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At the end of May 2018, I wrote about the splendid dinner my better half and I enjoyed at Villandry Great Portland Street in London.

We had planned to return this month. Unfortunately, only yesterday, we discovered that all three Villandry restaurants — including the one in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire — closed on August 9.

What awful news. The one in Great Portland Street offered exceptionally good value, especially on wine.

Investigating, I found that London Eater had a post on August 6, based on a Sunday Times article. The post said, in part:

Accounts made up to March 2017 show that Bicester — lost to the site’s landlord in return for a “substantial payment to the company” — made up 47 percent of the group’s entire sales annually. Paired with a 100 percent rent increase at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St. James’s, losses amounted to almost £1.5 million, compared to £683,564 the previous year.

London Eater noted that Villandry was not the only mid-market restaurant group in trouble:

In the last week, steak restaurants Gaucho and Cau have been lined up for sale, while burger chain Byron admitted that its finances were in serious trouble despite wholesale changes to operational strategy. Villandry, open since 1998, has introduced “pizza and prosecco” and bottomless brunches in an attempt to improve sales, but the news suggests that these innovations aren’t doing enough to account for such a sharp rise in costs.

On August 9, Eater announced that the restaurants had closed:

Eater first learned of the closure from a tipster, who reported that the Great Portland street restaurant was being boarded up this morning. Later, both the Great Portland Street and St. James’s reservation lines rang dead …

Eater reported that the restaurants were struggling last week, with recently filed accounts showing substantial losses. These were mostly accounted for by the closure of a restaurant in Bicester, which had accounted for 47 percent of group turnover 2016-17. Coupled with a doubling of rent at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St James’s, the restaurants simply could not survive.

Villandry’s final tweet appeared that day, announcing their closure:

On July 10, Time Out posted a brief review that captured the essence of Villandry Portland Street perfectly (emphases mine):

It’s not often you find a restaurant where diners are happy to eat alone, but this is one such place, owing to the unshowy, affordable menu and the chance to sit unhurried and unjudged by easy-going staff. The menu covers all bases: burgers, salads, steaks, plenty of fish and seafood, and weekend brunch. Duck confit was tender and moist, and plum crumble a deliciously fruity concoction topped with chantilly cream.

Villandry seems genuinely happy to accommodate your whims, whether that’s a simple quiche in the restaurant or takeaway chocolates from the compact grocery area. It seems they’ve thought of everything: come summer, there’s a juice bar and a counter serving frozen yoghurt and ice-cream.

We are sorry to see this loss from the London restaurant scene. I wish Villandry’s former employees well.

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Just time for a quick post today.

A year ago at this time we were in Cannes.

One of the things I bought was Piment d’Espelette, which is all the rage not only in France but also in the UK and the US. It’s often pronounced in hushed tones because it’s supposed to be so special.

On a geographic and historic level, it is special, as Wikipedia explains:

The Espelette pepper (French: Piment d’Espelette French pronunciation: ​[pi.mɑ̃ dɛs.pə.lɛt] ; Basque: Ezpeletako biperra) is a variety of Capsicum annuum that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, traditionally the northern territory of the Basque people.[1] On 1 June 2000, it was classified as an AOC product and was confirmed as an APO product on 22 August 2002.

Chili pepper, originating in Central and South America, was introduced into France during the 16th century. After first being used medicinally, it became popular as a condiment and for the conservation of meats. It is now a cornerstone of Basque cuisine, where it has gradually replaced black pepper and it is a key ingredient in piperade.[2]

AOC espelette peppers are cultivated in the following communes: Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Espelette, Halsou, Itxassou, Jatxou, Larressore, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, Souraïde, and Ustaritz. They are harvested in late summer and, in September, characteristic festoons of pepper are hung on balconies and house walls throughout the communes to dry out.[2] An annual pepper festival organized by Confrérie du Piment d’Espelette, held since 1968 on the last weekend in October, attracts some 20,000 tourists.[3][4]

That said, it is really mild, which I did not know until I tried it at home.

The French like it because they’re not that keen on heat.

If you like heat, cayenne pepper is a far better — and much cheaper (€4 versus €13) — alternative.

Recently, my far better half and I had dinner at Villandry in Great Portland Street.

This central London restaurant is conveniently located near Great Portland Street Tube station.

With a Bank Holiday (three-day) weekend coming up, it is worth mentioning to those who are looking for a great lunch or dinner in town.

Overview

There are three Villandry restaurants at the moment: the one in Great Portland Street, Villandry St James’s and another at Bicester Village.

The restaurants use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible:

All our ingredients are ethically sourced and, wherever possible, local to London. Our meat comes from The Rare Breed Company and our fish comes from the Cornish coastline. We use free-range eggs and organic milks. Our sourdough organic bread is from Astons Bakery.

Although Villandry’s history blurb says that the first restaurant opened 20 years ago in Marylebone, I remember a Villandry café there in the early 1990s that was open only at lunch. My then-boss used to go there because it was close to the office where we worked. I left there in 1993. I recall that a Frenchwoman opened it. Menu items included pastries and high-end sandwiches. My boss liked it because it was one of the first cafés to prohibit smoking on the premises. That explains why I never went.

