Wednesday 23 December 2009

I'll take the "Last train to Clarkston"

Or not, because 2 inches of snow fell overnight, and as a result, the trains were "off". Al-Qaeda must be kicking themselves. After years of plotting, infiltration and general subterfuge, turns out a few well placed snow machines is all you really need to bring one of the world's biggest economies to it's knees.

Without trains I couldn't leave the garage. Taxis are too expensive and I just don't understand busses. Since I had to be elsewhere, there wasn't time to fit the new exhaust while I waited. (instead I have put the money in a 'special place' so I can pay for it next year and I am definitely not going to use it to go to Rogano for cocktails, followed by dinner at the Loon Fung, more drinks then onto somewhere ropey till the early hours.... no definitely not... err...). The patient was patched up while I played Santa. Brian's not just a great mechanic, he's a musician too. So the wine's name seemed appropriate.

A Christmas haircut is quickly followed by Christmas shopping at the new Hamleys store, then across the road to Che Camille and it's job done..

My Dad will just have to get in touch with his feminine side this year.

Now, after all that hard work, time for the best bit. This years cocktail - The Negroni - the crack cocaine of cocktails. The snow's still on my boots as I'm mixing them.

The initial investment seems steep... but believe me, you're worth it. Easy peasy to make too. Equal measures of about 1 fl oz each. I prefer Dubonnet but you can use any sweet red vermouth. Pour them into a glass with lots of ice, stir vigorously then pop in a slice or two of orange. Novices may want to top up with tonic water or soda... but it's much better straight.

This is a magical drink. Where there is darkness, it will bring light. No matter what is ailing you, it'll be long forgotten by the time you've finished the glass. One word of warning though... one's just right, but two's never enough... (mmm, now where did I put that money)...

Sunday 20 December 2009

Robbed of My Senses

My cold came back to bite me on the arse... or rather, the nose. For a week I've been unable to smell or taste anything. It's a very strange sensation, losing such a fundamental sense. Smell can trigger so many happy memories, but just try remembering a smell when it's no longer there.
Well, Chinon's more than just a smell, it's a town in the Loire. I'm fairly sure it's still there and it's pretty hard to forget.
The attractive vineyards slope gently towards the enormous nuclear power station by the river. In the local Musee du Vin, nestling among the old wine presses and casks, there's a wax effigy of a local poet proclaiming something utterly bizarre about his 'apres toilette' technique. The chap's name is Rabelais.
So, how much pleasure can a wine I know, from a town I've visited, give without it's bouquet?

Charles Joguet trained as an artist in Paris before returning to the family domain after his fathers death in 1957. 40 years later he went back to painting, by then he'd made a big impact in the region and the domain still carries his name. This 'young vines' cuvee often has a piercing streak of blackcurrant fruit with a whiff of green pepper and a nice, complex, mineral taste. This one probably did, I kept trying to remember what it was like a few weeks back. That bottle had too much sulphur on the nose but tasted great. I've no idea if this one did too. Instead of breathing in sweet vapours, I just kept worrying that my sense of smell would never return, while thinking of Chinon and the extract from Rabelais I'd read in the museum...

"Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf's skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney's bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer's lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains." (Gargantua, 1534)

Rabelais didn't mention quail. I decided to eat mine, smeared with a paste made from allspice, crushed garlic, paprika and lemon juice then roasted... they may have tasted divine, they did last time.

Charles Joguet, Les Petit Roches, Chinon 2007, £9.99 Waitrose... probably worth every penny.

Saturday 12 December 2009


Is it bad form to take a drink when you're ill? A hot toddy used to be part of the cold landscape... along with soup, pills and limited sympathy. Nowadays people seem to struggle through on a diet of lemsips and nightnurse. That can't be right, so I've been experimenting.

This was the exact moment when I realised I had flu. It was a few months back at a Bo-Concept party and had nothing to do with Micky's chat, honest. Despite consuming quite a few excellent cocktails, I felt exactly the same as when I'd arrived... which was distinctly weird. Afterwards, back home, despite my state, I really fancied a glass of something and cracked open this very nice present from Mr Y.

