Emica’s metropolis – a culinary tour of New York

My oh my. Ole Blue Eyes had it right about New York when he said if you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. London is a global city, but New York is a metropolis. They say you can tell a tourist from a New Yorker because the visitor spends half their time craning their necks upwards at the enormously tall buildings, while the locals are blase about living in a modernist architect’s model come to life. I am definitely in the provincial gawker category. New York is so tall! And wide. And busy. Looking at old photos in the wonderful, compact Museum of New York City, you can see that the skyline hasn’t changed a huge deal since the late 30s (with two notable exceptions of course), which must have made the scale of the city all the more impressive to country rubes when the Empire State, Chrysler, Rockefeller etc were first built.

It’s a topic that’s been exhaustively explored in books and film, but it remains true that New York is the great immigrant city. I was surprised by how Hispanic culture has a very strong presence in the city, naively thinking that because of the Mexico-American West connection, there wouldn’t be much of a Hispanic population in New York. But it was the brilliant and fascinating Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side that really brought home to me just how integral immigration and the immigrant experience is to the life and character of New York.

Visits to the museum are based on a number of themed tours where the immigrant past of the area is explored. As our guide explained (herself of Italian background), the area had previously been known as Kleine Deutschland and was almost wholly German speaking prior to 1880; the decades after this, into the early 20th century, saw huge numbers of Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms of Russia and other parts of central and eastern Europe. After that the area became home to the Sicilians, the Puerto Ricans and the Chinese in the 1970. At one point, a quarter of New York’s population was Irish and very large numbers of African Americans moved from the South, settling in Harlem. Describing how these waves of new Americans managed to deal with the sweatshop conditions where large families lived and worked in three or four rooms in these tenement slums, our museum guide made the point that they had nothing to go back to; working out how to survive and thrive in the new country was the only option. The caricature of New York as a hustler city seemed at least partly true, with a very active, pushy street life and people by turns aggressively rude and exceptionally kind and friendly. Without going overboard on the basis of one week’s holiday, it struck me that this character is perhaps a cultural by-product of New York’s eternally arriving population and their determined drive to make it.

And of course, one of the great things about immigration is the food traditions that come with the new residents. From the Jewish side of NYC’s population, Katz’s Delicatessan almost doesn’t need an introduction, so well know is it from When Harry Met Sally. Internet debate rages about whether Katz’s is the real thing or over hyped or whether other delis are more authentic and/or better. I dunno, but the pastrami and pickle sandwich I had was amazingly, meltingly delicious. I’d never had proper pastrami and it doesn’t even begin to compare to that wafer thin prepacked sliced stuff from supermarkets. They’re also famous for own-brand soda. I think that should be infamous because The Man had Cel-Ray, a celery flavour soft drink which tasted like mineral salts crossed with Lucozade; I had a root beer that tasted like cough syrup filtered through the collective footy socks of both grand final teams. Disgusting.

London doesn’t have much of a Hispanic population and American friends moan about lack of proper Mexican food. We had an amazing lunch at a tacqueria (taco joint) in the back of a Mexican grocery in the Hell’s Kitchen area. It had a dozen stools at a counter which offered 5 kinds of hot sauce and, like so many restaurants of the newly arrived, ordering in English was hit and miss, it was cheap and damn delicious. I particularly liked my taco of corn fungus but the slow cooked goat quesadilla was awesome.

Chinatown and Little Italy are next to each other and we were a bit dubious about eating in either, figuring there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of marketing guff giving an area an “identity” and the quality of the cooking. A good review sent us to Chinatown and the New Yeah Shangai Deluxe. With a name like that, how could anyone say no?! Unfortunately, it had disappeared since the review, so we crossed the road to another place where the scallion (spring onion) pancake was raved about. Not sure why it was such a feature as was a bit dull, but The Man’s slow cooked beef with greens and noodles was beautiful. He complained that it was a bit too real, with gristly bits and bony bits but I think that’s picking holes; the beef was melting and the broth beautifully spiced with star anise. I had fine noodles in chicken broth with a pork stuffed poached spring roll and stuffed deep fried tofu, which was good – chickeny in the right way – but not a patch on the beef broth.