So, I do not know how to reconcile that part of Villandry’s history with the following (click on From the Business in the right hand column), other than to say that perhaps the current owner bought the business from the Frenchwoman:

Established in 2011.

Villandry’s first restaurant opened in Marylebone 20 years ago. Since then it has stepped away from the strictly French, dark wooded format, and has created light, modern Mediterranean inspired restaurants. The last 3 years of new ownership have been devotedly spent working on improving and evolving Villandry’s offering. We offer a light flexible all day dining menu at reasonable prices and our food is predominantly local and seasonal. Currently we have three Grand Cafés and several more are planned for Central London.

The Marylebone location closed and re-opened in Great Portland Street several years ago.

Villandry Great Portland Street serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and weekend brunch. (All include healthy options.)

Two types of dinner menu are available, based on whether you have booked a table for the café or the restaurant. The same holds true for desserts (café, restaurant).

Menus are seasonal.

Pastries and cakes are still very much part of Villandry’s identity. If you are lucky enough, you can buy some to take home. They were already sold out when we went.

To get a better idea of Villandry’s restaurants and atmosphere, check out their Twitter feed.

Reasonably priced wine list

Incredibly, especially for central London, Villandry Great Portland Street has a remarkably reasonably priced wine — and cocktail — list.

Our bottle — ordered from the ‘From the Cellar — Once it’s gone, it’s gone’ page (8) — of Chateau Pey La Tour 2014 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur (Vignobles Dourthe) was £45. It’s no longer on the list, because we bought the last bottle.

Incidentally, we liked it so much, we ordered a case from a wine merchant the next day!

Villandry charged only a three-times mark-up on that bottle. Many London restaurants put a four- to five-times mark-up on wine, which is why SpouseMouse checks the wine list before we book anywhere in town. Restaurateurs make up for low food prices with high prices on wine.

I prefer the Great Portland Street wine list to that of their St James’s location, although the latter has better descriptions.

Our dinner

We booked in the restaurant and enjoyed dishes from the Winter menu. Depending on when you read this, that might have changed.

Both of us started with squid, both reasonably priced at £9 each.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the Salt and Pepper Squid, which was lightly floured, then deep fried and coated with the two seasonings. The tartare sauce was excellent and appeared to be home-made.

I plumped for the Chilli Squid with harissa mayonnaise which was a knockout. That was prepared similarly to the other squid dish but dusted with hot spices, which the mayonnaise complemented perfectly.

In fact, the harissa mayonnaise was so good, our waiter offered to bring me more with the ‘pail’ of sweet potato fries with my main course.

Now on to the main courses, both classically French in preparation.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the roast breast of Guinea fowl with coq au vin garnish and creamed potatoes, although the meat was just bordering on overdone.

I wanted fish and, rather than the sea bass, had the grilled lemon sole meunière, which came with buttered baby new potatoes. The two of us shared those.

The sweet potato fries were superb and came coated with plenty of cracked salt and pepper. The harissa mayonnaise complemented them perfectly.

The sole meunière was perfectly done in the traditional manner: lightly coated in flour and pan fried in beurre noisette (brown butter). I’m still thinking about it. One thing to note is that it arrives at table on the bone, but comes off easily. Be sure to turn the fish over to get to the meat on the other side. I was not asked whether I would like it off the bone but imagine that, if one asked nicely, the waiter would honour such a request.

Both of us would highly recommend our dishes, all of which were perfectly seasoned — a rarity in the current low-salt era of dining.

We did not have room for dessert.

With wine (£45), our dinner came to £126. Money well spent. We would definitely return.

Atmosphere

It was quite interesting to see how Villandry Great Portland Street uses their space.

The display counter with the baked goods and chocolate is round and sits in the café area. From there, one walks through the bar, which accommodates those going for brunch. The bar leads to another room, which is a goodly sized restaurant. Off to one side of the restaurant is an alcove with plush booths.

We would recommend booking the restaurant not only for the menu but also for the traditional linen napery.

It was nice and quiet, too. We were given a choice of two tables, which is always helpful.

Our table overlooked Bolsover Street, which has really changed since I worked near there. Wow. It was definitely worth going out for a digestif ciggy break to wander around. Particularly intriguing was the Bolsover Hotel across the street. There’s so much going on in what used to be a rather sedate thoroughfare.

It’s also worth mentioning that the loos, located downstairs, are sparkling clean.

See TripAdvisor’s reviews for more information.

Service

We arrived on time and were welcomed by name, which added a pleasant touch.

Our junior waiter brought us menus, bread and water. There was no problem in asking for tap water.

Then there was a bit of a wait, but we noticed that the maître d’ was also delivering food.

After he took our order, things went at an improved pace and he took the time to talk about the wine, bring me harissa mayonnaise and enquired as to whether we liked our courses.

There is no need to tip as a 12.5% service charge is automatically added to the bill. I mention this, because I have read that some London restaurants have stopped this traditional practice.

