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This year, both our fruit trees gave us delightful produce, despite pest problems.

Aphid removal follow-up

At the end of May, our dwarf cherry (Stella) had aphids on top. My gentle soap and water wash worked. Whilst the leaves with the infestation withered, the fruit continued to grow and ripen.

The gooseberry tree, a standard, necessitated aphid removal by carefully wiping the top of the fruit with the corner of a dry paper towel. This was not the easiest operation, particularly as gooseberry trees and shrubs have spiky thorns.

(Photo credit: Ornamental Trees UK)

Gooseberries

Our red gooseberry tree is in its third year of production. It gave us fruit in its first summer, only months after I planted it.

In 2013, we had 100g of gooseberries. Last year, 300g. In 2015, our harvest amounted to 685g, enough for three gooseberry crumbles! I was able to pick the berries in late June, early July and over the past weekend.

For those who have not tried gooseberries before, they are tart and delicious. They are a traditional English fruit. That said, one of my father’s cousins remembered gooseberry pie as standard at a café in America’s Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet, I’d never heard of them until I moved to the UK.

They freeze well. Top and tail them before putting them in a bag and tucking them away for later. A gooseberry tart or crumble in winter is a delightful reminder of summer.

Some people prefer making jam or chutney, both of which go well with grilled mackerel fillets. The tartness cuts through the fish’s oiliness.

Gooseberries are increasingly hard to find at supermarkets and greengrocers. Most of what is on offer is the green variety. I recently saw red gooseberries online priced at £4.50 for 50g! The tree cost under £10 — I’m quids in!

A gooseberry standard takes up only a square metre of space and is well worth planting, especially since they yield fruit in the first year. I planted mine in November. They come with a bare root, so will require plenty of all-purpose compost.

They require very little maintenance. I give mine some fertiliser in the spring and away it goes.

Cherries

After two years of waiting for cherries, this year our dwarf produced 110g — 15 fruits.

They are large, dark and sweet — just the way I like them.

Buying the dwarf tree was a bit controversial. My better half said they were troublesome to grow: a long wait for fruit (true) and limited lifespan (several years at most). We’ll see. I am considering transplanting it to another part of the garden in September so it has more room. Removal of another tree has opened up a new space.

Ordering advice

Make sure fruit trees are described as ‘self fertile’ before ordering. A catalogue or online display will state this.

Herbs and garlic

In other news, our herbs are having a particularly good season.

Our garlic harvest is imminent. We can hardly wait!

Our tomato and cucumber plants are coming along slowly.

It’s really worthwhile planting something edible in the garden, even where space is limited. Not only does it save money but it is also intriguing to watch the plants grow, flower and produce fruit.

Wedding bands ehowcomNorman and Joyce Johnson celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a few days ago in July 2015.

The two grew up in the same area of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and met early in adolescence.

Joyce was quite taken by Norman. When she found out he was attending night school, she, too, enrolled, although they took different courses.

They were married during the Second World War. Norman requested weekend leave. The ceremony took place on Saturday, and Norman returned on Sunday night.

He was among those safely evacuated from Dunkirk. In his pocket was a photo of Joyce which he’d wrapped in a 100,000 Deutsche Mark banknote to protect it.

Amazingly, although he had to swim to the rescue boat, the banknote and photo survive to this day.

After the war, Norman worked for the English Steel Corporation. Joyce took in laundry.

They have two daughters, Carol and Sue, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Although they went through the same life experiences as any other couple of their time, Joyce said:

we lived happily ever after.

Norman explained:

the secret to a long and happy marriage was ‘being easy-going with each other’.

He said: “I can honestly say we’ve never fallen out. We’ve been very happy indeed.

“We’ve done very well really.”

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Let’s take a few pages out of their marital notebook!

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was christened at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham on July 5, 2015.

The newest member of Britain’s Royal Family wore a replica of the christening gown Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal, also named Victoria, had in 1841. The original is too fragile to be worn.

The Duchess of Cambridge borrowed the pram used by Queen Elizabeth for her children.

Prince George was dressed similarly to his father Prince William when the latter was his age: red shorts and a white shirt with red ornamentation across the chest.

The Daily Telegraph has an excellent set of photos from the day.

The paper also has a diary of events and personalities which is well worth reading.

