish shouldn’t be a reason to stop eating seafood altogether. It makes my blood boil that people cover their picky taste with a medical condition such as food allergies.

If you’re one of these people, do yourself a favour. Next time you go out to a good restaurant, somewhere that serves quality food, try something out of your comfort zone. Maybe give salmon a go again? I’m not saying jump straight into the raw oysters, but don’t cut out an entire range of food from your life simply because you’re too weenie to try it again.

Now, how about a chilli fried scorpion to top off that burrito?

Asda makes cooking fish easier

Over the past few years, I’ve written quite a few posts about my amazement at many people’s fear of cooking unknown foods, resulting in Britain households cooking on average 4 meals each.

But while watching Hell’s Kitchen (the Marco Pierre White version, not the Gordon Ramsay one), which is a worthless show by the way, I saw an interesting advert by Asda which got me thinking.

Fish is a type of food many people have issues with. It’s wet. It’s slimey. It looks at you funny with its beady eyes. It can smell funny sometimes. So Asda found a low-cost solution for that problem.

They simply put the fish in a sealed bag which can be put straight into the oven, but also add a few bits of herbs and some lemon. This means a non-foodie can easily get a lovely steamed-in-the-bag meal without the hassle of touching fish.

Asda didn’t need to reinvent cooking or teach anyone to cook. Simply remarkable.

Pomtastic cocktail took 3 attempts

Tonight, my aim was to figure out how to make the best pomegranate juice-based cocktail. It took three tries but this last one is definitely the best one. Here’s the recipe, and anyone who comes up with a name for it, since “pompom” and “pomtini” are taken already… will get ummm… something nice. Like a thatcanadiangirl moo sticker or something.

So here it is…

  • 1 1/2 measures pomegranate juice (not the concentrated stuff, just the drink)
  • 1 measure vodka
  • 1/2 measure Cointreau orange liqueur
  • sprinkle of caster sugar

Shake it all with lots of ice in a cocktail shaker, and pour into a nice cocktail glass. Enjoy!

Two riffs on learning

Learning to cook

Back in March, I wrote about my disbelief at Britain can on average only cook 4.1 meals. I’m still adamant that this stat has got to be wrong, my brain won’t let me accept that people can have such a creativity lobotomy that they’re unable to put 3-4 ingredients together in a pan to make something vaguely edible.

Yet, in the past few days, I’ve heard enough conversation from otherwise very clever people (most of them anyways) to convince me that the unfortunate reality is as grim as The Scotman’s research described. I then watched one of my favourite podcast trainwrecks, otherwise known as Ctrl+Alt+Chicken, where Alex & Heather try to make Chicken Cordon Bleu and massacre the chicken, to say the least*. These people speak of Cooking (with a capital C) as a mystic, black hat Art, to which only select people are privy.

HELLO!? This isn’t Scientology. You don’t need to put 10 years of your life and a few million bucks to find the Truth. That’s simply NOT what cooking is.

The truth is that cooking is all about experimenting. I consider myself an excellent cook, but I still poopoo the occasional meal. I’ll make a dish which ends up too salty, slightly undercooked, too watery or contains some oddly-matched flavours. Does it matter? Nope! It’s never been such a failure that we’ve had to resort to takeaway menus, but yes, mistakes happen. It just means that the next time, I’ll have a better idea of how to pair flavours and how long to cook the dish for.

Learning to take on new projects

If cooking is about creativity, experimenting and watching closely for results, then it’s a whole lot like brewing up any new project, isn’t it? Except in the latter, you don’t get tomato sauce splattered all over your new white top.

New projects are all about leaving the known comfort zone, look at what others have done, and then take a different tangent. Keep it simple the first time if you’re nervous about it. Sometimes (often?) it’ll totally bomb, but if you clean up the war wounds and move on, one day, your experiment is bound to turn into an absolute chef d’oeuvre. Too many people seem to be holding back for fear of failure.

So whether it’s cooking or creating your own business, web app or clothing shop, get excited and try something new. I’m sure it makes life a whole lot better.

[* I’m really ragging on Ctrl+Alt+Chicken but they’re a laugh to watch, so if they ever read this, I hope they won’t take offense at my comments and let me buy them a beer if the occasion arises.]