Note on St James’s

Having looked at the Villandry St James’s menus and wine list, I would prefer to return to Villandry Great Portland Street for a better selection of both.

TripAdvisor’s reviews have more information.

Final notes

You can book a table directly through Villandry, which is what we did. It might be better than booking through a third-party site or app. Also, if there is an option to choose either the café or the restaurant, we would recommend the latter.

Incidentally, the wait staff wear traditional clothes and our maître d’ wore a jacket and tie.

Even though there is no dress code and people were very casually dressed in the café, we were in business clothes. That might have got us more attentive service in the restaurant. We noticed our wine was poured more often than at the tables where the couple wore more casual clothes.

In closing: go, go, go! You’ll have a great dining experience!

Yesterday’s post was about the BBC’s MasterChef.

It could be argued that the 2018 amateur series was the best to date.

Today’s post has more about the winner and a few inside scoops on the show.

More on Kenny Tutt

The Sun has excellent photos of Kenny Tutt’s restaurant quality winning dishes.

When bank manager Tutt beat Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat and pilot David Crichton in the final, he said:

This whole thing is for my dad. I know he’s looking down and been giving me support. It’s a special day.

The first quarter hour or so of the final programme presented a segment on each of the finalists’ personal lives. Kenny’s mother related that her husband and son died when Kenny was a young man. He was close to both, but she said that he and his father were ‘joined at the hip’.

Kenny is devoted to his mother, his wife and his two daughters.

Yet, to look at Kenny’s characteristically happy face — we dubbed him Mr Smiley — one would never think that he had had two traumatic deaths to make sense of:

I drew two lessons from this.

The first is that we never know what has happened to other people by looking at them. Although far from being as sunny as Kenny, years ago, someone once said to me, ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to you’. I was taken aback, thinking how utterly wrong that person was.

The second is that the resilience and positive attitude that Kenny displays are exemplary.

We also found out from his wife Lucy that he got up when it was still dark to practice his dishes and perfect his culinary techniques for the show.

The Radio Times reported:

Speaking about his plans after the competition, the chef said “he would love to get more young people cooking”, but that his “ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub”. Just save us a seat whenever you open, Kenny.

The Daily Mail told us:

He said: ‘I would love to get more young people cooking. I always love to get my girls involved in the kitchen, and my eldest Emily just loves to cook and taste the food. Cooking teaches so much, from science to maths, and allows children to be creative and proud.

‘I would also love to write about food and want to put together some great food events, be it supper clubs or private dining. The ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub/B&B.’

The dad-of-two lives happily in Worthing, West Sussex, with his wife Lucy as well as their two children three-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Grace.

The Mail explained how he became interested in cooking:

Kenny started his culinary craft at a young age as he always loved watching his mum cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

The bank manager developed an interest in food from different cultures thanks to his love of travelling across the globe.

The Sun told us what he said before the final:

He said: “My mum always said if you just put a bit of love into it, that generally will make the food taste better.

“I’m just going to give it my best shot, try and have a bit of fun and we’ll see what happens.”

He said his job with the bank was his first “proper” job – and he’s worked there for 15 years.

Kenny says he appeared on MasterChef because he wanted to try something different.

Of course, MasterChef finished filming long before it aired. As with similar televised contests, the winner has to keep the victory a secret until the whole series airs. Add on the six weeks it takes for the show to complete on television and that is a very long period of time.

Mirror TV managed to interview him afterwards:

Speaking to Mirror TV, dad Kenny said that he still “couldn’t quite believe” that he had won the competition and described it as “mind-blowing”.

“It’s an amazing achievement for me, my family and everyone. So yeah, I’m really happy,” he said.

Revealing that he managed to keep the result a secret from most of his family and friends, he admitted that he told his wife Lucy and mum the outcome.

“My wife thought I was joking!” he quipped.

Kenny, who is dad to Emily (3) and Grace (10 months) said that he couldn’t have done it without his wife’s support.

The Mirror asked about the trip to Peru during finals week:

One memorable moment saw a contestant attempt to recreate the Andes mountains out of corn, and another arrange piranha heads on a plate. But was it all work and no play?

“We went out and had a bite to eat, but generally there was a lot of us thinking about what we were going to do next,” he told us.

“But yeah, we managed to spend a few hours together here and there which was really time well spent.”

His MasterChef experience far exceeded his expectations. The contestants were decent people:

I thought it would be more like competition – dog-eat-dog with people trying to clamber over each other to win and the thing that made it really good was that there wasn’t any of that.

We were all the best of friends. And the time the bell rang for us to start cooking we were all in our own little worlds anyway.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace:

were the same in real life as they were on screen: “A couple of great guys”.

One thing Kenny hadn’t bargained for was the camera and sound crews:

The thing you don’t see when you’re watching on TV is the things that go on around you when you’re filming like cameras and sound. I didn’t know about that – you don’t even think about it.

It is a bit weird but you quickly get used to it. Once I was used to it it was like they had always been there. They were all great actually – the production crew, camera guys – they all had a great sense of humour.

He also said there was:

a “great atmosphere” on set and said that “everyone was well looked after”.