Rain did not deter a huge crowd from gathering on ‘the paddock’ — public area — outside the church. Some had travelled from the United States. Eighty-year old Terry Hutt made a cross-country journey from Somerset to Norfolk for the occasion. He had also camped out at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington (London) awaiting Charlotte’s birth nine weeks ago.

By the time the ceremony began, summer sunshine abounded.

The Lily Font was used for the first time since 1841. It was created for the Princess Royal Victoria that year. A Kensington Palace tweet explained that the decorations on the font — lilies, water lilies and ivy — represent ‘purity and new life’. The Lily Font is part of the Crown Jewels collection at the Tower of London. A matching ewer was also used. It contained water from the River Jordan.

The Telegraph listed the order of service (see 16:30 entry):

Kensington Palace has released details of the order of service.

The Duke and Duchess have chosen two hymns, Praise to the Lord, The Almighty and Come Down, O Love Divine.

The lesson is from Matthew 18, verses 1-5, read by James Meade.

The anthems are I Will Sing With The Spirit and God Be In My Head, both by John Rutter.

Members of The Sandringham Church Choir are singing at the service.

The processional organ music is R. Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on “Rhosymedre”.

The recessional organ music is G. F. Handel’s Overture and Allegro from Concerto VIII in A.

Matthew 18:1-5 reads as follows:

Who Is the Greatest?

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,

The Archbishop of Canterbury, James Welby, performed the baptism — assisted by the Rev Canon Jonathan Riviere, Rector of the Sandringham group of parishes — and gave the sermon (see 17:41 entry). The Archbishop said (in part):

It seems that different forms of ambition are hard wired into almost all of us. At a baptism our ambitions are rightly turned into hopes and prayers for the child, today for Princess Charlotte. Everyone wants something for their children. At our best we seek beauty, not necessarily of form, but of life.

In the reading from Matthew 18, Jesus is trying to turn one kind of ambition, an ambition for place and prestige, into an ambition for a beautiful life. To be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, he tells his very pushy disciples, is not about position but about beauty of life, a life that looks like his, and his example is someone unimportant in those days, a child …

Such beauty of character begins with baptism, and is established in the habits of following and loving Jesus Christ, habits to be learned from parents and God parents, and the whole community of the church.

Let us pray that the Princess grows up to be a model of faith and practice.

A private tea was held afterward at Sandringham. It included the sharing of the top tier of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding cake. This is a heartwarming British tradition. As our wedding cakes are heavy fruit cakes, they keep well, particularly with fondant and royal icing!

Following up briefly on my recent criticism of sexist language, particularly in BBC2’s Chefs on Trial, the remaining eight episodes of the show aired in June 2015.

The show’s presenter, Alex Polizzi, a very successful female British hotelier and entrepreneur, couldn’t stop calling the male contestants ‘darling’.

Yet — yet — she certainly had a go at one of the prospective chefs interviewing at Amélie’s in Porthleven, Cornwall. When asked about his dish by the restaurant’s female proprietor, he called her ‘love’ during his explanation.

Polizzi jumped in and gave this guy a piece of her mind. After he returned to the kitchen, she expressed her incredulity as to how a male job candidate had the brass neck to call his potential employer ‘love’.

In principle, she’s right.

Yet — yet — she called all the candidates ‘darling’ throughout the week, including the offending candidate!

She continued with this appalling behaviour in the final four episodes of the show which featured the Indian restaurant Potli in London.

Double standards — sexist ones — seem acceptable for Polizzi. Is it because she comes from the wealthy Forte family? Did she consider the male applicants as little people who were beneath her?

I found her broad smile particularly brittle and artificial. To make it worse, sometimes she came across as coldly paternal, at others, gently maternal. In the final episode at Potli, she bluntly announced that one of the three finalists would be eliminated after the first course, then asked, ‘Is that okay?’ As if anyone could have — or would have — objected!

The juxtaposition of these mixed messages in her manner were offputting and started overshadowing the programme, which was very well made. One couldn’t help but wish all the candidates all the best in their careers.

Advice for Ms Polizzi: address others in the way you would like to be addressed. If you’re going to call men you don’t know ‘darling’, don’t be surprised when they call a woman they don’t know ‘love’.