Average British menu limited to four dishes

I gasped at the stats I heard this morning on Radio 1 and had to go find the original article myself for a bit more information.

Research highlights our lack of imagination in the kitchen, with few of us bothering to cook new dishes, and most living on around just four regular dishes. The average menu in British households extends to 4.1 dishes, with Scotland’s average even lower at 4.0 meals.

The Scotsman‘s summary of the research was published yesterday claims that the staple diet of the 2,000 adults surveyed is composed of “spaghetti bolognese, stew, sausages and mash and fish and chips” as regular standbys, “with other favourites including chilli con carne and chicken tikka masala.”

Most people claim they’re too busy to cook when they get home at night, but a few do admit to being a bit timid when it comes to introducing new meal ideas.

Well, I don’t think either of those arguments have a fighting chance, they’re both ridiculous. Everyone works long hours nowadays, and cooking can actually be a therapeutic and relaxing activity. Sure, it means 20 minutes less watching some rubbish TV or doing whatever else lazy people do in the evening, but it’s bound to be better for their health than a ready meal.

Aside from the biweekly (that’s every 2 weeks, not twice a week) treat of fresh oven pizza on a Friday night, we probably have ready meals once every two or three months. And EVERY time, I feel let down. Ready meals are rubbish, generally don’t taste particularly good and the texture is usually pretty awful.

I couldn’t imagine living off a range of four meals. What a miserable existence! I can think of a dozen meals made using rice, a meat/fish and some vegetables, and tons more involving chunky soups, roasts or exotic salads. I’m not sure what else to say – Every time I think of this article, I find myself shaking my head, feeling baffled and terribly sorry for these people.

I still want to believe this article is wrong, and the 2,000 people they surveyed were heavily biased and “the type who actually spend time filling in junk to win a car”, as one commenter on Scotsman.com suggested. Please, Britain, don’t head down the ready meals and growing aisles of frozen foods in supermarkets. Do we need to call in Superhero Jamie to save the day again?

[tags]healthy eating, food, Britain, cooking, Scotsman.com, health news, fish and chips aren’t good for you[/tags]

Vanilla, the beloved

On this lovely relaxing Saturday afternoon, the foodie in me has been let out. I’ve just ordered 20 vanilla pods from an online store based on the island of Mayotte (near Madagascar), after reading about it on Clotilde’s blog. The foodies will agree that 20 pods is… a lot! Enough for a multitude of tasty dishes!

Andrew isn’t even aware of this yet – he’ll find out either from reading this, or when I make the biggest batch of vanilla sugar cookies he’s ever seen!

I’ll be on the hunt for as many recipes as possible calling for vanilla, so if you have recommendations, please make them known! This is going to be so exciting – I can’t wait!!

For the foodies, here’s the Vanille de Mayotte store. It’s in French but they respond to emails in English if you’re so enclined, and they ship worldwide.

[Edit: Added the link a few days later – forgot to link to the shop!!]

F*** Off, I'm Fat – What a load of sh**

I watched the “F*** Off, I’m Fat” show on BBC Three this evening, and I’m seething at the thought that the Beebs has produced such a pile of tosh.

Now, as a disclaimer before I start, I’m not a wee little girl. Well, I’m only 5’2″, but I AM a UK size 14, so while I don’t need to be quite as concerned as some in terms of which shops will stock my size, I do know where they come from.

Ricky Grover, that’s the tosser who wasted an hour of my life talking about fat people as poor victims of society, made some statements that were just mind boggling. I didn’t want to post about this when I first started watching the show, since I know it’s an awfully dangerous can of worms to open, but now I just can’t help it.

First, Ricky sends two teenage girls – UK size 20 and 22 – shopping on the high street for clothes they liked. As expected, they can’t find anything in the trendy shops, which either stop at sizes 16 or 18. Knowing absolutely nothing of fashion, he asks the two girls to choose an item of clothing they liked (which both girls pick in size 10) and he gets the items scaled up and recreated for them. Big no-no – the two girls look like they’re wearing potato sacks!

While he does make a point that losing weight isn’t just about cutting a bit on how much you eat and doing a little bit of exercise, he talks about weight loss as a total impossibility. Yes, it is a lifestyle change. But it’s a lifestyle change that will add YEARS onto your life.