As for his cheerfulness:

To be honest, that was just me – what you see is what you get and I do get a bit excited to be there. I was just a bit like an excited puppy and that comes across.

I mean, I am a pretty happy guy, I’ve got nothing to be upset about. So I think most people take that as a good thing, but you do get the odd person who is like, ‘God, why is he always smiling?’

Well, you know, I’m on a TV show and I’m doing alright, so I’m not not going to be happy about it.

And:

He also said that he hadn’t realised he was “quite so animated” from the facial expressions he pulled: “It is quite cringe when you watch it back”.

It was all good, Kenny.

He told the Mirror that he was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the experience before launching into any culinary projects.

Judges’ tasting and food waste

Many MasterChef fans wonder if the judges have to taste the dishes cold. They are also interested in what happens to leftover or unused ingredients.

The Sun posted an article which explains everything. In 2012, Gregg Wallace revealed what happens to the unused food and the cooked food:

The raw food gets divided up by the youngsters in the crew — talented young people who’ve just begun their careers and aren’t necessarily earning very much.

The cooked food is devoured by the filming crew. A lot of them carry their own cutlery!

That said, contestants race the film crew to taste each other’s dishes:

Chetna Makan, from the 2014 series, told Digital Spy: “It’s not just the cameramen who swarm over the food, we (the other contestants) definitely do it too.

“We all run to the food made by whoever got the most compliments. Literally, everybody runs, nearly knocking each other over to have a taste.”

As for the judges’ tasting, the Sun cited former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist Louisa Ellis, who told Birmingham Live:

The food stays there for a bit after you’ve finished so they can get good shots of it.

“So it can be cold by the time the judges get to it – especially if you’re last to be judged – but they take that into consideration.”

The judges are said to get round this by going round and tasting each contestant’s food straight from the pot, in scenes which are later edited out.

Narrator India Fisher

India Fisher breaks the mould with her sultry, intense narration of MasterChef. She narrates all of the various series except for the Celebrity editions.

The Sun profiled her on April 13:

The softly-spoken host gives a commentary on the dishes whipped up by the cooks – and always makes them sound as good as they look …

Others have admitted that they’d love India to narrate their lives and describe their cooking successes with equal vigour.

This can be problematic for viewers when she moves on to other projects, such as commercials:

Fans may have noticed that India’s voice is affiliated with a number of different brands.

She is the voice of Natwest and has presented a variety of different advertisement campaigns.

Amusingly, her voice has become so synonymous with the show, that fans find it hard to focus when she embarks on a new project.

She also does other voice work:

India is also a broadcasting star, providing voice work for Science Fiction audio dramas including Earthsearch Mindwarp and Doctor Who.

She has also appeared on BBC Radio 4 comedy series Elephants to Catch Eels and Dead Ringers.

As we never see her, the Sun has a photo of her at the top of the article. Mystery solved!

India has been with MasterChef since its relaunch in 2005. Yet, we know little about her. The Sun tells us:

The 43-year-old is an actress and presenter who was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

She comes from a famous family, as her dad is former MP Mark Fisher.

India is also the step-sister of musician Crispin Hunt and actress Francesca Hunt.

The trophy

The MasterChef trophy and logo were updated in 2012 to reflect a 21st century look.

The Sun explains:

It is made of polished aluminium and mounted on a tiered aluminium base.

Makers of the award, Gaudio, say on their website: “The MasterChef trophy is instantly recognisable and is treasured by winners.”

The article also gives updated information on recent winners’ activities in the culinary world.

Last week, SpouseMouse went to London and, on the way back, stopped by Leonidas for a box of chocolates and received a free 250g bag of their Easter eggs, given to customers who spend £20 or more.

These are so good, that it’s worth mentioning to my European readers. Even if you cannot get a free bag this year, make a note to buy a box for next Easter. In 2018, a 250g box cost £6.15 or €6.95, which, given the incredibly high quality of Leonidas chocolate and fillings, is remarkable value for money.

This page shows how many different Easter eggs they have (scroll to the bottom).

Hands down, Leonidas is the best luxury chocolate on the market — and the best value for money — in the world.

We have been fans of Leonidas for many years. Their chocolate is sublime and the fillings are uniquely unctuous. A box goes a long way, because the quality of the product is so satisfying.

I would recommend that those who enjoy chocolates from the major Belgian luxury chocolatier buy a box of Leonidas and taste for themselves. In store, the staff are accustomed to putting together customised boxes. They are also very courteous.

Leonidas is a great hostess present and all-occasion gift. Be sure to buy some for yourselves, too.

When I was growing up, Holy Saturday was our family’s big shopping day.

As Lent would end that evening, we could have a mini-feast then and a grand repast for Easter.

Many countries have Christian food traditions for Holy Saturday. The following post discusses those in Eastern European countries:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

The much-loved doyenne of home cookery, Mary Berry, presented an excellent two-part programme for the BBC in 2016 on other Easter traditions around the world, summarised below:

Easter food explored — part 1

Easter food explored — part 2

However, foremost in our minds is the religious aspect of Holy Saturday:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Joseph of Arimathea fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9. The whole chapter is worth reading and meditating upon as we approach Easter Day:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men,
    a man of sorrows[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;[g]
when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[i] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,[j]
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,[k]
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53 is a good chapter to consider as we contemplate the Crucifixion and anticipate our Lord’s Resurrection.