Recently, we spent a lovely holiday in the south of France.

One thing that struck both SpouseMouse and me was the proliferation of people staring at their digital devices. Now that mobile connections are available on flights from start to finish, some people were attached to their screens from boarding to landing.

While we were there I ran across an article which warned about today’s obsession with non-stop digital connection, especially at mealtime. (I’ve already posted about a French etiquette expert who says that mobile devices are not invited to the table, where good food and conversation take pride of place.) The article reported on a study that showed social interaction, empathy and conviviality declined severely when dining partners continued checking messages, texting and surfing.

Nearly a year ago, I read an article on digital addiction in the French newsweekly Marianne: ‘Chéri(e), lâche ton portable!’ (‘Darling, put down your mobile!’) which appeared in the 25 – 31 July 2014 issue on pages 18 – 21. Highlights follow.

All too real cartoons

Marianne featured three tragicomic cartoons by way of illustration.

The main one showed four people sitting together in silence on their mobiles (pp 18-19):

Man No. 1: Hello. My name is Philippe and I’m a mobile telephone addict. (Tap, tap)

Man No. 2: Hello, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

Woman: Hello, Philippe :) (Tap, tap)

Man No. 3: Hi, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

The second had a couple in bed with the husband responding to a message (p. 20):

Wife: It’s your mistress.

Husband: Not at all … It’s the office …

Wife: No … Your iPhone is your mistress …

The third shows a multi-storey house with dialogue coming from the uppermost room (p. 21):

Once again you’ve taken the side of the bed where you can get a connection!

The problem

A Frenchwoman, Carol, told Marianne that her boyfriend receives audible notifications of messages at all hours (pp. 18-19):

He sleeps with his phone; he wakes up with his phone. During the night it’s ‘ding, ding, ding!’ on the phone, on the computer and on the tablet.

Portable devices have become the adult version of cuddly toys or security blankets. Seventy-four per cent of the French say they never leave the house without them! That gem comes from an Ipsos survey taken in 2013 for Google (pp. 19, 21).

Furthermore, people are using their phones and tablets as escape routes from boring conversations (p. 19).

Even worse, the article says that a survey done in England showed that 62% of women use their smartphones during sexual intercourse (p. 20)!

Marianne interviewed one phone addict who was slowly realising that he has a phone problem. Business school student Jean-Manuel, aged 22, said (p. 20):

I no longer wait for my phone to vibrate; I look at it all the time. Even when I’m having a phone conversation, I hold it away from my face so that I can glance at the screen. I’m never separated from it.

During my student trip to Budapest, I was constantly on WhatsApp to communicate with my girlfriend who was in France. As it was non-stop, I turned down invitations to parties and missed moments of conviviality with the other students … I couldn’t even appreciate my mates who came to visit me.

Whilst travelling, I went to McDonald’s rather than to traditional restaurants just for the Wifi. It was horrible.

Online games are also an issue. Stéphanie Bertholon is a psychologist and cofounder of the Centre de traitment du stress et de l’anxiété in Lyon. She has a patient who prefers to play Candy Crush rather than put his daughter to bed at night. He realised (p. 20):

it gave him a rather pitiful picture of himself as a father …

Yet:

he is completely dependent [on the phone].

Let’s hope that, one year on, he is on the road to recovery.

Two researchers who have been studying phone addicts’ behaviour — sociologist Francis Jauréguiberry and anthropologist Jocelyn Lachance — have found, independently of each other (p. 21):

– No digital addict will make a clean break with a portable device. Although digital addicts talk about it, not one has done it yet.

– No corporate executive is ever completely disconnected.

– Rather than turning off, digital users tend to get more involved with their devices over time. Mastery of applications becomes increasingly more important to them.

Lachance, the anthropologist, indicated that loved ones can become co-dependents in this behaviour:

It’s not work that encourages [the addict] to stay connected. Friends and family cannot admit that they can no longer interact with these people.

Strangely:

The ultimate argument [for staying connected] is death. ‘What if something happens to him?’ ‘What if something happens to us?’

Who will know — and when?

Practical solutions

With summer holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to try to break the habit of being online all the time. Marianne‘s interviewees offered the following suggestions (p. 21).

