Friday, 31 May 2013

Dreaming of cheese

Cheese on the La Bouche stall on Broadway Market.
Who knows what it means, but I dreamt about cheese last night. Not just any old cheese – well, okay: pretty much any cheese.

Blue cheese and cream cheese; waxed cheese and peppered cheese; smoked cheese and fruited cheese.

Cheese on crackers and cheese on it’s own; cheese as part of a meal and cheese as a sneaky snack.

Double Gloucester and Stinking Bishop; up Wensleydale and down to Cheddar; from Gorwydd Carephilly to Red Leicester; from Stilton to Shropshire Blue.

There's Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and Mrs Bourne’s Cheshire cheese – both white and crumbly and with a real tang.

Cheese with fruit and cheese without. Cheese with fruit cake and cheese with crudités; cheese straws and cheese dips to start the meal or just to accompany a glass of pinot grigio.

Cheese with holes and cheese with vine leaves. Goat's cheese and cow's cheese and ewe's cheese and buffalo cheese.

And that’s before we cross to foreign shores.

Gouda and gruyere, comté and manchego; morbier with it's stripe of ash and Fourme d'Ambert with it's glorious saltiness.

Salty feta to compliment twinkling emerald broad beans. Camembert, ripe to the point of melting.

Cheese roasted in its box and drizzled with honey or orange juice. Parmigiano Reggiano – so precious that Pepys buried his to save it from the fire.

Dreaming of cheese, I found myself in Wallace and Gromit terrain, briefly convinced in my sleeping state that the moon is made of cheese.

What had triggered this fixation?

The answer was simple: hunger.

I may well have been wrong in my diagnosis of Monday’s bout of the belly ache: by Wednesday afternoon it had become clear that it wasn’t gone.

One option remained: a complete fast.

Since I’d had little food on Tuesday and less on Wednesday itself, my fast began, in effect, late that afternoon and lasted all through yesterday and until this morning.

It seems to have done the trick, but if there’s one thing that not being able to eat does, it’s make you obsess about food.

The other thing is does, after a while, is leave you a tad faint.

Talking to a neighbour last night, she’d suggested something gentle to start with: rice, nice and plain.

But I already knew that it would be cheese.

“Oh, don’t do dairy,” she advised. Yet past experience of loss of appetite because of a stomach upset tells me that cheese is usually the first thing I reach for when I'm ready once again for food – and it doesn’t seem to harm me in such circumstances.

Indeed, my mother always used to swear that eggs were gentle on a rebellious tummy.

However tired I was last night, though, sleep didn’t come easily because of the hunger (a salutary reminder of what many millions experience on a daily basis). The mind is restless precisely because the stomach is empty.

And so, while the old wife’s tale has it that cheese will give you bad dreams, it was more the case that a lack of cheese, and the thought that, a few hours later, I could finally eat some, caused cheesy dreams.

This morning, early, I snacked on a little Bavarian smoked cheese, a little Cheddar and some cream cheese on TUC crackers - the latter would add some welcome salt back into my system.

Then back to bed.

Later, after a shower, and already feeling better than I had for days, I tucked into a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle. Yes, I know it’s bad - but somehow it felt suitably safe. I permitted myself a couple of cans of sugary drinks too.

And hours later, it was still all calm in the gut.

After which, it was a case of getting back to real food, with a steak and Jersey Royals and peas f' me tea – the first proper meal since Sunday. And boy, do I feel better for it.

For the first time in days, if someone told me to say ‘cheese!’ I could actually manage it.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Ve hav vays of making you afraid

A German. Looking all militaristic. Invading London.
Just in case you’d missed it, last weekend saw the Champions’ League final take place at Wembley, between Borrussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

A first – two German teams facing each other in the final.

So what better opportunity to write about … well, ze Germans?

Over at the (Lunnon!) Evening Standard, Anne McElvoy took the opportunity to excel herself in her article on this difficult subject.

Ich bin ein Londoner: the Germans are coming – and a lot of them are already here” proclaimed the headline (the internet has a lot to answer for in terms of the apparently dying art of the headline).

