Saturday, 29 September 2012

Breakfast club, redux

The Great Breakfast Conundrum hoved into view again this month, with the Lesser Spotted Lunch Teaser following hot on its heels.

For all my whinges on the former – and some of you may remember this post from spring about the dire state of breakfasts in general and mine specifically – when we arrived back from holiday at the beginning of the month, the likelihood was a reversion to a continuation of previous practise after a few weeks of French respite on that front as well as many others.

And the same applied to lunch.

There was no particular decision; no eureka moment. But the change started when I thought I'd try, once more, to make lunch to take to work.

There’s been no shortage of encouragement before – George sent me two books of packed lunch suggestions – but they fell by the wayside.

What I found myself doing this time around was simple enough: for instance, mixing up a little couscous with some softened sultanas, a bit of sliced chilli, a few olives and other bits and pieces.

It worked fine, it was easy and quick, and I enjoyed eating it.

And then one morning, when I was up really early, I decided to have breakfast at home. Beans on toast, as it happened. Hardly something that takes long to fling together. And it cooked while I was doing other things.

A couple of days later, I did it again.

And then, one morning, I had a couple of soft boiled eggs instead. Lovely.

It was only when I was on the bus that I realised that the lunch I’d packed that morning didn’t include any starchy carbs – no couscous that day or rice or pasta or bread.

It was cheese, with some olives, some pickled beetroot and some pear, and a drizzle of Balsamico.

‘Blimey,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to be starving by this evening.’

But surprise, surprise: that wasn’t the case at all. I was comfortable throughout the day.

So for the next few days, I did something similar, saving my starch for the evening meal.

At the same time, something else struck me. For some years, off and on, I’ve been aware of getting a very faintly rumbling stomach – usually in the afternoon, after lunch.

Nothing particularly drastic, though, at its worst, I’d find myself waddling quickly to the loo.

I did try some of those probiotic yogurt drinks. But that had little or no discernible impact.

And so I simply drifted.

Well, things are changing and what started out simply as a way of controlling my food for the sake of taste and a lack of boredom is becoming a different sort of experiment.

We eat, as a nation, vast amounts of bread – and most of it is made by the Chorleywood process, which involves (apart from anything else) ramming it full of extra yeast to cut the time that it takes to make a loaf.

A week or two ago, I remembered a relative telling me that they and their mother had a slight gluten intolerances.

I began to wonder if I was in a similar situation – or put slightly differently, had a very small intolerance to Chorleywood. With no bread products at breakfast and no bread products at lunch, the rumbling stomach seems to have disappeared – at least at present.

In the mornings in particular, I’m also feeling lighter. Breakfast has become a couple of eggs, whether soft boiled or as an omelette, with a banana and a glass of fruit juice.

Back in March, I’d asserted that, getting up at 6.30am, I wasn’t ready to eat.

Well, I’ve sorted this out by rising at around 6am instead.

Now, I sit down to eat properly, and I’m actually enjoying it. Really good eggs are worth paying a bit more for. Really good eggs are gorgeous.

The lunches have been varied, but it remains the same basic idea of a couple of portions of fruit or veg, plus a source of protein. And easy and quick to put together in a morning.

I haven’t checked out the respective costs, but I suspect that, by and large, I’m spending less too – particularly if you factor in the waste that used to occur with food that was bland and boring and generally uninspiring.

And after three full, uninterrupted weeks of packed lunches, plus almost three weeks (barring a couple of days in the first week) of breakfasts at home, hopefully that’s a habit well on the way to being established.

As a special treat (I hope) this weekend, tomorrow's breakfast will involve something I haven't eaten in decades – a kipper.

Breakfast is on the way to becoming the feast that it should be.

Friday, 28 September 2012

We know what you did 23 years ago

It seems quite extraordinary, but just a couple of weeks after the facts about the Hillsborough disaster were released, a new one has emerged.

There were not 96 victims, as previously believed, but 97.

That previously unrecognised victim was Kelvin MacKenzie.