Thanksgiving bloglibumneduTuesday before Thanksgiving is a good time to start preparing for Turkey Day.

You can make pie crust and buy any last-minute essentials. Making cranberry sauce is also a good Tuesday activity.

Make your Thanksgiving pie on Wednesday, so that you have less to do on Thursday.

Prep vegetables on Wednesday and put them in a pot of water or stock (cover with a lid) on the stove ready for cooking on Thursday. Alternatively, cook them on Wednesday to reheat on Thursday.

Make your turkey stock for Thanksgiving gravy ahead of time on Wednesday. Remove the wings from your turkey, joint them (for bone broth), sauté them with a tablespoon of salted butter until browned, then add water. Bringing the pot up to the boil and simmering sufficiently takes about three hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cool gradually to room temperature.

You can also make your stuffing then so that it is ready for the bird straightaway on Thanksgiving.

By the way, the secret to a good stuffing is plenty of butter. Use a ratio of 1/3 stock to 2/3 butter. Sauté chopped onion, mushrooms and celery with 125g — one stick — of butter in the stuffing pot before adding the croutons. Add another 125g of butter when you add your stock. Melt the butter in the stock then add the croutons, put a lid on the pan and turn off the heat. You will get a lot of compliments!

Finally, be sure to season your turkey well before putting it in the oven. Prepare a seasoned rub of your choice, adding plenty of salt. I also put softened salted butter with sage or bay leaves under the skin. It makes a huge difference to the finished product.

Salt and butter are your Thanksgiving dinner friends.

I mention this because the worst Thanksgiving dinner I ever ate was at a nurse’s house in the late 1970s. I can remember it to this day. She did not season the bird at all — or any of the side dishes. Furthermore, everything was low-fat. I ate out of politeness, but could easily have passed that dinner by.

Also, if it is easier for you to carve and dish up in the kitchen, do so. You’ll save time on the washing up, as you won’t have serving dishes to clean.

In closing, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a huge chore. Start now, so that you can relax a bit more with your guests on the day.

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:9-16

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour[a] to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the vision of Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed with his family in Caesarea.

Cornelius was what the Jews called a ‘God-fearer’ (Acts 10:2), meaning that he was a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel and observed parts of Jewish law. He never became a full Jew but was welcome to worship and associate with the Jews. In the vision, an angel of the Lord told Cornelius to send his men to Joppa to fetch Peter and take him to Caesarea. The divine plan here was to make Cornelius the first fully Gentile convert. The Samaritan converts from earlier chapters of Acts were half-Jew and half-Assyrian.

Acts 10 is the introduction to Gentile conversion. John MacArthur describes how events in Acts unfolded (emphases mine):

We find that God prepares two people. First He prepares the Gentile, and then He prepares the Jew. The Gentile is Cornelius, and the Jew is Peter. It has to start somewhere, so it starts with two guys. It’s gotta be more than theory. It’s gotta happen, so He picks out two people, Cornelius and Peter, and He gives each one a special vision, which is like sort of training in preparation. Before they’ll ever come together, there’s gonna have to be a lot of soil tilled up, and so He begins with a vision here in the first eight verses or so to Cornelius, and then from verse 9 on, He gives a vision to Peter; and this, then, is the beginning of the Gentile inclusion in the church. By the time you hit chapter 11, the Gospel’s gone to Antioch and Gentiles are getting saved. By the time you come from there and you start moving ahead, you hit chapter 13, and all of a sudden Paul’s going full blast to the Gentiles, and the problem is…is moving out, and it’s becoming sublimated. The thing is really going, and Jews and Gentiles are coming together in Christ. Peter runs back to Jerusalem. Says, “You’ll never believe it. People, you’ll never believe it. They got the same gift we got.” See. And then the report comes, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which finally comes to the conclusion that they will accept them fully as those who belong to Jesus Christ. So it all begins here in chapter 10 …

So, this vision that God gave to Peter is about moving him away from regarding certain foods and people — Gentiles — as unclean. Matthew Henry has this terse comment:

Peter had not got over this stingy bigoted notion of his countrymen, and therefore will be shy of coming to Cornelius … The scriptures of the Old Testament had spoken plainly of the bringing in of the Gentiles into the church. Christ had given plain intimations of it when he ordered them to teach all nations; and yet even Peter himself, who knew so much of his Master’s mind, could not understand it, till it was here revealed by vision, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, Ephesians 3:6.

Verse 9 tells us that as Cornelius’s men were on their way to Joppa, Peter went on the roof to pray. He had no idea what was coming next.

Recall that Peter was staying with Simon the tanner in Joppa. Simon was an unclean person in the eyes of the Jews because of his occupation.

Roofs in that era and in that part of the world were terraces — places where people congregated or enjoyed peace and quiet. Peter went on Simon’s roof to pray. No doubt he was observing Jewish patterns of prayer which meant he prayed several times a day.

