” Dinner is Served “

a. ” I don’t eat that “.

Ah. I’m terribly sorry. I did not know. I’m afraid I neglected to prepare an alternative. And have no other food. It would be terribly rude of me to sit here in front of you and eat while you do not. I’ll just clear the plates away and we can go on to a nice discussion about Kierkegaard or BREXIT. May I get you a cracker and a glass of water?

b. ” I don’t want to eat that “.

Ah. Well, you won’t object if I do? Good. could you pass the oyster sauce, there’s a good fellow…

c. ” I’m afraid we can’t eat that “.

Ah. I know the problem. We’re restricted in our tribe as well. May I get you some fruit? Some tea?

d. ” I’m afraid I’m not allowed to eat “.

Ah. Doctors, eh? I can do you an egg…or a sandwich. Or a salad. Or a triple gin?

e. ” I’m afraid I’m allergic to that “.

Ah. Well, we’ll just pop into the pantry and see if there’s a can of something. Don’t touch the plate and I’ll get you a fresh knife and fork. Only be a minute.

Food is a minefield for many these days. It always was, to some extent, as there were people who had it and people who did not. That worked out well for the well-fed until the hungry cut their heads off. Thankfully we have fewer guillotinings these days than before, but more food intolerances.

The religious sometimes fall back on food laws to keep them from sin. The fact that the laws sometimes keep them from being comfortable dinner guests is sad, though equally, they are shielded from some pretty awful recipes. In the end, food laws are a self-punishing thing…unless someone hijacks them to demand money with menaces from restauranteurs and food suppliers – then it is criminal thuggery disguised in piety.

The genuinely allergic and/or intolerant are in a different boat. For some the avoidance of certain foods and the chemicals related to them can be a matter of life and death. Once they discover their vulnerability, they need to be wary biochemists whenever they dine. Their friends should be too.

The finicky and fussy are difficult customers. They can be so far advanced as gourmets, gourmands, or gorblimeys that any meal shared with them is an ordeal. I have sat at table with people who played the restaurant menu, the staff, and the other dinner guests like a harmonica to satisfy their own need for attention. It was painful – but not something that had to be endured twice…

For myself, there have been times when I really wanted to eat something that was forbidden me and times when I really did not want to eat another treif item. I will not tell you how I resolved the dilemma, but I did gain an appreciation of how to be delicate in those circumstances. The fall-back position was always abstinence, even if you had to push things round a plate until it was cleared. Next meal was in 6 hours, if you were lucky, and you could last for that long and do your own cooking.

 

 

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” We’re Out Of Canned Snake “

Well, damn. And I had my heart set on a big plate of dugite in gravy. I’ll have to make do with bread and butter.

I admire the cuisines beloved of many different ethnic groups. Likewise I recognise the artistry inherent in their dances, clothing, and literature…albeit I have no idea what they are saying or doing and the clothing they wear looks as if it was stitched together with brass wire. I figure it is their hides, slides, and insides and not for me to criticise.

Admiration, however, does not mean emulation. In the case of exotic cuisine I am more than happy for it to remain so. If they have shops that cater for their own palates, well and good. I have mine. They include Elmar’s, IGA, and Aldi, and if I cannot suit myself there I can always haunt Coles or Woolies. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of canned insects or vermin in oil. Indeed, come high summer, between myself and the cat, we could probably provide them with all the skittering protein they could handle.

I did try to adapt myself to the influx of Asian grocery shops here in our suburb. Close as we are to an Asian dormitory suburb and a south Asian subdivision, it’s not surprising that there has been a burgeoning in the specialty grocery market. I went to my local one and did my best to understand the items on offer – eventually settling on Yeo’s curry sauce from Singapore as the easiest thing to incorporate in the family menu. It’s never failed, and I always grab a can when I see it.

But when I tried to decipher all the other curry offerings I was stumped – so many canneries, so many flavours, so many different bits of advice on the can. I took a selection of them to the chap at the counter but he said he doesn’t eat that stuff…Hmmm…

I must screw up my courage and go to the Indian grocery next. Surely, if anyone, they will be able to advise me.

PS: Don’t try to con me and make me eat some awful offal to amuse your mates. I won’t do it, no matter what the social circumstance. I won’t be rude – ” Thank you. No. ” is perfectly civil.