“They’re invading us on Saturday”, read the standfirst, just in case you were in any doubt as to the tone.

“To put it bluntly,” said McElvoy, “today’s London attracts a lot of people whose forebears were once part of a much less charming offensive.”

“Today’s London”? The first rule of journalism should be to have a clue what you’re writing about.

In the case of the dreaded Krauts in our capital, there is a considerably longer history than she seems to imagine.

In Dalston, just up the road from where I live, stands the German Hospital, which opened its doors to local German people in 1863. Many of its patients worked in local manufacturing.

The German Hospital, Dalston.
The German Chapel was established in 1809 in a house near Mansion House, for local German Catholics. In 1862, the Methodist Zion Chapel in Whitechapel was taken on for this expanding congregation, and a mission developed alongside it.

That’s without mentioning the likes of old Charlie Marx, who is still with us, beneath his iconic Highgate grave.

And there were many, many more. Indeed, internment camps were built in both world wars to house many of the Germans who lived in the UK.

So it’s disingenuous at best to imply that Germans are only newly arrived in London – in a non-warlike manner.

But even taking McElvoy at face value, let’s see where she went with this line of commentary: “A current prominent member of the Germano-Londoner pack is Isabelle (Bella) Ribbentrop, head of corporate communication at Pictet and Cie, the private Swiss bank, who is married to a descendant of Hitler’s foreign minister.”

Wow. Just wow. I just bet she got hitched so she could brag about the history of hubby’s family, don’t you?

This is clutching at straws for the sake of being able to mention – y’know – the little Austrian with the funny moustache.

And never mind ‘sins of the fathers’ – we’re now into ‘sins of the spouse’s fathers’. And all this after McElvoy used the word “forebears” – which isn’t usually taken to mean ‘and those by marriage as well’.

But fret ye not – the best was still to come.

McElvoy, a self-described “lifelong Germanophile” explained: “English private education is one of the big draws – Germans have become the largest non-Asian group in Britain’s independent schools, not least because of the school uniforms.”

Sauerkraut, invading the kitchen.
So given that there is no comparable culture of school uniform wearing on the Continent, we now discover that well-to-do modern Hun are coming over here (nicking our jobs) and sending their kinder to schools that are chosen precisely because they wear uniforms.

Now why, Anne dear, would that be? Are you suggesting that they’re all really still closet Nazis/militarists? Because it’s difficult to see what else you could possibly be suggesting.

Actually, what McElvoy managed to illustrate is that things have progressed markedly. Nowadays, the things that were once said openly have to be couched in more subtle terms and hidden, indeed, beneath claims of being a Germanophile oneself.

Personally, my only fear about this latest ‘invasion’ was what on earth our visitors would make of the excuse for ‘beer’ that is on sale in so many London hostelries.

In the event, there were apparently only 13 football-related arrests across the entire city. The FA reported that nine arrests were for ticket touting, so it was a remarkably peaceful invasion.

Borussia Dortmund arrived, according to the Guardian, with a poster saying: ‘You were hoping for a final between two English teams. Or at least for a stadium full of hot Spanish chicks. Instead, you got the Krauts. Have fun.’

Gratuitous picture of the Reichstag.
And people still claim that Germans have no sense of humour?

Anyway, an exciting match was won by Bayern Munich – the Manchester City connection through ex-Blues defender Jerome Boateng was duly noted – and everything passed off okay.

So presumably we can all come out from behind our sofas now.

Not that the fußball has been the only reason to consider matters German in recent days.

Were it not clear that McElvoy had to work hard to disguise (at least a little) the rather obvious anti-German sentiments behind her piece, at almost exactly the same time, the annual Country Ratings Poll for the BBC World Service revealed that Germany was out in front.

Or, top hund, as one might put it.

And even the New Statesman had a piece from a correspondent saying that she found it no surprise, having herself loved the country since her teens – in part, as an act of rebellion against the anti-German rhetoric of her parents (an experience I am familiar with).

Perhaps we’re finally growing up after all?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A cracked-egg omelette is not cracking idea

Living is learning, so they say. And the latest lesson is simple: if an egg is cracked, don’t use it.