Jean-Manuel, the aforementioned student: When you’re having drinks with friends, everyone has to put his mobile in the middle of the table. The first one who cracks and reaches for his phone has to buy the next round of drinks … Okay, fine, but we stopped playing that game. It made everyone too nervous.

Stéphanie Bertholon, the psychologist: First thing: I recommend stopping notification of messages. Then, before taking your smartphone to the beach, ask: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Above all, it’s about discarding a ritual in order to control your behaviour.

Another suggestion — especially good for parents and other family elders to impose — comes from Sabine Lochmann, director general for BPI Group, mother of three and wife of 25 years (emphasis mine):

On holiday, my husband and I pay fines if we work or talk about work. Our eldest daughter is in charge of the kitty. And when we all spend time together, I ask everyone to lay down their ‘arms’, meaning portable phones, and put them in a basket when they enter the house.

It was shocking to see so many airline passengers on our return flight from Nice to London using these smartphones and tablets non-stop. They even missed the beauty of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and the Esterel (the Alpes-Maritimes nearest the coast). I’ve seen both several times on take-off; such natural beauty never fails to captivate. I could not believe the number of people who preferred gazing at a tiny glowing screen!

Conclusion

Parents and grandparents should not hesitate to ask — demand — that mobile devices be left behind or put in a basket during family gatherings. And, unless there is something urgent (i.e. doctor on call), they should stay put until the end of the meal or party.

Let’s recapture the lively art of conversation! What better time to start than during summer holiday?

At the beginning of June 2015, the Belz sect of Hasidic Jews in London issued instructions that their women were not to drive cars.

In fact, Belz rabbis said that mothers would be prohibited from dropping their children off at the sect’s schools starting in August. The Jewish Chronicle reported:

According to the letter — which was signed by leaders from Belz educational institutions and endorsed by the group’s rabbis — there has been an increased incidence of “mothers of pupils who have started to drive” which has led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our institutions”.

They said that the Belzer Rebbe in Israel, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, has advised them to introduce a policy of not allowing pupils to come to their schools if their mothers drive.

Whilst this is serious — more about which below — the head rabbi of the Belz sect, Belzer Rebbe (his title), gave these instructions to female adherents in 2014:

“You should shave your entire head and not leave even one single strand of hair,” Rokeach thundered.

“You should not eat at a home in which the woman does not shave her head because the food is not kosher,” Rokeach added.

Rokeach also prohibited women from applying makeup.

“The only makeup that is allowed is that of a natural color, and any eye makeup is prohibited,” the rabbi said during his speech.

The rabbi said that women should not use any perfume.

Rokeach did not forget to attack women’s shoes. 

“You should not wear any shoes that make noise while walking, as noisy shoes was the reason God destroyed ancient Israel,” he said.

It is difficult to know whether that is a satire. However, an anonymous commenter wrote that the rabbi is in competition with others to make sure one of them is the most observant — ‘frum’ — as ‘kosher’ refers to food laws. Emphases mine:

This time you are exaggerating,
I have the letter in front of me. What he actually did was put all the rules in writing. Belzer women have been shaving their heads for years and years as do all women from Hungarian, Galitzianer and Yerushalmer Chassidus. Only Russian Chassidus does not do this. He said that this is perferable and no hair should be sticking out of their tichel. If they need to wear a shaitel they should also wear a hat or headband on top so that it is obvious that it is a shaitel … for the word loud regarding the shoes, he meant not noisy but loud colors that attract attention. What bothers the women is that all of a sudden clothing that was permissible for their mothers and grandmothers became forbidden, as for makeup this was always his rule, he just never was strict about it but all of this was taught in his girl’s schools for years
You need to be accurate and not go overboard even though you and most others find his “takonos” ridiculous. Don’t forget he is in competition with his brothers in laws the Vizhnitzer Rebbes, The satmer Aharonis and Skver as to who can be the frummest!

However, another controversy in the Hasidic community arose in London — once again in 2014. Stamford Hill’s Shomrim group help to patrol the area. Posters suddenly appeared telling women on what side of the street they should walk (photo courtesy of the London Evening Standard via Twitter) . The Shomrim reaction was that the public overreacted:

Chaim Hochhauser from the Stamford Hill Shomrim group, whose Jewish volunteers support policing in the area, said …

Everyone knows this story has blown everything out of proportion. I have spoken to the organisers of the parade – they have apologised [for the signs]. They did not think it would get so public. It was just a misunderstanding.”