Harlem is an iconic area and, apparently, more white people have moved in but it didn’t seem that way to us on a mid week lunch time. Sitting at the counter of Fishers of Men, the only white girl in this Southern style fry-house, I definitely felt I stood out but was made to feel very welcome. Fishers of Men is a hole in the wall hotdog and fried fish outfit.

Established by a deeply religious family, the Ten Commandments are printed on the wall and evangelical FM radio plays the Word of the Lord over the PA. It’s not just a hokey cliche though, because the fried catfish is damn good. Four generous fillets in a light, seasoned batter were sandwiched between white sliced, with mayonnaise and some kind of house made chilli sauce. We added collard greens, a Southern speciality which we discovered were something like silver beet with shredded ham hock, and was both smokey and pleasantly bitter. Unfortunately my coleslaw was made with that sweet industrial mayonnaise but was commendably crunchy and obviously freshly made.

Every holiday I have a food Mecca that I have to visit. For NYC it was Momofuku Ssam Bar. It sort of crept into my consciousness, although the post by Melbourne Gastronome prompted me into action. David Chang opened the first of the Momofuku family, the noodle bar in the East Village, in 2003 and the ssam bar opened in 2006. I believe ssam means wrapped food in Korean and the original intention of the ssam bar was an Asian burrito cafeteria style place. As this profile from a few years ago outlines, that idea didn’t really work out and a more structured approach was introduced to the restaurant when it failed to take off. Certainly, the only remnant of the burrito bar idea we could see when we went for Friday dinner – and again for lunch on Saturday – was the pared back utilitarian decor and the pork belly buns.

Whatever teething troubles that may have beset Ssam, they’re certainly long vanquished. We got there around 8.30 on a Friday and had a lengthy, but not unpleasant wait with gaggles of would be diners in the adjoining Milk Bar, which serves cake, cookies, beer, ice cream and pork buns. To their credit, the restaurant staff keep an eye on you, offer you drinks and remember you’re waiting to eat. Our pork buns were truly delicious. A flat pita shaped bread of the same fluffy consistency as steamed pork buns at yum cha is served open, wrapped around two generous slabs of soft pork belly, smeared with hoisin and topped with spring onion and coriander. We came back the next day for more of these little guys. Yum.

It makes sense to describe Momofuku as fusion, but actually it’s almost beyond categorisation because, although its influences draw from around the world, it’s not pretentious, cheffy or up itself. I say this now because alongside the pork buns we had a plate of Arkensas ham with butter and crusty bread and a plate of the most zingily interesting pickles – included were kimchi, carrot, cauliflower, mushroom and, best of all, rhubarb.

The food wasn’t without a few bum notes. My air dried beef with various accoutrements and hot stock poured over was incredibly salty and for afters we had one of the compost cookies. These are something of a trademark and they’re OK; I may sound a bit pernickity, but they suffer from the wrong proportion of butter and sugar to dry ingredients, which Dr SO so accurately identified in this post. However, all was forgiven because of the cereal milk soft serve – it really does taste like the milk after you’ve eaten all the nutri grain and The Man asked for it to be rolled in salted corn flakes. This is what good, modern, interesting and thoughtful food looks like.

So far in this epic post most of the eating has been a global tour of NYC’s various populations, but we ate a lot of ‘American’ food as well. A juicy burger with American cheese (basically plastic cheese slices) at Williamsburger in, you guessed it, Williamsburg Brooklyn overlooking the impressive derelict sugar refinery. A stack of pancakes with a jug of syrup and sausage at Big Daddy’s Diner; I was on a sugar high after that! And the most amazing donuts at The Donut Plant in the Lower East Side.