It was a pleasant enough bank holiday Monday. I had spent the morning pottering around the garden, with a certain sense of pleasure as various plants finally look like they're going to grow properly.

And if the weather in general has been dismal for the last umpteen months, May’s two bank holidays have been uncharacteristically good.

Monday wasn’t as glorious as Sunday had been – there was more wind and more cloud, and it was never going to be a second successive day spent sitting out with a book, getting the beginnings of a tan – but let’s not complain given the generally dire situation otherwise.

And it was good enough to feel inspired to sow salad leaves and courgettes.

So in the early afternoon, hungry from labour in the potager, I headed into the kitchen to look for some much-needed lunch.

I was contemplating hard-boiling an egg for a quick salad or sandwich, but then I spotted that two in the tray were cracked. One was so much of a mess that it went straight out and the ceramic tray needed cleaning.

The second had a cracked shell, but the membrane was intact. Having not seen these cracks before and having known that the eggs had only been decanted into the tray a day or so earlier, it seemed reasonable to assume that the breaks were new.

Instead of wasting the second, I decided to use it for part of an omelette.

All of which seemed perfectly fine – although a point here: I like my omelettes lightly cooked.

A few hours later, as a piece of lamb was roasting in the oven, I started to feel twinges of nausea and a growing gut ache.

By the time that dinner was ready, I didn’t want anything at all – that's right, I didn't want roast lamb with Jersey Royals and asparagus.

I went to bed early, struggling to get comfortable between visits to the bathroom.

The worst was reached at about 1am, when I was perched on the throne, beaded with cold sweat and desperately grasping the one receptacle within reach – a spare litter tray.

Yesterday was spent almost entirely in bed – unprecedented – and even today, I still feel a little like a wrung-out dishcloth.

Now it could have been a bug, but if so, it bypassed The Other Half completely.

So, remember: if an egg is cracked, don’t assume it’s only just been cracked and is therefore safe to eat.

I have only myself to blame, but I like to think that I experience such things so that you don’t have to.

A steaming pile of something or other
On a somewhat different note – but every bit as cracked – in an effort to aid my recovery last night, I sat down to watch the first episode (well, the first one being shown in the UK) of Jo on Fox.

Now this had been anticipated for some weeks because it’s a cop show, starring the watchable Jean Reno and set in Paris.

Just over a week ago, I watched Buddenbrooks, the 2008 film version with the wonderful Armin Mueller-Stahl. It’s only available in German, but fortunately I know the story so well it was not wasted on me.

And besides, there was the sheer joy of being able to sit there, going: ‘been there’; ‘seen that’; been down that street’; ‘know where that is’ for substantial amounts of screen time, since it was filmed in Lübeck itself.

Yes, yes, I’ve done it watching reruns of Van der Valk too, and in more than a few other films and programmes.

But here was an opportunity to do the same with Paris – combined with Reno and a genre I am far from immune to.

Oh. Dear.

There are problems right away in that it’s a joint Canadian and French co-production. So most of the cast were north Americans – in some cases playing north Americans and in others, French characters.

The only bona fide French person in it – and with the only French accent – was Reno.

So that’s confusing to start with.

Second, though: if you’re really going to go for the already-clichéd idea of the top cop with a troubled private life, make some effort to take it into territory beyond the cliché of booze.

Example?Wallander – and not least in the English-language version with Kenny Branagh, which went seriously existential.

Third, if you’re going to spend a lot of money making your location one of the stars of the show, then use it well.

Fourth, for god’s sake give the cast at least five minutes rehearsal time. It’s entirely bad enough Reno sleep-walking through it – at least he’s got some presence – but everyone else cannot simply rely on that.

Fifth – by the time I get to considering the clichéd plot, I’m in need of cliché detox.

Honestly – I’d looked forward to this, but it did my fragile health no favours.

So there you have it – a rare TV review. And the message is simple: don’t waste your time.

Monday, 27 May 2013

No, it's not really scampi

Not that it has any impact on my weekly habits, but it’s still worth noting that Saturday was part of Love Your Local Market Fortnight.