The ‘sixth hour’ means this was at noon. Given the time of day, he was hungry. Henry has this observation:

From morning to night we should think to be too long to be without meat; yet who thinks it is too long to be without prayer?

How true.

While the midday meal was being prepared inside the house, Peter fell into a trance on the roof (verse 10). Henry explains:

probably he had not that day eaten before, though doubtless he had prayed before …

The trance was:

ecstasy, not of terror, but of contemplation, with which he was so entirely swallowed up as not only not to be regardful, but not to be sensible, of external things. He quite lost himself to this world, and so had his mind entirely free for converse with divine things; as Adam in innocency, when the deep sleep fell upon him. The more clear we get of the world, the more near we get to heaven: whether Peter was now in the body or out of the body he could not himself tell, much less can we, 2 Corinthians 12:2,3. See Genesis 15:12,Ac+22:17.

The hunger and the prayer was the perfect time for the divinely sent vision of a large sheet — like a tarp — with four corners, containing all manner of animals, reptiles and birds (verses 11, 12). There were no fish on it, because Jews are allowed to eat fish. It is a ‘neutral’ food, by the way, meaning it can be combined with meat or dairy in Jewish dietary law.

We talk about the four corners of the earth. Peter is seeing this before his eyes. This is not only about food, it is also about spreading the Gospel around the world via the Church. Jesus died and rose from the dead for everyone, not only the Jews.

Henry tells us:

Some make this sheet, thus filled, to represent the church of Christ. It comes down from heaven, from heaven opened, not only to send it down (Revelation 21:2), but to receive souls sent up from it. It is knit at the four corners, to receive those from all parts of the world that are willing to be added to it; and to retain and keep those safe that are taken into it, that they may not fall out; and in this we find some of all countries, nations, and languages, without any distinction of Greek or Jew, or any disadvantage put upon Barbarian or Scythian, Colossians 3:11. The net of the gospel encloses all, both bad and good, those that before were clean and unclean.

Also:

it may be applied to the bounty of the divine Providence, which, antecedently to the prohibitions of the ceremonial law, had given to man a liberty to use all the creatures, to which by the cancelling of that law we are now restored. By this vision we are taught to see all the benefit and service we have from the inferior creatures coming down to us from heaven; it is the gift of God who made them, made them fit for us, and then gave to man a right to them, and dominion over them. Lord, what is man that he should be thus magnified! Psalms 8:4-8. How should it double our comfort in the creatures, and our obligations to serve God in the use of them, to see them thus let down to us out of heaven!

A voice from heaven said, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat‘ (verse 13).

There is no instruction there about vegetarianism.

The Lord gave Peter a vision of animals and other edible creatures, not of plants.

Peter resisted the divine order by saying he had never eaten anything common — i.e. defiled — or unclean (verse 14). He obeyed Mosaic law as laid out in Leviticus.

MacArthur explains:

all of these dietary laws were given to Israel, and so, consequently, in the mind of a Jew, there was a division between clean animals and unclean animals; and no self-respecting kosher Jew would ever eat anything but clean animals; and Peter was this. He never touched anything but the clean, because that was the tradition. And you say, “Well, why did God make this distinction? Why did God make clean and unclean animals?” Well, No. 1, it is true, I think, that there are some animals who are perhaps more liable to carry epidemic-type diseases; and because of the fact that the preparation of food in those days wasn’t anything to what it became, God was kind of purifying Israel from at least the dominant threat of epidemic. Because, you see, they lived in a…in a community that was always close together. They moved in the wilderness in like a little garrison of people all jammed together. If an epidemic ever broke out, it could wipe ’em all out, and so God preserved their existence this way, although I think that’s only a minor point, because He coulda kept the diseases from them by His sovereign power.

The major point is this. God had them eating certain animals and not certain other animals for this primary reason. To distinguish them from … Gentile peoples. Now, in those days, social intercourse occurred at banquets. They didn’t have any of the entertainment we have today … feasting was how they had common relationships, so God just did this. God gave the Jews such distinct dietary laws that they couldn’t get together socially with Gentiles. Do you see? That was the point, because, as they went into the land of Canaan, it was so…so easy for them to get intermingled. Look what happened to ’em anyway. But God drew lines so that they would not be able, were they obedient to His standards, to be able to have a social kind of relationship with Gentiles, and that’s the point.

It is the same way today in much of the Jewish world. It’s a big deal for a Gentile to be invited to a Jewish home, especially for dinner or a party. It doesn’t happen that often.

The heavenly voice spoke again to Peter, rebuking him for calling God’s creatures common — defiled — or unclean (verse 15).

Henry explains that this vision represented the lifting of dietary law. Nothing is to be refused, especially living creatures. ‘Kill and eat’:

he has now, for reasons suited to the New-Testament dispensation, taken off that restraint, and set the matter at large–has cleansed that which was before polluted to us, and we ought to make use of, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not call that common or unclean which God has now declared clean. Note, We ought to welcome it as a great mercy that by the gospel of Christ we are freed from the distinction of meats, which was made by the law of Moses, and that now every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused; not so much because hereby we gain the use of swine’s flesh, hares, rabbits, and other pleasant and wholesome food for our bodies, but chiefly because conscience is hereby freed from a yoke in things of this nature, that we might serve God without fear.