Home One – Food

I live at home.

Unlike many people who live at hotels, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, airports, or overseas resorts…I live at home. I do it because I can, and because it does me far more good than the other choices.

The first major attraction for me is the food at home. It comes out of our pantry, freezer, refrigerator, and mysterious boxes that a kid brings to the door. Nearly all of it, save the mysterious flat boxes, passes through my hands via utensils that I use to boil, fry, broil, bake, and steam. I aim to produce one meal a day that can keep the family healthy, and sometimes I can even extend to two – if one of these is simple fare.

I prepare food that tastes good, and has vitamins, fibre, carbs, protein, and pepper. A lot of the recipes are derived from those used by my mother, but adapted to my lesser skills. I am pleased to say that we rarely have a failure so gross that it needs to be buried.

Home food has another great advantage – price. Admittedly we pay metro supermarket prices for the ingredients that come into the house, but the cost of a good dinner at our table is very much less – in some cases 1/6th – of that at a local restaurant. The cost of a bad dinner – the fast food burger – is about the same but the home-cooked one has nutrition and taste.

And the other kitchen factors? Well, I have two arms and two hands and can wash dishes. We have a brand-new oven, grill, and stove, so there is no technical reason we cannot have good food. And when we eat at home, I do not have to keep reassuring a hovering waiter that the dinner is alright.

Plus there is no surcharge on weekends and public holidays.

Poutine – Cultural Cuisine Or Misspelling?

We are just about to encounter Canada Day. It’s the 1960’s revision of the first of July –  Dominion Day – that allows Canadians to make slightly sad cultural asses of themselves throughout the world…or throughout the world that actually notices. This would be about 0.08% of humanity…

Shorn of its fun features – picnics on the shores of freezing lakes, fireworks, and a couple of months off school – Dominion …Oops…Canada day is a time of wild celebration for Canadians overseas. All through Kenya ice hockey and curling is breaking out. The mountains of Holland echo to the sound of gunshots as Canadians open fire on moose. The Indians dedicate another temple to Justin Trudeau and then flush it…

Just kidding. We go out a buy a carton of Molsons or a bottle of rye and some ginger ale and  scuff round the kitchen to see if that recipe for butter tarts has turned up. And we contemplate poutine.

I say contemplate, because I do not know any Canadian overseas who has eaten the stuff. Indeed, I passed a childhood and youth in the Dominion of Canada without ever seeing it, and I lived in Montreal and Chicoutimi for years. I did see strawberry pie in Quebec, but my parents were wise not to let any of it get on me.

Poitine would seem to be French fries with cheese and gravy. I should like to hear the Canadian Heart Association’s take on the dish, as it seems to be comprised of equal quantities of cholesterol, oxidants, and toxins. I am surprised it is not linked to Donald Trump. In an age that views anything other than salad as sin, how has poutine become a star dish? Is it because it is French Canadian, and is therefore excused from any goodness? Is it the culinary version of the Cirque du Soleil?

Well, for me, I shall celebrate Dominion Day with the aforementioned rye highball and something else Canadian enough to do the trick. I am going to get a pound of small fish, split them and roll them in cornmeal, and fry them in Crisco like Fraser River Smelt. Add some PEI potatoes and creamed corn and it will be as close to the True North Strong And Free as you can get in Western Australia. Unless I can gun down an elk on St Georges Terrace.

I may even put up a picture of the current Prime Minister, if I can find the dartboard, eh?

” You’ll End Up Eating Beans “

” You’ll end up eating beans ” was always the go-to threat when I was at school – generally uttered by a teacher predicting a sad life of utter failure if I did not take an interest in whatever they were saying. It had the immediate effect of making me lose both  interest in what they were saying, and respect for them.

You see…I knew the Secret Of The Beans.

I had been initiated into the society of bean eaters early in life. Unlike some children, I was not raised on Heinz Baked Beans as a quick sop to just fill a gap. I did get Heinz, but when I got Heinz they had been supercharged, spiced, and done to perfection. My Heinz were superior beans, and they were just the start. You see, my mother was raised in New Mexico in hard times and beans were an art form.

Mexican beans, Texican beans, Boston Baked Beans, green beans, yellow beans, pinto beans, chickpeas…and there were as many variations of sauces and sides as there were beans. Fresh, canned, dried..we had ’em all and we loved ’em all.