Thankfully, this did go public. A 26-year old filmmaker Sam Aldersley put up signs saying:

WOMEN

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO WALK WHEREVER YOU WANT ..

IT’S 2014

Stamford Hill West councillor for Hackney, Rosemary Sales, deemed the Shomrim posters ‘unacceptable’ and Hackney Council removed them.

However, Sam Aldersley’s posters telling women to walk freely through the borough were also taken down (see the photo of the young boy on a bicycle). He would have said the posters were up for a Torah procession which, for some sects, demands a segregation of the sexes.

That said, are private citizens allowed to dictate how the public byways may be used —  where people can walk — even in religious processions? It seems unlikely. Why did Hackney not see this sooner?

Now back to the driving controversy. Not all Hasidic — or mainstream Orthodox — communities forbid their women to drive. The Jewish Chronicle explains:

One Stamford Hill rabbi said that it had “always been regarded in Chasidic circles as not the done thing for a lady to drive”.

But although some Chasidic sects discourage women from driving, others such as Lubavitch have no such policy. The wives of some senior non-Chasidic strictly Orthodox rabbis drive.

One local woman said that the policy “disables women. The more kids they have, the more they need to drive.” But she believed that some women would take no notice of the policy. “They say one thing, they do another,” she said.

A Briton writing for the Daily Kos adds that there is a practical basis for Hasidic women to drive:

Stamford Hill is, well, hilly. It is built on part of the escarpment of the Thames’ river valley and as such is quite steep. For mothers with large families, the use of a car eases the burden of taking children to school, especially if the children’s ages mean they go to several different schools or nurseries (kindergarten) or to separate boys’ and girls’ schools.

Some of us will wonder how the women obtained permission from their husbands to get a driving licence in the first place. Now, all of a sudden, it’s forbidden. Hmm. There’s a story here. When an update is available, it will appear here.

At the moment, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said any move to ban women drivers would be illegal.

Some readers might say, ‘This is a Jewish problem’. No, it is not. It is a universal issue of faith. If some are reminded of the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia, they would not be wrong. More mainstream Jews have objected to the Belz ban on women drivers.

I bring this story to Christian attention to warn against the dangers of insularity and extreme views. May we not fall into the same trap.

I have said in the past that a great danger faces Christians in that we are easily slipping into the mores and legalism of our brethren of other world faiths. Let’s look more closely before we then refuse to leap.

More on the prohibition of Belz women drivers:

‘London Rabbis run women off the road’ – Daily Beast

‘Orthodox Jewish school that bans women from driving seeks state funding’ – The Hackney Citizen

‘Minister to investigate …’ – Daily Mail

‘Orthodox Jewish Hasidic sect ‘bans’ women from driving to school’ – Evening Standard

‘Ministers probe Orthodox Jewish sect’s ‘bid to stop women driving to school’ – Evening Standard

On May 21, 2015, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his thoughts on faith-based charity.

The Telegraph reported:

Faith groups are now filling a “huge gap” in British life occupied by the state until the financial crisis and onset of austerity forced a rethink, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said churches, mosques, temples synagogues and other religious organisations had stepped in “in a most extraordinary way” over the past seven years.

Until the 20th century, charity was paramount. The welfare state didn’t exist.

Two thoughts:

First, it is natural that a religious person will want to give to help those in need. Why should this surprise a senior cleric?

Secondly, Welby seems to favour a bloated state welfare system. That is most disappointing.

It is only sensible that recipients of state aid — the dole — view it as temporary.

Possibly, just possibly, if we lessened the welfare budget gradually during times of recovery, we would have more people taking personal responsibility seriously and improving the lifestyle choices they make. Reflecting carefully rather than acting impulsively is one which comes to mind.

Relying on charity rather than the state is a tried-and-true tradition borne out through the centuries. Furthermore, less tax from all of us would no doubt result in a further increase in charitable giving to help those who really need it.

Food Republic — an eclectic site for people who enjoy dining — interviewed the British restaurant critic A A Gill in May 2015.

Gill is someone one either respects or loathes in equal measure.

I quite enjoy his reviews, especially his acerbic wit.

