A Flask of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
from 'The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam'
I’m a sucker for encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries and all other books which gather bits of information together and catagorise them. I also love cooking, eating and reading about food. So when I saw this on the new books pile in my local library I simply couldn’t resist borrowing it, with, I must admit a view to deciding whether to buy a copy for myself when it came out in paperback.
The Compendium of Nosh by Jack McLean looked as though it would be just my sort of thing. Alas, not. As it says on the jacket blurb, the author is “opinionated, idiosyncratic and completely unreconstructed”. This book told me more about Jack McLean than about anything else, and I’m not sure I am terribly interested in him and his views, certainly not enough to buy the book – and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any of my foodie friends. To give you some idea of the style of writing, and the appalling level of information provided, here are some examples quoted in their entirety:
Darjeeling:This expensive tea is grown in the snowy foothills of the
Knaildlich: These dumplings made from matzo meal are part of a traditional Jewish Passover soup. They are dreadful.
Mulled wine or ale: Wine or beer heated up with sugar and spices. It is traditional at festive occasions and is thoroughly unpleasant.
If you are at all interested in food, its origins, regional differences in foods and how we use ingredients, don’t bother wasting your time on this book. The author, with an arrogance that is breathtaking, styles himself The Urban Voltaire.
A summer picnic (or a winter one for that matter) wouldn't be a proper picnic without a glass or two of wine. And one of the essential items in any picnic kit is a corkscrew, although with the advent of screwcap fixings on wine bottles that isn't quite as vital as it once was. What I will never, never buy - or hope to be served - is a Tulipa, a pre-filled, foil sealed plastic glass of wine. These are the brainchild of a company called Al Fresco who have spent half a million quid "developing the concept". Apparently they are going on sale in the UK in a few months time, priced at £3,75 for a pair. There will be a choice of an Australian red or white wine and a Californian rose.
I can see the clever dick thinking behind this "... imagine that you are going out for a picnic, and you've forgotten the wine, corkscrew, wineglasses. Just pop into a convenient branch of XYZ Boozers Ltd and pick up a double pack of Tulipas" This is a truly ghastly idea and begs so many questions - When will the wine be poured into the glasses? what processes will be needed to foil-seal the glasses, how long will they sit around on a shelf waiting to be sold?
I am not particularly reknowned for my Green credentials, but even I can see that this cannot be an environmentally friendly concept. The "glasses" are plastic and not reusable, the foil seal makes for more waste, and the packaging/production process must use energy rather than conserve it. How much simpler, cheaper, and more eco-friendly to simply open a bottle of wine and pour it into glasses - or mugs, or ladies shoes - whatever fancy takes you.
And how much better it will taste - and after all, that is really the point of drinking wine in the first place.
As part of my current belt-tightening regime, I am determined that no food is to be wasted. Lurking at the bottom of the fruit bowl were four apples, no longer crisp and looking rather unappetising, so I decided to use them together with some rather squashy tomatoes, a head of winter celery which was languishing in the fridge and an onion to make soup. This is a recipe I stumbled across years ago, I can't remember where, and it is ever so easy. It is low-fat, low calorie (if you leave out any garnish of cream!) and yet sophisticated enough for a special dinner - and it makes my halo positively glow when I consider the virtue of frugality!
400g onion, roughly chopped
400g apples, roughly chopped (do not bother topeel or core the apples)
400g celery, roughly chopped
400g tomatoes, quartered (do not skin the tomatoes)
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & Pepper
Melt the butter in a big pan and sauté the onion until soft and golden. Add all the other chopped ingredients. Pour in enough stock to cover the vegetables and bring to the boil, simmer gently for about 30 minutes until all is very soft and almost collapsing into the liquid. Using a hand-held blender (or a food processor) whizz everything together until no lumps remain. Pour the soup through a sieve to remove all the coarse fibres of skin, apple core, celery strings, tomato pips etc.
Add the remaining stock and season to taste.
Serve piping hot with a very thin slice of apple floating on the surface as a garnish, and a thin swirl of pouring cream.
Melba toast is great with this.