The south of the bean border ones were so potent that the Army used them to clean out the receivers on machine guns. The Boston beans were proper. The green beans were always accompanied by bacon and onions. Beans and rice with cornbread filled all the requirements.

Mexican beans were always a meal that drew us home – the other favourites being sauerkraut or fried smelt. We rarely ate out and never missed it.*

And the Secret Of The Beans? The secret was we loved ’em! They nourished us and comforted us and gave us terrible gas. A long drive in a closed car with the Stein family was a risky proposition for the stranger. You could have a lot of fun guessing who dealt it.

But seriously – beans are a family food that scores high on most dietitian charts. Protein, fibre, taste, energy…you never feel like you have to snack halfway through the evening if dinner was a good bowl of beans.

But back to my teacher’s dire prediction. I have arrived at retirement age and am now rich enough to do as he says – I can afford to eat beans every week. I’m grateful to him for his insight.

*  Even now I eat out less often than my friends do. I like home cooking. Invite me to your house.

If You Don’t Have…

I’ve just seen one of those cooking sites that specifies extra virgin water grown on the slopes of the Gobi desert and kept under magical moonbeams for one of their ” signature ” dishes. I’m left with a number of questions…at least one of them pertinent:

a. What is a ” signature ” dish?

Is it a dish that has been signed? By whom? In what? Ketchup?

Would the bank accept a plate of ravioli at the bottom of a cheque?

Are there people who forge cutlets?

b. I get virgin. Not as often as I might like, but I do understand the concept. Something that has been previously untouched by human hands or any of the other parts. It’s a one-off thing.

But what is extra-virgin? Virgin on steroids? Virgin with attitude? The sort of virgin that marches in protests and yells at the police?

c. Water. It isn’t virgin now and hasn’t been for aeons. Every molecule going has been through something before: an animal gut, a pore, a plant tubule. Some molecules have been through every single Tom Cruise movie…but then you have to sort of admire that.

But all water is experienced. It knows its way around. It might appear in lite beer but not willingly.

It does appear in bullshit…and some cooking sites.

d. I’ve seen pictures of the Gobi desert. It looks like the Simpson desert or the Mojave. Without the taco stands. If you want water in the Gobi you need to order it waaaaay in advance. Like the Pleistocene era.

e. Magical moonbeams. Well thank God we’ve returned to sanity. I was starting to suspect a scam for a while there. No-one who has ever read J. K. Rowlings’ books …or for that matter her bank statement…could ever doubt the power of magic.

For my part, I prefer the recipes that allow some wiggle room in the pan. When they specify shrimp they will equally accept chicken or rat. I do draw a line at the medical advice columns that deal in substitutes, though. The one that said you could substitute wasabi for Murine wised me up.

The Little World – No, It’s The Sets

I have a confession. I build model dioramas. I build model stage sets. I build model photography layouts. I talk about them to other people, even if they patently do not want to listen. In short…

I’m a sets maniac. I setually harass people. I have a sets addiction. And I’m shameless.*

So are the Ardman people. The key to the success of all their productions may well be the milieu – the sets that surround the animated characters. And the key to the sets is the detail. The recent exhibition placed the actual layouts that had been used for production before us in plastic protective cases, but fortunately lit them well enough that the sets fiends amongst us could slaver and tremble as we looked them over.

And what a focus. As you can tell from study of the pictures, the model makers have seen a great deal of English kitchens – every detail in the thing is real. Perhaps a little rounder or a little exaggerated for effect, but the overall ensemble is completely authentic. Look at the British electricity plug – the AGA cooker – the cabinets. You could cook in this set.

You could also send out for Chinese, as the menu on the notice board indicates. You can wash up with the Furry Liquid detergent…though it looks as if there are a few things that would benefit from soaking first…and the whole ensemble is as uncomfortable and inefficient as a proper British kitchen should be.

The real pièce de resistance is the dirt and dilapidation – the whole set could have been made neater and tidier – the walls could have been flat and the door could have been freshly painted and the cooker could have been clean…and we would not have been able to connect half as much as we can to this kitchen. The great artists see the most and the greatest artists reproduce what they see remorselessly.

*Actually, I have a book of plans for small  suburban houses of the 1940’s that I only show to ” special ” visitors, and then only if the window shades are drawn. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…