milking it

I was brought up in a time before coffee shops.

Well, not entirely before coffee shops, but certainly before the global phenomenon of American chains with their skinny ventis, Americanos, and tall decaf drips.

There were tea shops in my childhood – both independents and the ubiquitous ABCs; and I have fond memories of Saturday afternoons spent in the Kardomah in Nottingham. But children were given nursery tea, while coffee was a drink for adults; even then, it was as likely to be Maxwell House as anything. (Our kitchen did have a bottle of Camp Coffee tucked away, but although I remember the intense smell of chicory of the inky brown liquid, I think it was only brought out to make coffee cakes, not to serve as a drink for guests.)
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the joy of spuds

I lived for many years in Spain and I don’t remember ever having a discussion about potatoes. In the UK, though, I’ve discovered that they are a perfectly valid topic for conversation.

Back in the day, there was a joke about the girl potato whose father forbade her to marry Eamonn Andrews – presenter of Sports Report on BBC’s Light Programme – because he was “only a commentator.”
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something for the journey

I have always enjoyed travelling. Not necessarily because I want to get somewhere in particular, but for the simple joy of the journey: the “time between places” when, particularly if you travel alone and on public transport, you can duck out of life and be someone else entirely.

Chance encounters in the buffet car, casual conversations that crop up between complete strangers, momentary glimpses of other people’s lives, things seen from train windows – and, as in the photo above, sometimes even the trains themselves in their festive glad rags.
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food for thought

IKEA catalogue cover
With their pristine kitchens and artfully messy family rooms, IKEA homes always make me feel inadequate. Somehow the simple storage solutions aren’t enough to help me keep my house in order, though I admit that’s my problem, not theirs.

Still, there doesn’t seem much hope that spending a small fortune on stackable storage units and designer drawers will improve matters, so when I picked up a copy of the catalogue, rather than thumbing through and compiling a wish-list, I stopped to ponder the cover, which in itself provides a host of images to question and wonder at.
newspaper cones & flower pots  on the IKEA catalogue cover
Firstly, there’s the mystery on the top shelf: what on earth are those little newspaper cones?

Are they purely decorative? Are they an unfinished children’s school project – miniature Christmas trees, perhaps, waiting to be painted green? Are they paper cloches keeping seeds in the dark? (If so, wouldn’t they just collapse when watered?)

Bottled onions  on the IKEA catalogue cover

Then there are all those Kilner jars. Well, OK, they’re from IKEA, so they are Korken, not Kilner, but it’s much the same thing.

But what are they being used for? Those onions aren’t pearl onions, the tiny white ones I associate with pickling; they’re too big even to be shallots; so why have they been put in jars? They should surely be hanging in the shed with the air circulating to keep them dry and fresh over the winter.

Bottled lemons  on the IKEA catalogue cover

Bottling lemons seems quite reasonable in comparison. Except I thought you bottled them in brine or vinegar or sugar syrup. It’s all very well having an air-tight seal on the jar, but unless the fruit or veg is submerged in some kind of liquid, I don’t think it’ll keep.

Then there are all those unlabelled bottles on the bottom shelves: is that jewel-bright liquid raspberry cordial or home-made wine? In this family-friendly environment – is it family-friendly with all those heavy glass jars within easy reach of little hands? – I suspect the former.

And don’t get me started on the carrots. There are two full shelves of carrots in jars as well as the great crate-full under the trolley on the left. My mother used to say that eating my carrots would make my hair curl; it seems to have been more successful for the little girl in the picture than it was for me.

Bottled parsnips  on the IKEA catalogue cover They say fine words butter no parsnips, but, fine words or not, IKEA apparently bottle them. And turnips, too, judging from the pile on the table. (I assume the mother has just dashed out to get another hundred pounds worth or so of jars. I hope there’s an adult in the house to keep an eye on that child – after all, a trip to IKEA takes a minimum of half a day even if you only go for one thing.)

I do know about preserving soft fruits and vegetables, but it had never occurred to me that root vegetables should be bottled. IKEA seem to think they should be: carrots, turnips, parsnips… but no swedes. I wonder why.

a little bit of this…

bread label (spanish)

One of the basic foods that I miss when in Spain is bread.

They do eat plenty of bread here, but it’s mostly white – a sort of faux baguette – and has no more flavour than I would expect from cotton wool or cardboard.

Other than the incredibly expensive pan artesano on sale in the village square some Saturdays, there is, however, one type of bread here that I like.

Since I buy it at the cut-price supermarket, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s cooked from frozen dough rather than made on the premises. It’s labelled as pan 6 cereales – six cereal bread. I was a little taken aback, though, when I read the ingredients list more closely: Continue reading “a little bit of this…”

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