A combination of nosiness (me) and friendliness (the nice New Yorker) meant we got chatting with a fella sitting next to us at the Hester Street artisan market, where for breakfast we ate Vietnamese baguettes filled with lemongrass, coriander and pork meatballs and fruity Mexican style icy poles from La Newyorkina. He recommended the Donut Plant, round the corner – a fine piece of synchronicity because we were just about to head across the river to Brooklyn in search of donut excellence. I didn’t know this at the time, but the Donut Plant was the first in a wave of donut visionaries reimagining the donut and recreating it as a viable pastry, not some kind of aerated styrofoam police officers’ snack. For our first round The Man had a square blackberry jam donut and I had a hole-less creme brulee version, which had sweet eggy custard in the middle and a crackly glaze on top. It is one of the yummiest things I’ve ever eaten. For the second round I had chocolate – chocolate glaze, chocolate cake and chocolate ganache inside; The Man had the healthy carrot cake option. And, exemplifying New York’s tension between bad-ass attitude and helpful friendliness, the previously surly super cool server unexpectedly gave me a fifth donut, their famous tres leches flavour with some kind of creamy deliciousness inside.

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Emica faces up to Continental corporate catering: vitello tonnato versus cheese’n’mayo sarnies

Conferences are usually surprisingly good for me: the food is so completely appallingly inedible that I live on the bananas in the fruit bowl. There’s something so depressing about leaving a tedious presentation for a lunch spread of beige foods. Cold deep fried reconstituted chicken ‘goujons’ and a variety of mayonnaise-based curling sandwiches.

I’m just back from a work trip to Maastricht in the Netherlands. Our super urbane host organised a series of excellent restaurants for us. Dinner of day one was vitello tonnato followed by slow roast lamb and a ferrero rocher flavour profiterole. Lunch on day two was at a hip theatre cafe with roast tomato soup and a great selection of rolls (cheese heavy, it’s the Netherlands…). Dinner on the second night was four courses of charcuterie, risotto, then more veal and I can’t remember what for dessert, probably because of the wine.

I think it’s only fair that I get one good batch of conference food cos I’ve had some total rubbish over the years. Thank god for packet biscuits.

So, what were your best and worst corporate catering experiences?

Emica goes in pursuit of lunch in Paris and Berlin

How glamorous. What air of intrigue. How totally European: to take the 20:15 night train from Paris to Berlin; alone. I feel like a character from a Tolstoy novel or perhaps a fugitive agitator, en route to foment revolution and bring about the downfall of the owning classes, delivering the means of production into the hands of the workers. Ahem. Apologies. Having had a starring role in books and films, as well as actual history, European train travel is so evocative that I get a bit carried away with the romance of the tracks. (If you’re doubtful, check this site out; I get a sudden urge to book long journeys to exotic destinations).

Air travel has become a tedious cattle market experience, so recently I took the overnight train from Paris to Berlin. While both cities have earnt a place at the table of world history, it can be tricky to get a bite to eat in either.

I’ve been to Paris a few times now and have done the major sights, so with just an afternoon in the city before my connecting train, I figured it would be best spent over a leisurely lunch. Unfortunately, I arrived in Paris at 2.30 and so missed my place at a bistro, as the dining hours are observed very strictly. Having reconciled myself to an afternoon without a creme caramel, the tricky thing about having over shot the lunch hour is that, in Feb it’s not as inviting to grab a baguette, some cheese and a slice of apricot tart and find a park bench. It’s a little chilly. But, the weather was mild and sunny- and hunger wins over cold- so a picnique was my best bet to eat.

You know those cheese and bacon slices that Brumby’s does? From memory, inch thick rubber cheese pocked with pellets of salted animal byproduct on pizza dough. Well, the cheese and bacon slice I got from the swank Parisian bakery was about as far from Brumby’s in a culinary sense as it is in geographic distance. Stinky gruyere with nuggets of speck on flaky butter pastry. One euro fifty slice of cheesey goodness. I also got an olive ficelle, which was almost 50/50 squashy kalamatas to chewy sourdough. And thank goodness I did because I didn’t really eat for nearly the next 24 hours, except to nibble a bit more of the unending ficelle.