Absence of French classics

He told Food Republic something with which I can deeply empathise (emphases mine):

I sometimes just take stock and think, what is it that I’m missing? Because I eat everything, and I eat everywhere. And what is it that I haven’t had for a bit, that I’m missing. And the thing that I miss most now is classic French restaurant food. Bourgeois food, haute cuisine. And nobody’s making it in France, or very few people …

I really miss the French food that most of those of my generation who grew up loving food and being interested in food — that was where we started. And it’s very difficult to find … now.

Hear, hear.

Gill is around my age. When we were growing up, the big middle class family restaurant experience was eating classic French food. It didn’t happen often, at least in my family, and was reserved for once-in-a-lifetime occasions. Dad saved up and Mum chose the restaurant.

I don’t recall the ‘heavy sauces’ that so many complain about. I doubt if those people ever set foot in a French restaurant. That’s just another cliché spouted by those who know no better.

Gill is right to say that few restaurants in France feature elegant classics of Escoffier’s era.

French food has gone global. They even have food trucks now. Recently, they had national — wait for it — burger week! Whatever next?

World’s ‘best’ restaurants?

What compounds the problem, especially for French classics, are notional global best restaurant designations.

The most recent appeared on June 1, 2015: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The Telegraph reported:

The avant-garde Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has won back the World’s Best Restaurant crown.

The restaurant in Girona is owned by three brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi – and is famed for cutting-edge, playful dishes that still pay homage to classic Catalan cooking.

Hmm. I’ve eaten Catalan cooking in Barcelona. Classic Catalan cuisine is succulent roast kid, suckling pig and beautifully grilled prawns.

Have a look at the photograph accompanying The Telegraph article. It’s clearly some sort of molecular cuisine.

A gushing review in the paper from October 2014 proves it — and has accompanying photographs:

After more than a dozen courses, and almost as many glasses of wine, my tasting notes had become somewhat perfunctory. “Pig – delicious” was all I could manage for what was perhaps my favourite dish; “all the prawn” was the enigmatic description of another; while some had vanished from the record books altogether. With pork disguised as fish, ceviche hidden beneath the frozen face of tiger, and puddings that pulsate, it’s easy to get lost in the moment at a place like El Celler de Can Roca.

There’s more. After pre-prandials and amuse-bouches:

An “autumn vegetable stock” came next, cooked with the sort of precision you expect from the disciples of molecular gastronomy (“80 degrees for three hours”). It was crystal clear, with an unusual, almost gelatinous consistency, and bursting with 10 or more individually distinguishable flavours.

To follow was perhaps the most eye-catching dish – Leche de Tigre, a lobster ceviche topped with a disc of frozen lime branded with the image of a growling tiger. It, like many of the dishes, pushed the boundaries in terms of texture, but – thankfully – was less quirky when it came to flavour, with the sharpness of a classic ceviche.

The photo of Leche de Tigre — Tiger’s Milk — makes it look positively revolting. See for yourself. I would be unable to eat that. It is evident that some sort of chemical has to go in it in order to produce a semi-coagulated result.

And there are other similar restaurants on this world’s best list.

French food then takes a hit. The French media ask, ‘Why is our food so bad?’

But that’s not the question nor the conclusion to draw.

Classic French food is excellent. As A A Gill says, we see too little of it.

The problem is that most award-winning restaurants are those that favour molecular cuisine — or, if you prefer, molecular gastronomy.

All the rage

I spoke with someone a few weeks ago who makes a living by charting culinary trends for restaurants and cafés.

He told me, ‘That’s what people want.’ I countered that we are persuaded to think we want it. It isn’t our choice.

The media message is, ‘If you want to be hip and cool, you’ll seek molecular gastronomy.’

People pay hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros for a multi-course tasting menu. After that, I’d be in search of a McDonald’s, and I haven’t had one of those for, erm, 20 years.

For me — and countless others — restaurant food should offer a) a recognisable, goodly portion of protein, b) a satisfying yet creative sauce and c) easily identifiable vegetables.

Remember the interests behind the push for molecular cuisine: big business, always big business. There are companies which make the necessary chemicals for this type of dining experience. They can branch out from commercially processed food to top restaurants. The result is that consumers see chemicals as good, interesting and elegant.