And as the weekly shopping does not do itself – to market I went.

Not that that should be read as suggesting that it’s a chore. Even if the weather is absolutely hideous, a Saturday morning on Broadway Market gives me pleasure.

This week, I was contemplating some fish for the weekend, but was very much in a mode where what I wanted would depend on what was available.

It’s taken me time to get to such a stage: I still use lists, but they’re a little less detailed these days, and I’m less intimidated by the idea of changing my mind or finding a planned ingredient isn’t available.

But back to the actual shopping: unusually, Vicki had monkfish. Not a lot, but a couple of nice pieces, one of which was more than adequate for two of us.

A lovely, meaty fish that can take some serious cooking, I decided to buy a piece.

It was a piece about 500g in weight. Vicki skinned it already for me – much the fiddliest bit of dealing with this specimen.

In times not long past, it was so unpopular among the UK populace that any catch was either exported to where it was appreciated or turned into ‘scampi’ – the latter of which gives a nice little sideshow to the ongoing horsemeat scandal.

Was it labeled as monkfish 'scampi' or just 'scampi', with the knowledge that everyone knew that scampi was prawns or at least assumed it was?

However, that's in the past and it is no longer the case. From Vicki’s perspective, she says that, whenever she has any these days, it sells easily.

I looked up a couple of recipes for roasting it, finding that most worked on the basis of a 15-minute cook at around 200˚C.

But I wanted to do something slower, so I decided to play it my own way.

The oven was turned to 150˚C (fan).

The fish was boned – this is really easy with monkfish, which only has a simple spine that you can cut around with a sharp knife. No pin bones – easy.

Heat some olive oil in a heavy, lidded pan and soften some sliced garlic in, before adding the fish and gently colouring it.

Add plenty of good-quality paprika, several twists of black pepper, a tin of quality chopped tomato in its own juice,  squirt of tomato purée, some green olives stuffed with anchovy and a pinch of sugar.

Let it come to a bubble and then lid and pop in the oven for 40 minutes.

At this point, turn the fish and check for seasoning: mine needed salt, before I also added a good squirt of a Balsamico ‘glaze’ that I have in that is particularly thick and ideal for plate decoration. But in something like this it gives a bit of added ‘body’ as well as flavour.

Pop it back in the oven – lidded once more – and give it a further 40 minutes.

Serve the fish on pillows of plain or basmati rice, surrounded with the sauce.

So, great flavours, reminiscent of Spain, and fish perfectly cooked.

And it really doesn’t come much easier.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Wagner and me

It’s difficult to know when it started, my relationship with Wagner. And no, I don’t mean the X Factor entrant.

It’s been there for a while, most often hovering in the background, but occasionally hoving into clearer view.

First, it was only in the vaguest outlines, formed from a CD of The Other Half’s, a collection of overtures and preludes, together with the famous Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, although I really didn’t ‘get’ that at the time.

With Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil, the first piece that grabbed my attention was the overture to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

Oh, what a glorious thing that is – and the resolution still sends me somewhere a little different.

On our trip to Berlin, four years ago, a visit to the Philharmonie to see the same orchestra, under the baton of Simon Rattle, moved me further on again.

After the world premiere of a piece by Matthus Sammer, the rest of the concert was highlights from acts II and III of Götterdämmerung. The singing bits didn’t really grab me, but the orchestral sections left me gasping, as though a g force had picked me up and shoved me back into my seat to hold me there, in rapt attention.

As we left the concert hall, The Other Half asked how I was: “Just trying to teach myself to breathe again,” I managed to reply.

A year or so later, we caught a televised version of a Covent Garden production of Das Rheingold. Now I had a sense of the music and the theatricality combined.

The next stage – although not quite immediately – was the purchase of a Ring cycle: Solti with the Vienna, since that seems to be regarded as the best. When you're going to splash a lot, it pays to research first.

Off and on in the intervening years, I have made limited efforts to start listening to it, but never got very far.

And then, because the nature of some work I’m presently doing means that I need to block out anything else, yet still have a good half of my mind free, I put it all on my iPod and started from the beginning.