Part of the reason I don’t manage to eat is I was too busy drinking, which won’t come as much of a surprise to many. A joy of travel is chance encounters and a party of two English couples celebrating a joint birthday take me under their wing in the bar carriage. We planned to test the urban myth that a train barman stays as long as his customers and I stumbled (well, it is a moving train!) into my couchette rather later than I’d planned, having not eaten the snacks I brought along as dinner. I’m not usually too pernickity, but in the morning I decide that it’s probably best not to breakfast on yesterday’s quiche, still wrapped in its greaseproof; eggs in a warm couchette for 12 hours doesn’t sound like a good idea. The ficelle tides me over.

Berlin is big. Compared to London, with its dense, higgledy, narrow streets and people under foot at every turn, Berlin is huge and wide and straight and empty and I feel a bit disoriented by the space. An interesting fact a colleague in economic development told me is that, when major cities across the western world were gaining population in the past 20 years, Berlin lost people.

An olive ficelle is not much to keep a girl going for a whole morning of sight seeing and so I headed towards a place recommended in my guide book that seemed to be only three blocks away. Except, three blocks in spacious Berlin seems to be about a kilometre and a half in distance and, in empty Berlin, didn’t offer many alternative eating options along the way either. I never found the well recommended restaurant due possibly to my confusion with street numbering or the great Saturday shut down, but instead found Lutter & Wegner, an entirely charming piece of European civilisation, with wine lined walls, floorboards and scrubbed wooden tables.

The menu tended towards proper main courses and the tables around me had plates of serious looking food, but the terrine I ordered was exactly what I felt like eating. They were very generous with the bread basket of very good bread (caraway!) so with that and a glass of reisling, I was very pleased with myself. I was even more pleased when my dessert arrived – curd cheese cake with sour cherries and nougat icecream with a huge twirl of wafer. Alright!

The lovely English people from the train had invited me to join them for dinner and so I had a second thoroughly enjoyable night drinking too much with strangers – which sounds a lot more salacious than it was. It struck me that this was the kind of European food I almost never eat – ordinarily I cook more in the mediterranean-middle eastern palette and, post Friday work pints, continue the theme with a kebab on the way home. Chic, refined European cooking isn’t something I often do, but I may make it more of a habit because my lobster soup was delicious: smooth, velvety and fishy, and the pork with leek risotto to follow was excellent. I’m a little hazy on what my new found friends had because of the reisling – I think the fellas may have had lobster at some point, tuna carpaccio was mentioned and due to the heavy meat element in the menu the waiter was at pains to help the one vegetarian get a full meal.

Prenzlauer Berg, an inner north area of former East Berlin, is now a very hip quarter, with lots of cafes, bars, hipsters on bikes and, oddly, babies. I’ve never seen so many Bugaboos! After the last couple of days wearing out my shoe leather in pursuit of food, I’d started feeling cursed to wander, seeking sustenance but forever denied. In Prenzlauer Berg however, the fault was all mine. It wasn’t for lack of choice – the main street is dominated by various cafes, including a bar on the ground floor of a squat – but my pickiness about the kinds of signifiers I look for in somewhere to eat. And my choosiness can mean very long walks to see what’s round the next corner. So after some legwork on Kastanienallee, I lucked upon a super cool cafe on Oderberger Strase. So cool that I can’t remember it’s name written in German in neon on the front. This cafe served only crepes (which should be due a comeback in the English speaking world I think) and, riffing on a retro theme, was entirely decorated with raids from some stylish nanna’s living room.