A further result is that we will be able to buy them for use at home. We’ll also have accompanying cookbooks to match.

This means more money for the manufacturers of said chemicals and additives. Ker-ching!

Bucking the trend

French food critic Périco Légasse, who also writes for the newsweekly Marianne, had something to say about the 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.

After the list appeared, he said that the Danish winner Noma — also known for molecular cuisine — was responsible for 63 diners becoming ill from badly-done ‘chemical combinations’.

He also accused sponsors Nestlé and San Pellegrino of an ‘anti-French campaign':

There is a political will to denigrate French cuisine.

Couldn’t agree more.

In another article, this one for Marianne, he reported on what Olivier Roellinger, chef of the three-Michelin Cancale, and equally esteemed Joël Robuchon of Fleury-Michon thought.

Roellinger said:

Molecular cuisine is a lure for people who don’t really know that much about food to begin with. It’s really [like] selling wind. And who’s financing this lobbying? A syndicate of industrial flavouring companies … It’s absolutely abominable.

Robuchon, even though he admires Spain’s award-winning Ferran Adria, went further:

Additives aren’t good. I’ve done everything to avoid using them at Fleury-Michon. In today’s molecular cuisine we find additives which aren’t even allowed in industrial food processing. I am 200% against molecular cuisine, for the good reason that I work with health and industrial services encouraging the elimination of acidifiers, colourings and additives, some of which have secondary effects.

In 2010, the Italian government banned the use of certain chemical additives and liquid nitrogen in molecular cuisine. The current status is unknown as the 2010 law was only in force for one year. It is unclear whether a new law has replaced it.

Cook and Food Network presenter Alton Brown, an American, had this to say in 2011 (emphases in the original):

Every generation develops tools. And the tools are a wonderful way to explore the possibilities of the world and of creation. I use some emulisifiers. Yes, there’s xantham gum in my kitchen. Why? Because I’m tired of shaking up a salad dressing. You know, it’s practical things. Is it really cool to be able to make corn flakes out of peanut butter? Sure, it’s a great trick. But it’s a novelty, by and large.

My worry about molecular gastronomy, especially with young cooks, is that they will try use it replace knowing how to cook. Food. Show me you can cook a chicken breast, properly. Show me you can cook a carrot, properly. Now do it a hundred times in row. Then we can play around with white powders.

It’s an interesting skill set, it’s an interesting bunch of tools. You can’t live on it. It’s not food.

He later clarified his position:

Just to set record straight: molecular gastronomy is not bad…but without sound, basic culinary technique, it is useless.

Natural or harmful?

To be fair, a number of additives with odd sounding names are perfectly natural — some come from seaweed — and have been used in mass-produced food for years.

Science Fare has a lengthy list with explanations of each popular molecular gastronomy ingredient.

India’s Mid-day has an interesting interview from May 2015 with chef and food stylist Michael Swamy who explains that just because something is natural does not automatically mean it is healthful to eat.

It all rather depends. Swamy discussed the freshwater basa fish, a new trendy yet inexpensive protein in India. He warned:

The fish is highly toxic and has a high amount of lead.

Swamy had this to say about molecular gastronomy (emphases mine):

One meal is equivalent to your one year’s quota of toxins as you only consume chemicals. The other day, someone told me that they had something called a bubble kulfi, which had dry ice. Everyone knows that dry ice is very poisonous but it is still added to cocktails and so on.

Swamy is correct. Laboratory assistants who work with liquid nitrogen — dry ice — in a clinical or scientific context wear gloves when handling the tanks. It can burn.

In 2012, Time magazine reported on a young Englishwoman who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail with dry ice. The then-teen suffered the horrendous consequences:

after drinking a Jagermeister cocktail made with liquid nitrogen at a bar in northern England.

The article goes on to explain the uses of liquid nitrogen in a medical setting — freezing warts, removing cancerous cells — as well as in a culinary one — ice-cream making.

The issue is knowing how to handle it for human consumption:

The main point is that liquid nitrogen must be fully evaporated from the meal or drink before serving, said Peter Barham of the University of Bristol’s School of Physics. It can safely be used in food or drink preparation, but it should not be ingested.