We’d not quite caught the very opening of Rheingold, and when I heard it – the 30-second single note; the rumbling of the Rhine as it builds from the source – I was stunned.

And suddenly, listening to one of the operas with no outside interference, the vocal passages changed. In context, they made sense and were far more ‘musical’ than I had previously understood.

Over coffee a few weeks ago, I observed to The Other Half that there was something daemonic about the music (I use that spelling quite deliberately). Yet at the same time, I’'s almost religious. That is – religious without the religion.

I know that it affects people differently, but it gets me right in the gut. And I suspect that that is, in large part, why people feel either wild love with or detestation of it.

Bach, for instance, wrote beautiful music, but it doesn’t ravish you emotionally. Wagner's music can do precisely that.

I don’t think he’s entirely alone in that: there are passages of Beethoven that, played in a certain way, have a huge emotional power.

A few months before we attended that Berlin concert, we were lucky enough to catch one of Daniel Barenboim’s nights at the Royal Festival Hall when he was doing the entire cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas.

I’ve loved old Ludwig since I was introduced to his music at school, but I had never seen or heard it preformed in such a way.

The huge hall faded away and it became something utterly and entirely personal. This was not Beethoven the Polite, this was Beethoven the Passionate, Beethoven the Angry, Beethoven the Inflamed.

In general, we seem so often to treat ‘serious’ music ... well, rather too seriously. But that night, with Barenboim (a Wagner fan, incidentally), the music was given back life and a soul, complete with deep, dark depths.

But back to the extremes that only Wagner provokes.

Just yesterday, on the forum part of a serious national newspaper, someone observed that “no right-thinking” person could like it.

Some of the comments in favour were every bit as over the top.

What other composer has ever triggered such extreme responses?

Of course, much is made of Wagner’s own anti-semitism and the Nazis’ love of Wagner.

My perfect role?
But with the former, do we so damn Milton, say, for his support of Cromwell’s massacres in Ireland or Debussy for being inclined to domestic violence?

And the works themselves are hardly riddled with it – unlike, say, the racism and anti-semitism and sexism of Ian Fleming’s Bond books. Yet who suggests we should forgo 007?

There are great ironies in Hitler’s adoration of Wagner. Let's take the Ring cycle: one of the key themes of that great arc of a story is that of the destructive nature of power and the search for it. Hardly the stuff of the Third Reich.

Indeed, in a slender volume entitled The Perfect Wagnerite, first published in 1898, revolutionary Fabian and erstwhile music critic Bernard Shaw expounded a theory of the Ring as being essentially socialist in nature.

Now it’s a downright irritating read in many ways – essentially for Shaw’s incredible ability to be patronising and pompous – but it is an interesting thesis non the less.

And even if one doesn’t go the whole way along that analytical route, it certainly suggests that the works are far removed from how we have come to imagine them through the prism of national socialism.

Not that the extreme negativity about Wagner is new or dates from after WWII – far from it.

In Buddenbrooks, first published in 1901, Thomas Mann has the church organist refusing to accompany Gerda in playing Wagner. It is morally repugnant to him.

There's an irony here too: in effect, it was being considered, by some, to be 'degenerate' – decades before the Nazis used 'entartete' as their excuse to ban and burn and persecute.

So we’re back to personal responses.

German romanticism – of which Wagner can be viewed as the apotheosis – has elements of a death wish about it: a longing for oblivion.

That culture was still around well into the 20th century – Brecht’s poem from 1919, Ballade von den Seeräubern (Ballad of the Pirates), is a perfect example.

And Wagner goes further, reaching for many his most troubling level in Die Walküre, with the incestuous love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, even though they know they are brother and sister.

I wonder if all this – the death wish element of German romanticism in general and of Wagner’s pushing back of conventional boundaries in particular – prefigures the beginnings of an understanding of psychoanalysis and an imaginative experimentation with exploring the deeper parts of the human psyche?

As the hold of formal religion diminished, and as philosophy – and German philosophy was hugely important in this period – moved toward something more existential (we see this explored at length in Buddenbrooks), then these darker aspects of human nature were being explored in a different way, outside the safety of conventional religion.