A velvet textured throat caresser whose gorgeous red fruit flavours made for the perfect medicine, somehow transforming the flu into a positive, warming and mildly psychedelic sensation. It was all rather lovely. Much better than Benylin, if a tad more expensive.

Then, a few weeks later, I woke up unable to put any weight on my left foot. If I did, an excruciating pain shot up to my eyeballs. I'm told it could have had something to do with my boots. Men's shoes are going the way of women's, style over substance. I managed to source a prop, it's always best to look the part.

So I lay around drinking poncy Chinese teas and waiting for my body to "heal itself"... but I'm very impatient and something kept calling me from the fridge.

It was just so much better than tea and pain killers. Within a sip I felt better, a few sips later and I was almost back to normal... talking non stop random nonsense to anyone who'd listen. I still couldn't walk, but that no longer seemed to matter.

Right now I've got a stinking cold. I've had a hot water and lime, a tea, several coffees and an egg... but I know there's something in the fridge again and I'm really craving a glass of it. It feels wrong, but why? Bubbly, chalky, sherbety, lemonyness... ice cold to sooth my coughed out throat. I decide to watch 'The Saint' as a distraction...

He's testing a miniature camera by photographing girls bottoms as they dance... you've got to love the 60s. This is proving a most successful diversion, but of course, I've completely forgotten that Simon Templar's Champagne habit was even heavier than John Steed's. The Saint pops his cork, on average, about three times an episode. Sure enough, five minutes after I sit down Mr Templar's calling room service... and I'm sprinting to the fridge.

"I say, a sharp, cheeky young thing that slips down a treat!".

Sunday 6 December 2009

Social Workers Wine

The rain appears to have stopped. The permanent, torrential rain that is. It's just the normal rain now, and the darkness. It'll be grim till March, it always is. Although I don't often listen to Glasvegas, just now, their 'wall of bleak sound' cheers me up no end. Two negatives make a positive perhaps?

Recently a leaflet came through the door explaining where my considerable Council Tax payments go. In first place, fair enough, came Education. Second though was a big surprise, because last year Glasgow spent a staggering £453,657,300 on Social Work. Staff costs alone were £163 million. That's a lot of social workers. So frankly, that Glasvegas lyric is genius.

Social Workers deal with a lot of seriously bad shit, but there are no TV dramas based on them. They're not the subjects of novels, they don't get featured in lifestyle magazines and any publicity tends to be negative. Yet clearly there are tens of thousands of them out there, working for departments with huge budgets. That's a lot of purchasing power and it got me thinking...

Actually, why stop at social workers? What about bin men, sorry, Refuse Disposal Facilitators, traffic wardens (right enough the Beatles gave them a song and it didn't help), undertakers?

And here's the tune that first tapped into such a potentially lucrative market...

Wednesday 2 December 2009

You're Unbelievable

I've mentioned this wine before but fear it may have been undersold. Just to make sure I don't make the same mistake again: this is UNBELIEVABLE value for money.

As the label says, morello cherries, if you don't like them, don't buy it. If you do, or even if you're indifferent, buy it. In fact buy loads of it, because just now M&S are offering 25% off any 6, bringing this one in at the frankly incredible price of £2.99 a bottle.

Tonight it went with Caponata, however, as a result of extensive testing, I can also confirm it goes with: pizza, pasta, crisps, dips, cottage pie, chilli con carne, stuffed vegetables, roast chicken, duck, and mystery fridge stuff on crackers. Cin cin.

One word of caution. M&S do other wines in this range with similar labels. They are definitely NOT in this league.

Friday 27 November 2009

Elixir D'Amour

A few weeks back a very attractive young lady popped this into my pocket as I was leaving her house. I say...

"Tea? From France?... Tea from France?". It sounds like Peter Kay's garlic bread routine and, as a potion, failed miserably, in the admittedly tall order, of making me irresistible. However, I've fallen head over heels for it.

This morning, smiling away as I caressed the packet, I realised there's only about ten cups left. Panic. I dived online and phew, because there they were.