In a country that invented the last word in cake related indulgence – schwarzwelderkirschtorte [black forest cake]- my last food adventure was kafee und kuchen at Anna Blume, a cafe and florist rolled into one with a very sexy painting of a Demeter-type figure in Art Noveau style on one wall and a glass cabinet of cakes. Mmmm sachertorter…

And just one final thought – train stations featured quite prominently during the weekend and this chain of croissant and pretzel shops was always found somewhere near the platforms. It just sounds vaguely rude, doesn’t it?!

Emica’s Northern Christmas: a few of my favourite things

Although I am risking not being let back in the country, I have to admit (just quietly) that I do prefer the cold northern Christmas to the rather warmer celebrations in Aus. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family’s traditions, which have evolved to deal with the fact that it’s usually 39 degrees by 7am with an easterly blowing that could strip paint, but roast turkey and a steamed pud just don’t make sense at the edge of the desert. We cook everything the day before and serve a cold buffet of the glazed ham and turkey with lots of salads, so that the oven’s not adding to the oven-like temperature of the house already and, depending on whose house we’re at, we head to the beach for a Christmas morning post-stocking, pre-tree pressie swim and fruit salad. Come to think of it, we’ve made the salad selection “traditional” with some, like mum’s carrot, cashew and coriander salad only getting a run on that one day.

But Christmas is a car crash of northern hemispherical merry-making history, with the celebration of the birth of Christ piled on top of older Pagan habits, and the traditions make more sense on their home turf than transplanted Down Under. Herewith a few of my favourite northern Christmas things.

One of my totally favourite things about a London Christmas is the twinkly lights. People go mad for them and because it’s dark early, you get to appreciate their starry magic from, oh, about 3.30pm. There’s a bit of totally OTT flashing neon Santa-action, but mostly there seems to be some unwritten rule that you deliberately leave your front room curtains open to let passers by admire your tastefully twinkly Christmas tree which has been strategically placed in the front window (nb: I do live next to [not in!] super-chic Barnsbury. Might not be quite so tasteful on the local estates).

Another is Christmas wreaths. Oh how I love them! I have a real – yes real- holly wreath on my front door with berries and everything. I have had it up there since December 1; the earliest day I could get away with, but I’d already scoped the wreath situation the week previous and picked one up from the farmer’s market for a fiver. I L.O.V.E it. Wreathing it up seems to be a genuine tradition, with the vast majority of doors decked with trad ones- involving evergreen, holly berries, ribbons and cinnamon sticks- or silver sprayed modernist confections dusted with glitter.

In a symbiotic relationship with twinkly lights and wreath hanging, for the entire Advent season it becomes not just permissible but practically required to stroll and sticky beak into other people’s houses. Indeed, me and The Man went for a long walk this afternoon, making the most of freezing (it’s really properly freezing- we have icicles) but crisply clear day which offered prime noseying opportunities. And on each of my three London Christmases, we have had a post-lunch pre-pud walk, wrapped up and with a glass of something warming in hand. Last year I had to be prised away from the railings of one particularly fine Georgian townhouse, my nose pressed up against the window admiring their gold-and-red themed tree and Christmas table set in the window, silverware and crystal glasses glinting, waiting either for the residents to return for lunch or for the stylists from Vogue Entertaining to turn up.

doors

But my favourite thing is the food. For my first Christmas here, my parents and sister visited and mum did a proper roast turkey with goose fat roast spuds and I think little chipolatas. I did the brussels sprouts (having only just found out they’re traditional) and we made cranberry sauce because we’d never been able to get fresh cranberries before. Last weekend I made Nigella’s apple and cranberry chutney; almost equal parts cranberry and apple, those little red sour bombs are so amazing, like northern lillipillies! A toast to that fine meal was made and mum cried and took pictures because it looked so darn picturesque and story book, all of us gathered round a laden table and it so dark and cold outside.

This year it’s just me and The Man, so I’m not doing a whole turkey, which I have in the past and which cause a bit of, um, blue language on the day of the birth of Our Lord because of my dodgy, diddly little oven. Turned out great though, and I even made the gravy to go with it while trying to make sure the visiting vegetarians had enough to eat. This year I’m doing a stuffed, rolled turkey breast from the posh butchers. I’m also doing hot glazed ham. I know! Hot ham, who would of thought eh? Sprouts are a given because a) they’re easy but especially b) I love them.