Yes: that Kelvin MacKenzie.

The same person who, as editor of the Sun at the time, made the decision to plaster the headline ‘THE TRUTH’ over reporter Harry Arnold’s story about what he had been told had occurred.

Arnold says that the story did not assert that it was the unquestionable truth, and he queried the headline with MacKenzie, who just went ahead anyway.

However, the fault for this now appears to lie entirely with the South Yorkshire Police, who fed the claims about Liverpool fans at Hillsborough to a Sheffield news agency, supported by the claims of an MP who wasn’t there, but also now says that he totally believed what the police told him, and was subsequently knighted – presumably not for services to the truth.

It seems that, if the stories hadn’t come from police, MacKenzie would not have felt so sure of their absolute veracity that he would have written that headline.

Now, therefore, he wants an apology from the force in question, for all the years of vilification he has suffered.

Poor lamb.

This is the same MacKenzie who did once apologise – and then recanted. His latest apology therefore means little – and is being taken in precisely that manner.

This is also the same MacKenzie who will be perfectly well aware that the Taylor Report showed up the lies for what they were ages ago – yet he did nothing then.

The first rule of journalism is that you make some effort to check what you’re printing – not least if the stories are as extreme as those that the Sun published about Liverpool fans.

I’m not a Liverpool fan. I wasn’t at that match, but I was watching it on television that day, and I remember the horror as events began to unfold.

Back at work after the weekend, the first person I met was a fellow football supporter – Crystal Palace in her case. We hugged and exchanged the view that was widespread among fans then and remains so now: ‘there but for the grace of god go I’.

There were reasons that Hillsborough happened. There was hooliganism that had attached itself to the sport. But suggestions that the sport was saturated in violence of the threat of it, are nonsense.

However, it suited the political agenda of time – don’t forget that the government, desperate to assault civil liberties in general, wanted to use the reputation of football fans as an excuse to foist ID cards on them, as guinea pigs for the rest of the population.

The Sun, under Rupert Murdoch (who has been strangely silent on the subject of Hillsborough), had relished the opportunity to batter working people – not least those from rebellious Liverpool, where the government was talking of planning a ‘managed decline’ after its own policies had destroyed the city’s major industry.

The paper supported the police utterly – including that same South Yorkshire Police force, which had been allowed to act with impunity at Orgreave.

MacKenzie was entirely happy to be part of the process of the demonisation of working-class people who didn’t tug their forelocks dutifully as the government of the day laid waste to the country’s industrial base.

As an editor, he and he alone made the decision to write and publish the headline that has seen him ‘vilified’.

As a journalist, he had the responsibility to check sources – and to act in a responsible manner.

This is not to remotely excuse what some members of the South Yorkshire Police did, but MacKenzie cannot shed his own responsibility for his own professional decisions.

Whatever his reasoning or his motive at the time, he made a personal decision to all of these responsibilities.

And now, if he had a shred of human decency, MacKenzie would just crawl back under his stone and shut up.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A couple of unrepeatable (hopefully) food experiences

It’s a long, long time since I visited the Sainsbury’s at Angel, Islington. I’ve nipped into the little one at Euston Station occasionally to grab something before a train journey, or the one at Manchester Piccadilly for the same thing in reverse, but that’s it.

However, after making a meat and potato pie on Sunday – the perfect welcome for the autumn’s first stay-in-and-curl-up-on-the-sofa-with-the-cats day – I was left with some spare filling and plenty of pastry.

It was a question of finding the most convenient place in which to buy a little extra beef mince to make up enough filling for a second pie.

On a Monday, Henry the Broadway Market butcher is closed, so I nipped to the Angel Sainsbury’s on Monday after work, where I remembered they have a little ‘butcher’s’ counter.

I found myself wondering how on earth I’d ever managed to keep my sanity when having to shop regularly in such places. And how anyone else manages to do it now.

As I was about to enter, a mother was having to fight off a screaming child, dressed in primary school uniform, who wanted what appeared to be a bright cornflower blue lollipop that his mother was trying to keep just out of reach.