With three shops in Paris and two in Tokyo 'Mariage Freres' stock an incredible range of over 500 teas.

This one's a blend of black tea with flowers and, I think, oil of bergamot. It's incredible. Enveloping, intoxicating, irresistibly exotic. Never mind love, this tea is pure sex.

Friday 20 November 2009

I ain't yellow, I ain't mellow

I've always hated mellow. Even the sound of the word. It's so wet, stoned, passionless. What use is mellow? "This is your Captain speaking, if there are any mellow passengers on board could they please make themselves known to the cabin crew immediately". I don't think so.
But age distorts so many things and the black dog currently nibbling at my shoulder is the terrifying realisation that I'm mellowing. Take this one time Christmas stocking filler.

Written as a series of letters to a daughter just off to university. Snippets of a family's history intertwined with recipes and signed off 'Mummy'. Excruciating. Everything about this book got me ranting and raging. It seemed the embodiment of conceited middle class smugness writ large. Even the title was embarrassing. So it sat in a darkened cupboard for years, in case anyone thought I'd bought it.

I can't remember when exactly, but gradually, bit by bit, I started dipping in. A pasta recipe here, a risotto recipe there. I still couldn't go the 'letters' but it quickly dawned on me that the food was good. Many books claim to reveal family recipes handed down through generations, most are either lying or their family's food must have been a bit shit. This book was the real deal.

It's the subtlety of the tastes that really impresses. Little techniques that impart so much flavour. Combinations that compliment and never overwhelm. Do not be fooled by the apparent simplicity. One of my favourites is 'Poussin with an Orvieto style stuffing'. I eat it once a week. This is all you need. Plus some rosemary.

First bash two unpeeled garlic cloves with a heavy knife. Let them gently fry while chopping the roasting potatoes and fennel bulb.

Pop them into the pan once the garlic is golden. Fry for 10/15 minutes till they colour a bit. I always find they stick, so just before finishing add a little water and scrape up the tasty brown stuff.

Fish out the garlic and add a tablespoon of chopped olives, the dry 'stone in' ones are best, salt and pepper. Stuff the birds, pop in a sprig of rosemary season and rub with a little olive oil.

Into the preheated oven, 220c for 25 minutes. Remove, baste, pour in a glass of white wine and add any left over stuffing to the roasting pan too. Then put everything back in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes. It's divine.

White wine probably suits this dish best, I guess something from Orvieto would make sense. But I fancied red wine.

£7.99 from Sainsbury's. Made utilising a technique developed in Beaujolais to extract all the nice things from the grape and less of the difficult stuff.

It's now used to great effect in the Languedoc when some of the rougher grapes need, err, mellowing. Oh hell, why fight it? I may even try reading those letters.

'Dear Francesca' by Mary Contini
Ebury Press. First published 2002.
If you see it, buy it.
Or just visit her family's original 'Valvona & Crolla', 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh EH7 4AA
Pricey, but by some way the best Italian deli in Scotland.

The poussins came from Sainsbury's: £4.50 for 2.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Waking the Dead

Working till two in the morning meant I was determined to drive in the evening. If I started to droop, an escape would be easier. Persuasive powers and the pop of a cork melted that resolve in minutes. I'm glad.

Tattinger's Prelude was gorgeous. Honeyed praline reviving juice that bundled me into the cab. We drove towards Paisley in the drizzle and finally found the place. A splendid Victorian villa whose owners put their own art in the basement to make way for art to sell. A proportion of the money raised goes to charity.

Best in the sale for me looked like a fucked up Amelia Earhart. Unfortunately my art purchasing fund couldn't stretch to the £5000 asked. Instead I spent more time gazing upon my favourite piece, it wasn't part of the sale, so I felt better coveting it.

Flaking after the taxi back I was given an elixir to sip. This stuff could wake the dead.

Immense mineral refreshment. It's probably wrong, but I like Grand Cru Chablis young, unfortunately my wine purchasing fund rarely stretches to it's asking price either.
Thank you Jo.