Another favourite thing is the big shut down. We were caught out for our first Christmas, never expecting all public transport to shut down on Christmas day and for much of Boxing Day as well. Yes, a darn nuisance if you don’t know and also a cash cow for all the non-Christian mini cab drivers, but it does mean you actually can’t go anywhere. Gosh, such a relief. Last year I spent all day in front of the fire, with snack breaks, reading my new present – Nigella’s Christmas. This is apropos of telling you that this year I will be experimenting with red cabbage from her Christmas lunch menu. I’ve never done it before, but I reackon it’s time to give it a whirl. Also, at a time of year when all I do is leak money, cabbage is so good and yet so cheap.

So, to the finale: sweet treats and pudding. I have just spent more than is wise on The Best Christmas cake but it’s The Best so what can I do? I’ve also just swooped on Carluccio’s for soft Italian almond biscuits, as well as smallgoods for The Man. I’m slightly nervous to admit this and incur the wrath of Dr Sister Outlaw following her sterling instructions on Christmas puddings, but this year it’ll be bought. It’ll be a posh one, but it’s still bought. And bought custard. I don’t think Christmas is the time for a novice custard maker to start meddling with curdled eggs.

But most of all, it’ll be eaten piping hot, after a brisk, crisp walk to make a corner of room in our overstuffed bellies for yet more wintery, festive, seasonal goodies. Merry Christmas.

xmas lunch

Emica is celebrating Slava

I have the good fortune to have married into a Balkan family – Montenegrin and Serbian, to be precise. One of the many great things about getting to know another culture intimately is the extra excuses for excessive eating. It was my in-laws’ Slava today, which, traditionally speaking, now makes it my Slava too. Slava is part of the Orthodox tradition and is a family’s saint day. Every family has a different saint day, although there are more families than saints so there’s a fair bit of cross over. Back in the day, Slava was a serious religious occasion, celebrated with a visit to church and the priest calling on the family and giving them a blessing. Traditionally, a bread decorated with the sign of the cross and other religious symbols was served along with “koljivo”, which is boiled wheat with nuts and spices.

Celebrating Slava was not generally encouraged in socialist Yugoslavia, although many people did still observe it. These days Slava seems to be celebrated as an occasion to get the family together and eat pork. I am very enthusiastic about both family get togethers and roast pig, so today I did sticky pork ribs with rum glaze (thanks Nigella) and homemade coleslaw, plus smashed potatoes (thanks Jill Dupleix) and rye bread – minus the family bit, seeing as we’re on the other side of the world. I have to admit, it was a bit off piste with the rum glaze – a whole pig on a spit would probably have been more authentic – but it was in keeping with the two Balkan mainstays of pork and cabbage. And, anyway, the other thing I’ve learnt about Balkan culture is that they really know how to have a good time and these ribs were really, really finger licking good.

slava

Emica has a disappointment at Nahm

I mentioned to Zoe that a couple of weekends ago The Man decided it was about time he took me out- gosh! – and we went to Nahm, and she forwarded me a Terry Durack article praising Nahm in a recent piece on Sydney Thai food. Terry’s right about London having few great Thai options, but I am sorry to report that I’m not as convinced as him that Nahm is one of them. For us, it was a 50/50 experience, which, given we had such high expectations, was disappointing.

I was initially surprised that, located in the lobby of a posh hotel, Nahm looks like any restaurant located in the lobby of a posh hotel. I’ve no idea what traditional Thai decor is, although I’m pretty sure the kitschy knick knacks festooning my local Thai up the road aren’t, but the rather hootchy-kootchy bland light gold hotel chic room felt at odds with a cuisine that is so punchy, sweet/ sour, salty/ hot and fragrant. Not exactly something to complain about, but not what I imagined a Michelin starred temple of Thai food would look like.