They reach their high point in the 20th century, in philosophical questioning of whether the act of suicide is our only real possible act of free will.

Yet nobody seems to view such angst as though it was a contributory factor in later genocide.

Further, it seems inaccurate to me to characterise this fascination with death as being somehow entirely secular.

It’s hardly far away from western Christianity, which has spent centuries creating a worship of death and suffering: not simply in the figure of Christ crucified, but in so many of the martyrs of the church.

Think only, for instance, of all those painted representations of St Sebastian, erotic even in his suffering; dotted with arrows yet gazing ecstatically at the heavens, knowing death will come soon and transport him somewhere better.

The issue, then, seems to be partly the decline of religion, which can be seen to allow such sentiments and musings. And these were opportunities that Wagner, among many others, took.

But moving on, his influence is as wide-ranging as it is possible to be.

We owe him a debt of gratitude for so many things, from the decision to dim auditorium lights before a performance to, some would say, stream-of-consciousness literature (Joyce, Woolf etc).

And that’s without even beginning to name all the composers who were themselves influenced by his work: Mahler, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Berlioz, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg … it’s a very long list.

It’s easy to forget that his influence moves into the realms of popular culture and not just ‘high art’.

Wagner was the first person to use a leitmotif: a recurring theme, often very brief, that appears throughout a work to suggest something particular to us.

So forget the ‘Tristan chord’ and think 1975, Stephen Spielberg and a score by John Williams. Think Jaws and think boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom … a leitmotif, and one that everybody knows, even if they haven’t seen the film (me).

And that’s without mentioning how authors such as Thomas Mann took up and used the leitmotif in a literary sense.

But to bring this back to where we began.

I hope to see a Wagner opera – in the flesh – later this year.

But the weekend’s viewing of the New York Met’s latest production of the power of this Das Rheingold left me in no doubt of his extraordinary genius.

And tdoay, on this 200th anniversary of his birth, I find myself more and more drawn to both listen more and learn more.

Yet even for an apprentice acolyte, there is a sense of stepping into unchartered territory, because with Wagner, everything is about the personal response. And that is always going to involve an feeling of risk.

Going right back to the beginning of this piece, I mentioned the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Now, until very recently, I had not got caught up in this particular piece.

And if you needed any convincing of the almost orgasmic (le petite mort?) infectious nature of Wagner’s music, then here it is.

At the end of this extraordinary performance, Karajan – haggard and having had to sit in order to conduct – slips off his stool; takes Norman’s hands and kisses them.

There – right there – is death and love and beauty, bound up between reality and art.

And like so much else in Wagner, it is intoxicating and awesome and frightening and alluring all at once.

Little wonder then, that his music has, legendarily, driven people to madness.

And little wonder that, even today, he divides opinion more violently than any composer before or since.

* For further reading, I heartily recommend Bryan Magee’s very short, but wonderfully written, concise and utterly fascinating Aspects of Wagner.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Remember to love your local market

Radishes, Paris style.
With The Other Half away for the weekend, following his beloved Castleford Tigers to Perpignan for their league game against the Catalan Dragons – an act of great personal sacrifice on his part – the opportunity presented itself for personal culinary indulgence.

And with a few days to eat nothing but exactly what I want, a Friday evening visit to Borough Market was the perfect way to get the weekend up and running.

This itself seemed apt, coming as it did just days into Love Your Local Market Fortnight: a time to promote real food and real producers; food that looks and tastes like proper food, and is sold by people, often, who produce it themselves, and certainly care about it.

Given The Other Half's tastes, the menus for such a weekend are easy: seafood and offal. Although not together. Obviously.

It started, on Friday evening, with scallops, pan fried briefly, with canellini beans, chili and lamb's lettuce. River Café Two Easy is the bible for these weekends.

Other purchases included asparagus, plum tomatoes, Jersey Royals and the first English strawberries of the year.

Borough was busy with, as ever, a combination of tourists and bright young things enjoying the start of the weekend.