Inside, I was met by cacophony combined with chilled air from the cool cabinets.

Near the tobacco check out were shelves of prepacked sandwiches, crisps, magazines and newspapers.

And then, taking the obvious route, fruit and veg, followed by a vast aisle of what seemed to be largely ready meals and ready meal components.

The ‘butcher’s’ counter was where I remembered it. It had little variety and seemed to be exclusively prime cuts. If Sainsbury’s read this, the young man who served me was very charming and entirely efficient.

The place was rammed. I needed milk and razor blades (for The Other Half, not my wrists) and spent some time hunting the latter down.

The far wall of the store, for its entire length, now houses confectionary. To be scrupulously fair, that means that this Sainsbury’s at least doesn’t do the trick of putting the sweets next to the tills.

Then I noticed what looked like entire aisles of Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes (full of things you wouldn't bake with at home – who the hell would put vegetable oil in an apple pie?). And aisles of crisps and snacks, of course. And fizzy drinks.

The sheer amount of which make the fruit and veg look insignificant by comparison.

There were schoolchildren, picking up snack fodder and adults picking up vast multipacks of crisps for their children. The place was rammed. The queues were tedious.

I should point out here that Islington is not just a posh area – it also has some very poor people. The customers in the shop were a reflection of the area’s mix.

It could be said that one of the problems of thing and reading about food seriously is that you start to see certain things.

In the Joanna Blythman book that I have just finished, she talks of the vast numbers of Britons who eat on the hoof. In the couple of days since finishing that, I have been surprised at just how much I’ve noticed this.

And it seems to defy most social categories. I suspect it hasn’t only occurred this week.

The subsequent second bite of the meat and potato pie was welcome: no junk; the only ingredients that were not homemade from scratch were the HP sauce, Worcester sauce – and the ketchup (organic from Daylesford).

But the days other negative food experience had occurred earlier in the day, when there was a slice or two of cake available in the office – and I took advantage.

It was Victoria sponge – but after a couple of bites, it went in the bin. The reason? Quite simply that it tasted as though it was at least 50% sugar.

Even the layer of buttercream filling seemed to include so much sugar that the texture was granular.

So there you have it: two food experiences I will be trying to avoid repeating any time soon.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A British food renaissance? Think again

Bad Food Britain by Joanna Blythman

It’s not often that a book leaves me confused as to whether to bang my head against a brick wall or pull my hair out. Or both. At the same time.

But Bad Food Britain is exactly that sort of a book.

Joanna Blythman’s 2006 polemic against the state of the nation’s food is precisely that: a polemic.

But there's a place for polemic and, even when you half know what to expect, she has the power to shock.

Just take a couple of stats.

By the time of working on this book, Britons were eating 51% of all the crisps and snacks consumed on the entire continent of Europe.

That’s around 6,000 million packets of crisps a year – and 4,400 million packets of other snacks.

By 2005, we were eating more ready meals than the rest of the continent of Europe put together.

Sales of dining tables are down – because a declining number of people think it’s worth having somewhere to sit down properly and eat.

There are plenty of stories that will leave the reader rolling their eyes, from the environmental health officers who prefer (and sometimes insist) on plastic chopping boards even when wooden ones have been shown scientifically to have a natural ‘anti-bacterial’ quality that stops bacteria multiplying where the plastic one don't – and have quite the opposite effect.

There is the developer who built houses for holidaymakers from abroad who wanted to self cater – and found themselves in trouble because they’d only put a microwave in the kitchens, and visitors from abroad expected proper cooking equipment.

There are stories about the state of British hospital food and of malnourished patients admitted to a health system that, perversely, does not see food as a valuable part of health care.

And, of course, there is the tortured question of school meals.

Blythman makes a superb observation on the latter, where the system is obsessed with choice. Would primary school children be expected to choose which lessons they were going to do or not?

Of course not. In which case, why the obsessive belief that they should be able to choose what they have for their school lunch?