After a bit of confusion on our part following complicated instructions about how to order from the five separate menu sections to ensure a balanced meal (soups, stir fries, salads etc), we ordered the tasting menu that had one thing from each section. An early disappointment for me was the entree, which was a beautifully presented crispy noodle net with prawn and herb salad. It was nice, and the crispy noodles were very cool, but it didn’t sing with the Thai flavours. It tasted a bit beige.

Apparently the kitchen was saving all the seasoning for just two dishes. The main fault with our meal was two dishes that were so salty we could only manage a couple of mouthfuls of each. There was an eel & pork stir fry and a mallard salad which were Dead Sea salty. It was such a shame because the duck in individual pieces was lovely but the overall effect was overwhelmingly salty and really killed any other flavour. The eel thing was scorched earth on a plate. I got the impression they’d salted it to get a crispy skin, which it had, but went overboard. I don’t know if that’s how they’re meant to taste and I’m just a soft westerner who can’t take a bit of enthusiastic seasoning, but after those two bad boys, the inside of my lips felt like when I’d been swimming too long at the beach – sort of pickled and wrinkled. However, the hot and sour soup with clams could raise the dead! It was poetry in a bowl – no, actually more like old skool motown (y’know- get up, get on up etc). And the grilled kingfish was beautifully marinated.

We had been told that the tasting menu is served in the Thai style, with everything served at the same time. But the tricky bit about that, especially when there are just the two of you, is that everything gets cold while you eat other things, which kinda made me feel rushed to get through each thing before it got stone cold – even the rice ended up cold! I can now see the point of those slightly daggy rice buckets they have in Chinese restaurants. I’m not quite as hung up as my mum on scalding hot food, but I am the kind of girl who always heats my plates, so food that’s the cold side of lukewarm isn’t great.

The desserts were interesting. I just had a plate of exotic tropical fruit, only two I could name but delicious. The Man had something called ‘ash pudding’ which was a rice pudding – yummy salty-sweet in the same way as salted caramel- and a sort of quenelle of black sticky stuff. It really did taste like vaguely aniseed flavoured dirt.

It was a shame we weren’t blown away because we’d been so looking forward to it. The Man and I agreed that, actually, our local Thai outclassed this meal in many ways and at a fraction of the price.

What are your Thai eating experiences? Dr Sista Outlaw, I would be interested to know about your experiences of ‘real’ Thai food versus restaurant Thai.

Emica’s camp cooking challenge; or, the search for the perfect scone

Possessed by the spirit of our straitened times – and the rubbish value of the pound against the Euro – The Man and I decided to have a staycation and spend a week’s summer holiday camping in the Lake District. Key words to note here: camping; Lakes; England. What can I say? The Man must have caught me at a weak moment. Perhaps I was distracted by a Queen of Puddings or some other delicious fancy.

While not virgin campers, we are definitely novices and our previous test runs coincided with a spell of perfect English summer weather – blue skies, puffy clouds, burbling brooks. On these occasions it seemed only a matter of time before Ratty and Mole punted past our tent. We hadn’t taken cooking equipment on the brief test trips and I’d been equally impressed and alarmed by the other campers’ kitchens and what was considered essential camp cooking kit (a fruit bowl? Really?). So with visions of warm evenings grilling some little something picked up at a local grocer, we booked a week in a tent in the Lakes.

We’ve stayed in those vast, tarmaced caravan parks before (on honeymoon in Dorset in a 1979 Kombi camper van) and this time specifically sought out a camp site that would be a bit closer to nature. The first site was absolutely beautiful – a few farmer’s fields littered with boulders, criss crossed with dry stone walls and with long views across the valley to the fells above.

one

Well, I say that now. I only discovered these charms on about day 3 when there was a brief break in the pelting rain and gale force winds and I could actually take in the surroundings rather than scuttling between car and tent, head down and zipping the fly sheet behind me.

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