So while it’s funny for him to build a fat people’s toilet in the middle of Basildon, his questions to designers of trains, planes and toilets on why trains/planes/toilets aren’t made to suit fat people’s needs, he entirely ignores the fact that the owners of said trains/planes/toilets are looking to cram as many t/p/t in a limited space to make as much revenue as possible. “Why don’t they make all plane seats bigger?” Well, darling, if you’re willing to pay for two seats every time you travel, I’m sure they can accomodate you. But fat people are like the rest of us, they’re cheap! And until it’s an absolute necessity, airlines, train companies and toilet fitters will try to fit as many butts as possible within a given space to make more money from us.

And as for going to a theme park and complaining that as a group of adults between 20 and 30 stone (that’s 280lbs to 420lbs to non-Brits), they’re unable to go on more than 10% of the rides? Please, think of your argument first, Ricky. I’m no amusement ride designer (unless playing Rollercoaster Tycoon 2), but it’s only common sense that no one wants to be responsible for putting extremely overweight people in high-speed, high-heart-rate, high-G-force situations. While fitting seats of a size that can suit bigger people may be possible, it still sounds like a bad idea to me and a huge insurance risk. Plus, the “more butts in any given space means more money” argument applies again.

So are larger people disabled? I would say yes. I’m sure I’ll have tomatoes chucked at my head for saying this, but it’s the bare truth. Struggling to get in and out of a car, being unable to go up into the loft, having difficulties keeping up with your 3 y/o child? Yes, it’s a disability.

While I don’t support employers choosing not to hire a fat person over a slimmer one, I understand their reasons. Slimmer, healthier employees take less sick days, are less exhausted by physical labour and generally are in a more positive frame of mind. (The first two have been heavily researched, the last statement is my personal observation)

I won’t get into arguments for weight loss, because I, along with everyone else, have heard them often enough. We know there is a basic math in more energy spent than ingested, as well as a personal lifestyle decision.

All in all, a terribly biased and lazily researched show, incredibly frustrating to see someone take the “We can’t help being fat! We’re victims” attitude.

Note to self: cooking chilli

Always make homemade chilli to coincide with Andrew being away the following day and evening, or at the very least, ensure to spend as much time as possible in open air spaces to avoid overdose of toxic gases.

No joke, I nearly died.

Oh the sweetest things!

American Lard Gums

Mmmmm… only 59p too!

[Photo taken at Sainsbury’s this morning, hohoho!]

[Edit 20/08/06: Just to clarify, the sweets are “American Hard Gums”, but the packaging was folded to look like “Lard Gums” instead. Andrew does wish lard gums could be bought in shops though!]

Brand envy: The innocent fruit drinks

You know what, I think I’ve got brand envy. It’s a bit like penis envy, but it’s specific to marketers rather than men (though men working in marketing can have both, I imagine).

I envy the innocent brand. There, I said it. I feel a bit better already.

Innocent SmoothiesTo put how I feel simply, think of lastminute.com for a moment. Most Brits will know of their hot pink logo and omnipresent uhh… presence, when travelling around London in particular. In my mind, they’re the bad guys – not because in my daytime work environment, they’re considered competition, nothing to do with that. It’s because on the scale of genuine brand hipness, they’re at the very end of the “Trying too hard” extreme with their advertising and brand positioning. Quite at the other end of the scale, I feel the innocent brand is surrounded by an aura of natural hipness.

Now I know this is all perception, and the team at innocent are probably working just as hard to make their brand work, but they’re doing it like ducks – pedaling madly underwater, looking calm and composed above the surface. The pieces fit together perfectly – product, print and billboard ads, tv ads, PR. I bet it’s one fantastic and creative team of ducks to work with as well!

What prompted me to write this was finding out that innocent organises a free music festival in Regent’s Park, and it’s called, wait for it, Fruitstock. Normally, if I saw a name like that, I’d probably bash my head against a hard brick wall until I forgot I’d ever heard it, but in this case, it’s just… cute. It just fits right.

That brand as a whole fits within the same category of things that give me that feeling of happy-hippy-dreamy lightness that I get from summer-print prom dresses, listening to Corinne Bailey Rae or watching the little giant girl video.

Brands change and people change, but I hope innocent keeping doing things this well.