Even if you’re not particularly worried about what other adults fuel themselves with, then what is being fed to children, particularly in schools, where the idea should be that their welfare is at the top of the agenda, must be ethically criminal at the very least.

And it is in total contradiction to pretty much any country other than our own and the US.

Yes, there clearly needs to be more parental responsibility shown too, but assuming you cannot find a quick-fix way to make or 'nudge' (a current favourite government idea) parents into feeding children better – and that's also assuming they actually have the skills to do so – then schools are an environment where you could at least hope to make a positive impact.

And that's not just in terms of what the children are given to eat at lunchtime – but also in terms of what they're taught. The emergence of 'food technology' as the replacement for the old 'domestic science' is one that apparently seeks to educate children about industrial processes.

'How does a factory make a muffin?' is one sort of question that's mentioned. As a teacher put it: 'why not just teach them to cook one?'

As with the equally excellent Shopped: The shocking power of Britain's supermarketsBlythman provides an absolute mass of evidence to show that, far from being some sort of new foodie paradise – as per the media's defensive pretense – Britain’s food culture is a mess. And a deeply unhealthy one.

She also pokes a stick into the nest of radical feminism, from within which some have claimed that real cooking is part of the tyranny against women and convenience food is liberation.

And she doesn't forget the rent-a-quote populists like Julie Birchill, who rail against any negative comment on fast/junk food as class-based snobbery.

At the heart of all this is what can only be described, at best, as an ambivalent national attitude toward food.

In the UK, food is not something to be really enjoyed and cherished, with time spent on it considered one of life’s great investments, but as fuel and an inconvenience that can best be ‘solved’ by an increasing reliance on so-called convenience foods, snacking and fast food.

It is a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon puritanism that still, somehow, holds sway. It's no coincidence, for instance, that in popular terms, we use the love of food as something to hold up about all that is wrong with our age-old enemy, the French.

Blythman can only find one other country where the same attitude – and the same health problems – are so dominant: the US. Which should tell us something.

And behind all this is a food industry that is perfectly happy for this situation to continue; an industry that behaves disingenuously and with no concern or sense of responsibility for anything beyond profits.

If there is a problem with this book, it’s that it doesn’t really suggest how to combat this.

But if Blythman makes a few people look at and change their own habits, then perhaps that is entirely enough of a positive development.

Do read and do inwardly digest – and the latter will be easier than with much of what is passed off as food in this country these days.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The issues that dare not speak their name

Do you ever get the feeling that the world has finally gone completely stark staring mad?

I had just such a moment yesterday. The trigger was a news item about how France has temporarily closed some of its embassies, consulates and cultural centres, and increased security at others.

Why? In case there’s a backlash against the publication of cartoons in a magazine satirising the backlash against a film.

The backlash that has already happened is about a film, The Innocence of Muslims, for which a trailer has been on the internet for some time.

As a result, at least 30 people have died.

So much for the innocence of Muslims.

Made in the US – although there appears to be confusion by whom and also about who exactly funded it – it seems that the actors were conned into something that was altered in post production to make it an onslaught against Islam.

After completely innocent and unconnected people were then murdered in the anger that followed (what a shame that god isn’t much cop at defending his own honour), the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo included cartoons satirising the response.

“This is a disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation,” Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Paris Grand Mosque, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Yeah. Unlike the murderous response to the film itself.

It becomes a vicious circle. Utterly ridiculous over-reactions to even the mildest alleged ‘offense’ trigger further ‘provocations’, some of which are quite clearly intended as just that.

Those doing the rioting and killing are, for the most part, ill-educated and probably living in fairly dismal circumstances, with few opportunities – and are being manipulated by religious leaders and others for political reasons.

It certainly seems likely that the makers of the film were deliberately trying to provoke just such an extreme reaction, while the magazine may have been trying something genuinely meant as satire.

But what do you do in a situation like this? Shut up shop? Never say anything out of fear of upsetting someone else?