Barham and another scientist told the BBC:

Professor Barham adds that just as no-one would drink boiling water or oil, or pour it over themselves, no-one should ingest liquid nitrogen

Science writer and fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry John Emsley says if more than a “trivial” amount of liquid nitrogen is swallowed, the result can be horrendous. “If you drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, it would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the alimentary canal or the stomach.

The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or cause a stomach to burst,” he says.

Conclusion

Imagine.

A large number of molecular gastronomy fans are probably people who enjoy working out at the gym and regular detoxes.

Little do they know what they are ingesting and what the long term effects of those substances are.

What struck me were the following points:

– Joel Robuchon saying that some of these ingredients aren’t even legal in industrial food production;

– Michael Swamy’s warning that one of these dinners can give you a year’s worth of toxins in just one evening;

– The possibly fatal dangers of liquid nitrogen in the hands of someone who does not understand what he is doing when preparing a new kind of cocktail.

Caveat emptor! Consumer be warned!

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death.

The BBC have shown various programmes on this great man, respected worldwide.

I’ve not watched any of these for fear of the usual BBC bias against and distortion of Conservatives.

BBC2 broadcast Churchill: When Britain Said No at the end of May. The documentary addressed Churchill’s domestic policies, which began in the 1920s during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Admittedly, most middle-aged and older Britons of whatever political stripe agree that Churchill’s domestic policies were far from ideal and, at times, objectionable. However, when it came to his handling of the Second World War, opinion today continues to remain highly favourable. Rightly so.

But, for a counterpoint, was it really necessary for the BBC to go to the far Left to find an interviewee who so actively loathes Churchill? The Daily Mail reported on the consternation accompanying the segment featuring Dave Douglass, who in his time was known as ‘Danny the Red':

The most vocal critic of Churchill in the programme was a man presented as ‘activist and writer’, Dave Douglass. He said of Churchill: ‘His role during the rise of fascism across Europe, in Spain and in Italy and in Germany was a loathsome one.

‘It was one of supporting the rise of fascist tyrannies because he had seen socialism and communism as the enemy of his class and he had seen fascism as its ally.’

Really?

Douglass also spoke crudely about Churchill’s fondness for brandy during the war.

Few people today know who Douglass was or is. There are other, more credible critics of Churchill one could have interviewed who would have expressed less extreme yet valid points.

The Mail also noted:

The programme also included footage of Churchill being booed during a rally at Walthamstow Stadium, the London dog racing track, in 1945. But it failed to point out that many of those in the crowd were card-carrying communists.

As usual, the BBC stood behind the documentary, claiming it was balanced reporting. However, the BBC are never wrong. Years of watching and reading their responses to viewer feedback have taught me, and millions of others, that principle.

In an era when most younger Britons do not know or understand their nation’s history, it is deplorable that the nation’s broadcaster — whom we finance with the mandatory licence fee — sees fit to distort instead of balance a programme on this pivotal period and great man of the 20th century.

During the last weekend in May 2015, Prince William gave an interview to ex-footballer now-BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker regarding the FA Cup Final.

In it, he referred to his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, as ‘the missus’.

For this, he was roundly criticised.

Martin Daubney, writing for The Telegraph, reported on the outrage:

The Duchess of Cambridge herself was not, as far as we know, offended, but plenty of other women took offence on her behalf. Respected feminist commentators were quick to blow their bugles and remind men that the phrase was “blatantly misogynistic” and needs to be “stamped out” like a disease or a cockroach.

Yet, a few women on television go several steps further.

Food programme viewers will have seen the most blatant example in the recent eight-episode series aired recently in 2015, Chefs on Trial.

Hotelier and entrepreneur Alex Polizzi presented the show, which involved auditions by aspiring chefs hoping to become head chef in English restaurants. Although two establishments were presented — Miners Arms and Gilpin’s — there were to be four, one of them Amélie’s in Porthleven. Why the rest of the series was cancelled, no one outside those involved knows.

But I digress.

SpouseMouse and I both noticed the way Polizzi addressed the aspiring candidates, all men. She often referred to them as ‘darling’ and ‘doll’. Why? If the tables were turned and they’d spoken to her in such terms, what would her reaction have been?

Are we are to gather from this that men are always sexist, but when a woman uses condescending terms it’s all right so to do?

Women — do as you would be done by, including terms of address towards men.

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