The market prides itself – and rightly so – on being twinned with the legendary La Boqueria in Barcelona. The tragedy is that the London prices mitigate against everyone being able to use it. In that wonderful market off La Rambla, you'll see little old ladies carefully picking out produce. Not here, sadly.

Where good food in many parts of the Continent is available to all and considered a birthright, there is much more of a class divide in the UK, as with so much else.

Much the same can be said of Broadway Market, although not to quite the same extent: I know that I'm not the only local who shops there, although first thing on a Saturday morning, I'm always convinced that half the 'hipsters' sitting outside cafes with coffee have come straight from Hoxton nightspots with nary an encounter with sleep.

And on Saturday morning, it was straight to Matthew to see what offal he had, with a lovely piece of lamb's liver, thinly sliced, going into the bag.

Next up, fish.

Unfortunately, Vicki had nothing that I wanted, so Fin & Founder had to do the business. I bought a Dover sole and a squid.

"Shall I fillet it?" said the young man of the sole. I demurred. He seemed surprised and offered to at least trim the fins. I demurred again. He almost begged to be allowed to rinse it. I allowed him to do so.

My refusal to let him do anything with the squid appeared even more shocking. "It can make a mess," he offered rather lamely.

"Oh not if you do it properly," I returned, adding that I enjoy doing it - and that it's easy. I left with squid and sole intact in the face of someone who appeared to have the love of knife work that would have delighted a mohel.
Selection vegetables in Barcelona.

I understand that this is part and parcel of the Fin and Founder routine; that it's their way of 'adding value' (and thus helping justify their prices).

And of course there's also an expectation that many customers will lack the skills to prep fish.
Requiring no cutting at all, I also bought a handful of the season's first samphire.

Back at Mark's Ash Green Organics, which is increasingly becoming my go-to greengrocer, fine beans, a courgette, oranges and rhubarb were added to the mix.

The simplicity of approach continued with Saturday lunch. Jerseys were scraped and boiled, to be served with briefly boiled asparagus (four minutes – they were quite thick), and four slices of the liver, pan fried in a very little olive oil.

A 'gravy' was made by melting a teaspoon of redcurrant jelly into the meat juices while it briefly rested.

The only other things required are salt, pepper and good butter.

For evening, it was back to River Café and a recipe I'd tried before.

Take your squid, clean it and thinly slice.

Then take a courgette and cut it into matchsticks.
Octopus in Venice.

Previously, I'd made the mistake of grating the squash far too finely and it all but disappeared. This time, I just used a razor-sharp paring knife and cut it up that way. Salt these for about 15 minutes, then rinse and dry.

This is a very, very quick cook, so it's best to be a bit cheffy and prep all the ingredients first.

Thinly slice as much chili as takes your fancy. Thinly slice a clove of garlic. Juice and zest some lemon.

Get a pan good and hot, add a generous splash of olive oil and, when it's really hot, pop in the squid.

Stir briefly and then add the chili and a grind or two of black pepper.

Stir again, give it all a couple of minutes, then add the courgette and the garlic. Let it cook through – it doesn't take long – and add the lemon. Stir once, twice – and it's ready to serve.

The original recipe serves this with spaghetti, but I opted instead for some good, fresh baguette. It needs little or no added salt.

And it is a feast.

Sunday went a bit off piste in terms of plans, so I saved the sole for Monday and managed, incredibly, to do the best filleting job I've ever managed (it was quite large) and then grill the fillets and serve them with Jerseys and asparagus and fine beans to welcome home The Other Half.

Good food should be a birthright for all of us. And good markets, where you can get good, seasonal produce, should be available for everyone.

Fortunately, many places do still have them – and they're not the rather 'posh' ones like Borough or even Broadway.
Tomatoes in Collioure – I dream of them.

So make sure you love your own local market – you know it's worth it.

And now a tiny 'fession.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned tourists at Borough. Well, I like to photograph markets too – both at home and abroad.

Markets are wonderful places. So instead of a couple of shots of liver or scallops on a plate, I decided to illustrate this piece with a very few, varied shots.

I hope you enjoy.

And perhaps more to the point – enjoy your own local markets.