Free speech is worth defending – and there should never be a right not to be offended, not least because once you start down that road, it’s a very slippery slope.

But the film certainly appears to be a case of standing in a crowded room and yelling: ‘Fire!’

Saying that does not remotely excuse the actions that followed, but it’s difficult not to wonder how on earth you deal with this situation in a responsible way.

Do you ban anything that might upset a small number of people to the extent that they will resort to violence?

Absolutely not.

The internet clearly exacerbates the issue – simply by closing the miles between vastly different cultures with vastly different attitudes toward many subjects.

Not that controversy is limited to any one religion – or any one region of the world.

The news that writing on a 4th century piece of papyrus seems to suggest Jesus had a wife has caused a mild flutter of response – nobody killed thus far.

According to the BBC, “Jim West, a professor and Baptist pastor in Tennessee, said: ‘A statement on a papyrus fragment isn’t proof of anything. It’s nothing more than a statement ‘in thin air’, without substantial context’.”

Which suggested a certain lack of self awareness, some might think.

Indeed, such a lack of self-awareness seems to be spreading. The Pope has urged religions to root out fundamentalism. (Story)

Which is nice.

It might be Muslim fundamentalists who take the gold medal for over-the-top offense, but there is plenty of other fundamentalism around.

The Pope’s own church is far from innocent – indeed, it continues to prefer death over life: well, if you’re a woman who happens to need an abortion and will die if you don’t have one.

Or if you’re a child victim of rape who is pregnant by the rapist – and is forced to continue with the pregnancy to term by Catholic clergy, up to delivery: something a tad difficult when you’re only nine years of age in the first place.

Nor is fundamentalism limited to Catholicism within the Christian religion. The US can provide plenty of examples, from the nastiness of Westbro Baptists – which even other fundamentalists will denounce – to the shooting of abortion doctors to the belief of attendees at the recent Republican convention that we should freedom in everything.

Well, except for women when it comes to their own uterus. Obviously.

And while there is continued homophobia among some Christians in the US, it’s nothing when compared to some countries in Africa, where politicians use religious justifications to try to introduce homophobic legislation that could even mean execution for being gay.

Imagine, for a minute, a country that had executions for being male or female; for being black or white. That’s how crazy this is. But some countries either have such laws – or have politicians trying to introduce them.

And we’re not immune from fundamentalist nuttery in the UK either, whether it be book burning by Muslims angered at Salman Rushdie or death threats to BBC officials from Christians upset at what they’d read about Jerry Springer: The Opera or Sikhs rioting at a theatre in Birmingham because they object to the play Behzti.

And that is far and away from a complete list.

Don’t imagine that Buddhists are all cuddly and non-violent either: in the Rakhine area of Burma, right now, monks have been encouraging the starvation and killing of members of the local Muslim minority.

And in Israel, we had the recent situation of ultra-Orthodox (a euphemism for fundamentalist) Jews spitting on an eight-year old child – because she was dressed in a way that they disapproved of.

But despite shock – and the incident triggered protests in the country by non-fundamentalist Israelis – it was hardly a unique example of Jewish fundamentalist behaviour.

In 2006, Jewish and Muslim leaders claimed that a planned World Pride Jerusalem could trigger a series of riots even greater than those that had greeted publication of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed the previous year.

“We are faced with the prospect of six days of promiscuity and debauchery unparalleled in the Middle East,” claimed US Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who had threatened bloodshed over the events. Presumably he was jealous that he wasn’t getting any of that lovely debauchery for himself.

Representatives of conservative Christian groups joined Muslim and Orthodox Jewish leaders in demanding that organisers of World Pride Jerusalem cancel planned events.

Fascinating to see what they’ll actually all agree about, isn’t it?

I doubt you’re particularly surprised to find that it involves what they think consenting adults should and should not do with their genitals.

At the same time, police had apparently done nothing to stop Orthodox fundamentalists from handing out leaflets offering a ‘reward’ of 20,000 Israeli shekels to anyone who “kills a sodomite”.

