Friday 29 January 2010

How to drink wine...

My friend Niven demonstrates the fine art of wine appreciation.

The wine, Le Petit Caboche, comes from Yapp via mail order and is a superb quaffer.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Freddy Plays Guitar

I've always been fond of inanimate objects. As a child I could form quite close relationships with stuff I'd find out playing... unusual stones, bizarre ornaments and interesting pieces of wood. It didn't get as serious as a 'conversation'... but I may have occasionally spoken to them. It's probably a good thing I grew out of it, but to this day, I still love objects that come with stories.

Take this jar of pickled onions. Brought round by my parents friends Fred and Linda to go with some cheese. Fred's originally from Ross on Wye, just across the Welsh border, cider country, and he prunes a mean apple tree. He's also an accountant. Linda's financial too. I've known them since I was a kid, but that's more or less all I knew about them... until two weeks ago in Wales.

Over dinner... actually before dinner, during dinner and for quite a long time after dinner... we drank too much wine. The chat flowed too. Turns out, in the early 70s Fred worked for Huntsman, the very exclusive Savile Row tailor, as bill chaser to Royalty and some of the eras biggest stars.

Linda used to hang out with the largely forgotten, then huge, Badfinger. Clearly, in the parlance of the times, these kids were rather groovy.

Well, it turns out, one evening at some hip Soho night spot, a young Fred, fresh from rugby practice, got chatting to a very nice young man at the bar. The nice young man made him a proposition...

Which Fred says he declined... Yes, in about 1971, Fred knocked back David Bowie. A year later Ziggy Stardust came out.

So, Bowie never got his hands on Freddy's onions... but I did. We forgot to eat them with the cheese, so I brought them back to Glasgow. In return, here's a song that definitely was written for you Fred... and, by the way, your onions are lovely.

Friday 22 January 2010

Mash and Thrash

I first tasted Brandade de Morue sitting opposite the Roman Amiptheatre in Nimes. Pretentious, moi? How good could some sloppy salt cod and mash potato be? Erm, unbelievably was the answer. Of course the setting helped. The atmosphere too, heady with anticipation of a bullfight in the 2,000 year old arena. Provence claims the dish, but it was those clever Basques who gave the Med salt cod.

I've had Brandade since, even tried making it a few times. It was never much good. Then, last Saturday, popping into Lupe Pintos for some Crystal Hot Sauce, I spied this hunk of top notch salt cod. It's a good shop for oddities and they play some great music while you're browsing.

Served with roasted vegetables and spring greens. Really good, not quite as good as in Nimes, but I'll definitely make it again. Maybe as the topping for a posh fish pie? Drank a bottle of 'hard to find but worth the effort' Picpoul de Pinet. It comes from the Languedoc, which is more or less Provence, costs £7.49 in Waitrose, and was a perfect match.

Less of a perfect match was the evenings entertainment. After a substantial dinner, went to see Comanechi in a packed Captain's Rest.

The Brandade recipe calls for an entire bulb of garlic. That really helped clear a way through the crowd to a decent vantage point. Amusingly, Akiko spent a lot of time moaning about an enormous curry, made by someone from the other band DIVORCE, that she'd eaten just before the gig. "I feel aw stuffied up", she said, in her sexy Japanese accent. I sympathised... with both of them.

Comanechi were great and according to Eric Ledford's review in The Skinny: "...the duo deconstruct the foundations of rock with desperate abandon, alternating between skeletal riffage and effects-drenched spheres of chaos" ... pretentious, moi?

Friday 15 January 2010

The Wine Splodge Exercise Plan

It feels like it's time to address the weeks of over eating and drinking, but I'm not big on resolutions. Too much pressure, too much commitment. Far better to have a notion and drift into it. So my notion this year is to get a bit fitter. It shouldn't be too hard given my starting position, but it's not the first time I've tried.

The problem last time was method. My attempts at yoga reduced onlookers to hysterics. I sweat just thinking about gyms, my eyes react badly to chlorine and my bike's long gone. Eventually I settled on jogging, reasoning that I'd get fit while the evenings were still dark and be less of a sight by the summer. Unfortunately, it wasn't dark enough... mothers would grab their children close at my pounding approach and I decided to quit before getting arrested. Actually, their reaction may have had something to do with the trainers. Sports 'gear' is a very good reason to never do sport.

This year though, I've cracked it. It's a stick then carrot approach.

This is the conventional route to The Doublet from my flat. It's one of the few 'traditional' boozers left in the West End, in as much as a pub founded in 1962 sporting a vaguely Alpine themed decor can be.

My breakthrough came with a little route adjustment...

At a fast pace this works a treat and you really work up a thirst. The advantage of The Doublet is that I never fancy staying too long. The place is so brightly lit it must have burnt its own little hole in the ozone layer and frankly, that lighting isn't doing the regulars any favours. So it's one delicious pint of draft Cruzcampo lager - fine bubbled salty tanged refreshment - to replenish my carbohydrates then back home for supper. Job done and so enjoyable that I'll need to take care not to become one of those 'exercise addicts'.

Friday 8 January 2010

New Years Eve... hazily remembered.

Lining up the troops..


Tasting notes stopped making any sense from about here....

Monday 4 January 2010

Festive Carry On

Christmas and Hogmanay were rather splendid this year.


My love affair with old machinery ended this Christmas Eve on the hard shoulder between the M6 and the M62. The RAC got us off the motorway to a siding by a land fill site... "You'll be fine here, they're not working tonight. Recovery lorry should be here soon". How soon? "About an hour". Tell us the truth, we can take it. "Well, could be nearer two". It was.

We hadn't been there long when a car pulled in beside us. It lingered then left. Soon after a van pulled in. I became paranoid we were in some Lancashire dogging hotspot and uttered the immortal line... "Quick, start acting normal"... You should try it, in the dark, on Christmas Eve, next to a landfill site. I pretended to read my tattered road atlas, then panicked that this act might be some sort of secret dogging code. I was only able to think of one other 'normal' activity, so got out of the car 'to stretch my legs'.... immediately plunging knee deep into a slushy hole. From inside the car I could hear "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time" playing on the radio for the 44th time that day.

A succession of drivers called Dave, Nige and Paul took us between service stations, depots and places even locals probably don't know exist.

We picked up someone called Tom from Southport who'd also broken down. Together, on an industrial estate built among the remnants of a World War Two airbase outside Stafford, we watched Stephen Fry cross America without breaking down.

Judging from the sound emitted, I'd say I was the first person to EVER ask for a tea without milk or sugar in the Birmingham Egertons depot. But they obliged.

Our final driver was a bruiser of a guy with a penchant for smoking and Cher. We hurtled towards Wales through freezing fog and black ice to the sound of 'If I Could Turn Back Time'... you couldn't make it up. At five past midnight, amid flashing lights and warning alarms, we made our discreet arrival.

This time the cliche was true. Never has a drink tasted so good...

The wine came from Tanners. It's still a baby and tasted immortal.
The native oysters were bought from Vin Sullivan and tasted divine.

UPDATE: Should probably have mentioned the problem with the car was that one of the wheel bearings went... nothing to do with the exhaust. Age is alas taking it's toll on my 'future classic'.