MacArthur discusses the social importance of this freedom for the growth of the Church:

He is abolishing, I believe, the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws. Why? They were designed to separate the Jew from the Gentile. What is the body of Christ designed to do? Unite them. Therefore, this one social line barrier had to be removed for them to come together. You see, they had to learn to be able to socialize around the tables together, because they were now one. And, you know, in the early years of the church, you know, this was the problem that kept popping up. The Jews and the Gentiles who were both in the church wouldn’t eat together, and this is what Paul dealt with in Romans 14. That’s the whole reason Roman 14 is written, because the…you know what would happen? The Gentiles were abusing their privileges. They’d have Jewish converts over and serve ham. See? And Paul says, “Now, you don’t need to do that. Sure, you’re free, and there’s nothing unclean, but you don’t need to do that, because that’s purposely offending that Jew who doesn’t yet understand his liberties.”

But he also says to the Jew, “Don’t you try to make the Gentile conform to dietary laws that God has set aside.” See, God wanted to remove the barrier that had been built to keep from being impure. He wanted to take it down so they could be one in Christ, and so I believe that statement there is the statement that abolishes the Old Testament dietary laws. Now that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to eat everything. I…that’s obvious. You know, there’s supposed to be a sensibility in terms of what we eat, but, nevertheless, there are no ceremonial dietary laws to keep people apart, because He wants us together; and this was the beauty of what the early church finally found. That what they called the agap[e] or the love feast, they came together to eat. Beautiful.

St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that this happened three times before the sheet with the living creatures was taken back to heaven (verse 16).

The number three, as used in the Bible, is one of divine completeness and perfection. Bible.org has more, including this:

the biblical writers often employed the number three or wrote in patterns of three to provide a special emphasis that sought to engage their hearers/readers in exploring the full significance of the events or details of the passage at hand.

Henry describes what happened during the vision:

The sheet was drawn up a little way, and let down again the second time, and so the third time, with the same call to him, to kill, and eat, and the same reason, that what God hath cleansed we must not call common; but whether Peter’s refusal was repeated the second and third time is not certain; surely it was not, when his objection had the first time received such a satisfactory answer. The trebling of Peter’s vision, like the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream, was to show that the thing was certain, and engage him to take so much the more notice of it. The instructions given us in the things of God, whether by the ear in the preaching of the word, or by the eye in sacraments, need to be often repeated; precept must be upon precept, and line upon line. But at last the vessel was received up into heaven. Those who make this vessel to represent the church, including both Jews and Gentiles, as this did both clean and unclean creatures, make this very aptly to signify the admission of the believing Gentiles into the church, and into heaven too, into the Jerusalem above.

Having seen this vision — although not quite understanding it — Peter was prepared to meet Cornelius. The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:17-23

Roaming the aisles of Monprix in Cannes this summer, I happened to see a good variety of French sausages.

Having room in my suitcase for only one pack, I decided to buy Saucisses de Montbéliard for €5.40. It has the IGP — Indication Géographique Protégée — label.

Saucisses de Montbéliard are a speciality of the Franche-Comté region and originated in the ancient city of that name located in the départment of Doubs.

My better half thought they were hot dogs, but they are proper sausages. They have a light, smoky taste and an unctuous texture, to say the least. And they would have fit neatly into hot dog buns.

It was certainly too hot to make a traditional casserole or stew with them, and as we wanted the sausage to be the star on the plate, we had them with a slice of baguette.

Mine were made in Morteau, another city in Doubs, known for its sausage.

The Franche-Comté region is mountainous (the Jura range) and located near Switzerland. As one would expect, all sorts of wonderful sausage and cheese come from there.

There is also a Saucisse de Morteau. As with the one from Montbéliard, it is smoked in a traditional tuyé farmhouse. Regions of France has a photo of one and explains (emphases in the original):

The Tuyé farmhouse is a rare but extremely traditional house existing in Franche-Comté. It may be the only region in France to have such a regional house type. The Tuyé property was originally the house of mountain farmers or breeders.

The name of the house, Tuyé house, originates from the name of the massive chimney taking place in the main room that was used to heat the house obviously but also to cure meat in smoke. Ham and various sausages were smoked in the furnace for weeks, sometimes for months.

Outside, the traditional Franche-Comté tuyé house is massive. This is explained by the original need to provide a shelter for both human beings and the animals. Winters in this foremost mountainous region are cold and long.

Another Regions of France page explains the difference between the Morteau and the Montbéliard. With regard to the latter:

The Montbeliard sausage is also smoked in a tuyé using different types of wood, bringing additional flavours to this Franche-Comté gastronomic product. In France, the Morteau sausage is the greatest rival of this very tasty product.

These sausages are outstanding when cooked soaking in milk with potatoes (the French way!) or accompanied with vegetables as bacon, cabbage, carrots, leeks + garlic, onion, thyme or bay leaves.