And only a few months earlier, a rabbi had stabbed a marcher during Jerusalem’s own Pride.

So much for pinkwashing.

Amazingly, it seems that what hole you put a cock in is of far more importance than murder.

Today though, we have actually witnessed a UK positive – if unexpected – move, as the director of public prosecutions decided that a message tweeted about diver Tom Daley was not grossly offensive and didn’t, therefore, warrant prosecution.

However, Kier Starmer, the DPP himself, has called for a public debate on the “boundaries of free speech” in terms of the rise of social media. Personally, I’d be concerned that it’s couched in terms of “boundaries”.

Which of course rather begs the question of just who gets to decide whether (and how) something is just plain old offensive – or the obviously much different grossly offensive. Entirely objectively. Of course.

But therein lie the dangers. Perhaps time to take a leaf out of the book of the US and its first amendment?

For the present, though, back to the beginning.

Should we ban anything that could be considered ‘provocative’ by someone?

If we did, perhaps we should also just tell gay people not to be gay.

In 2007, a lesbian asylum seeker to the UK from Jamaica (where they’d just held a 'gay eradication day') was told by the Home Office to go back to the notoriously homophobic island and “try harder not to act gay”.

In 2011, the British system decided that a woman, who was branded with a hot iron because she was gay, should be sent back to Uganda because there was no evidence that that was because of her sexuality, and that her life was at risk. (Story)

A similar case is currently taking place in Germany, where an Iranian lesbian is in danger of being sent back there with similar advice to protect her.

So if we have establishments that do that, then perhaps we really should all just give up any pretence at freedom of speech and simply ensure that we don’t do anything to offend the over-sensitive souls, who barely have a brain cell to rub together between them, and seem to ‘think’ that it’s legitimate to rape and murder when they don’t imagine that their particular invisible friend has been insulted a bit.

I think we could be forgiven if we imagine that politicians and the judiciary are more interested in appeasing extremist religious sensibility than in defending free speech and promoting integration.

Some days I despair. Really I do.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Two seasons, two days, two dishes

For all that the sun has had his hat on several times this last week, the evenings are pulling in and the air is cooling.

It is an inescapable fact that autumn is on the way. And it seems that the record-breakingly wet summer, combined with the late burst of sun and heat, could conspire to produce a spectacularly colourful season.

But while we have a while to wait before we see whether that technicolour explosion actually transpires, an itch has started for seasonal comforts on the plate.

And the weekend gone provided opportunities and encouragements to straddle two seasons in just two days and two meals.

With tomatoes both ripe and ripening, a meal was needed that allowed them to take centre stage.

A pomodoro seemed to be the perfect casting solution.

But there was a complication, since doing a traditional tomato sauce requires far more tomatoes than I had.

There seemed to be one sensible way to deal with this.

So, for two, for a main course:

Take a medium onion and chop finely. Sweat gently in olive oil. Add some finely chopped garlic and continue to cook gently.

Chuck in a tin of chopped tomatoes – in just their own juice.

Let that cook gently for a while.

Check the seasoning.

Add the fresh tomatoes – mine were all small enough that they didn’t need cutting, let alone skinning.

Continue to cook gently until the skins have just split.

Serve over pasta.

Adding the whole tomatoes at the end freshens up the sauce and adds a different bit of texture.

It also allowed the chance to really appreciate the baby orange plums, which were light and sweet as anything. It’s almost a shock to the system to taste such tomatoey sweetness in the UK – and it was most welcome.

For Sunday, I’d decided to go down the slow, slow route.

So on Saturday evening, I sliced carrot and celery, cut some rump into large, bite-size pieces and popped everything in a bowl with a bottle and a bit of red wine, plus thyme, bay and juniper berries.

And it stayed like that until late Sunday morning.

The most fiddly part of the job that follows is draining everything – keep the marinade – and then drying the meat. But it’s worth taking a bit of time to make sure it is all dry.

Then take a cut clove of garlic and smear it around your casserole. Add a good knob of lard and melt.

Add the meat – in batches if necessary – and brown.

In the meantime, in a large pan, pop some diced, smoked streaky bacon, and cook gently until the fat is coming out of the meat.

At that point, add a couple of chopped onions and two or three cloves of garlic, and continue to cook gently until the onion and garlic start taking on a hint of gold.

Add a sliced carrot and a peeled, diced potato, plus two large tomatoes, skinned and chopped, and let it all cook gently for a minute or two.

Now add the marinade. Bring it to a boil and let it bubble and reduce a bit for five to 10 minutes.

Decant all of this into the casserole with the meat, and add further thyme and bay (and anything other herbs you fancy, for that matter).

At this point, I popped in a handful of dried mushrooms too. Then everything was brought back to a simmer, the pot was covered with foil and lidded, and placed into an oven that had been preheated to 120˚C, where it sat happily for around seven hours.

In essence, this is a daube. Strictly speaking, that means a particular type of cooking pot, but it’s come to mean a slow-cooked dish, of a style that’s particularly linked with the south west of France.

Previous experience had suggested that two or even four hours was not long enough to ensure that the gravy/sauce was sweet and the meat so tender that you could cut it with a spoon.

The majority of the recipe is from Elisabeth Luard, who suggests, in European Peasant Cookery, “four hours at least”.

I deviated from her recipe by adding the vegetables and herbs to the overnight marinade – and by adding the dried mushrooms later.

One of the joys of now having pretty much (as far as I know) every English-language book about cookery from the area is that you start being able to learn little details.

The dried mushrooms are popular in Foix in the mountains – we spent a couple of nights there last year. They also use white wine instead of red there, according to Paula Wolfert in The Cooking of South West France, but I decided to just take the mushroom aspect of that regional derivation.

We’d spent much of Sunday gardening and had trimmed a lot of herbs right back to encourage bushier growth. So when I put on some rice to serve with the daube, The Other Half suggested adding some of the mint he’d trimmed. To that I therefore added a finely-chopped orange chilli from the garden.

On Monday, it was simply a question of reheating gently for an hour and then serving with heaps of buttery puréed potato.

For yesterday, there was little meat left, but a very meaty and flavoursome gravy/sauce.

I chucked in a tin of chopped tomatoes, some halved, peeled spuds and some halved chestnut mushrooms, and gave it around an hour. And it did delightfully.

All of which also means four days of pretty easy cooking – and perfectly good eating. And what more can you ask for?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Walking in a ghost town

The Kingsland Estate is coming down. Slowly, but surely, the old buildings are being closed up, the residents moved to other accommodation and the windows secured with garish orange metal shutters.

That process has been going on for several years, but within the last two, the first blocks on the estate were torn down and now have almost-complete new blocks in their place.

Some 400 homes are being replaced by more than 700, together with shops, a community centre and play areas. Previous residents with secure tenancies will be able to return.

The estate was first opened in 1952 – even though much of looks older. It has existed for as long as Elizabeth has been queen.

Notorious at one time and so shabby that it was not considered possible to renovate it – some blocks along the same stretch of Whiston Road have been renovated in recent years.

A few people still live there.

Egyptian-born artist Nazir Tanbouli has lived on the estate since 2007 and has his studio there.

As the process of renewal has been taking place, he decided to take his art into the increasing derelict landscape.

To wander around (it’s just down the road from where I live) is to enter a strange and eerie world.

The place has the air of a ghost town, taken over now by a few pigeons and Tanbouli’s monsters – some of his pieces have something of Picasso’s Guernica about them.

Here are a few pictures recording the place as it is now – but not for long.

They were taken on the afternoon that the Olympic torch came through Hackney – passing just 200m away from these fantastical images, which itself seemed a rather surreal juxtaposition.

The photographs are an attempt not just to capture what Tanbouli has done, but also other aspects of the almost-gone estate.

Clicking on a picture will allow you to see a larger version of it.

To find out more about Tanbouli's pro, click here.

All photographs copyright.