A traditional way to prepare the saucisse de Morteau is to first cook some potatoes in a pan filled with half milk and half water. Add sausages in the pan and cook for one hour and a half… Then drain the water and the milk. It’s gorgeous and tasty and will indulge your taste buds.

Some people make their own saucisses de Montbéliard. This short video shows what is involved:

If you are in a self-catering situation in France, these sausages are definitely worth buying. And, no, you don’t need to casserole them, just reheat them in a pan for several minutes until warmed through. (Monoprix’s come already cooked.)

With all the truth bombs that need to be dropped and red pills dispensed concerning the US president, I am woefully behind with a write-up of my trip to Cannes earlier this summer.

I bought three types of cheese to bring back home. Two came from Monoprix and are the subject of this post.

The Cannes Monoprix has a separate cheese cabinet for products from small producers. Most of the cheese in that cabinet is made with raw (cru) milk. Raw milk is excellent for developing and maintaining good gut bacteria, thereby promoting overall health.

Banon

Banon is made in a town of the same name located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region.

It is a small round cheese which comes wrapped in chestnut leaves which are tied with raffia. The Banon cheeses I buy are semi-soft: not runny, just pliable.

Banon is made from raw goat’s milk and is available most of the year, except between October and December.

The taste from the ones available in the supermarket is particularly mild and creamy — reminiscent of milk — therefore, suitable for the whole family.

However, there are also runny Banons and stronger tasting ones. I’ve been eating Banon since 2002 and have never seen those.

In any case, the manufacture involves allowing the cheese to mature for several days then dipping it in eau de vie before wrapping it in sterilised, vinegar-softened chestnut leaves. It further matures for two weeks.

Always look for the yellow and red AOP — Appellation d’Origine Protégée — label for authenticity.

Mine cost €4.50. It was made by the Fromagerie de Banon and distributed by the company Étoile de Provence. It had the AOP label. Incidentally, the Fromagerie de Banon is open to the public on weekday afternoons.

Chef Morgan, who has been to Banon to study the cheese, writes:

Each step, including maturation, is done at a particular temperature. It is the combination of the sweet curd and the tannins from the chestnut leaves which give Banon its “Banon” flavor.

Le pliage du fromage” means folding the cheese. In Provence, goat cheese was historically the primary source of protein in the winter and the farmers needed a way to preserve “surplus cheese” to be consumed in the winter months (later surplus cheese was sold at markets). 

In the autumn when the chestnut leaves fall, the brown leaves (which have a lower tannin content) are collected and stored in a dry place. They are softened by blanching them in boiling water and/or vinegar and then they are drained.  The leaves preserve the cheese and give it its unique flavor.

Also:

the interior of the cheese is soft and gets softer as it matures.

Fromages.com says:

The alcohol protects the cheeses against bad mould and slowly the chestnut leaf aroma influences the cheese’s taste.

The local Banon is runnier — more mature — than the ones I’ve seen:

The farmers of the region eat the cheese by scooping it up with a teaspoon and washing it down with cooled local red or white wine. 

Chef Morgan tells us a bit more about Banon’s history:

Banon, the cheese, is a cheese with character. It has been around since Gallo-Roman times and it is legendarily told that the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ate so much Banon that he died …

The cheese gained AOC (now AOP) status in 2003:

which guarantees that the goat’s milk is from local goats (goats of the commune of Provence) which have grazed in particular areas in France (it must be one of  31 cantons, 179 municipalities in four departments in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Provence, or Drôme) and that the goat’s milk was produced, manufactured, and ripened in the traditional way. 

Neufchâtel

NeufchatelNeufchâtel is a soft cheese made from cow’s milk, preferably raw. (Some Neufchâtel is made with pasteurised milk, so be sure to read the label.)

I used to think it came from Switzerland, until I saw a French food documentary. I was surprised to learn that it comes from Normandy.

It’s an interesting cheese because it’s runny around the outside with a soft, crumbly centre. I have seen it described as ‘grainy’, which doesn’t do it any justice at all.

Although mild, it has a stronger, more distinctive taste than Banon. It is reminiscent of nuts and mushrooms and is absolutely delicious.

Mine cost €3.70 and was made by Gaec Brianchon in Nesle-Hodeng. It had the AOP label. Alex and Olivier sell the cheese from their farm every day and provide tours by appointment only.

Neufchâtel is a classic cheese, although not as old as Banon. Some accounts say that Neufchâtel dates from the sixth century, others from 1035.

Cheese.com tells us:

The cheese is made in many forms, shapes and sizes – bonde (cylinders), coeur (heart shape), carré (square shape) and briquette (brick shape). Legend goes that French farm girls fell in love with English soldiers during the Hundred Years War and started making heart shaped cheeses to show their love.

Neufchâtel’s AOC (now AOP) status was granted in 1969.

Conclusion

Although I bought these cheeses in France, it is possible that readers living in the US can find them at speciality grocers, such as Trader Joe’s. I bought some French cheese there several years ago, and it was excellent.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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