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A. A. Gill and the je ne sais quoi in France

Sunday, 4 February, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television and travel. In “Markets,” published in July 2007, he pontificated on the phrase the French have created to “encompass it all”: je ne sais quoi. Snippet:

“My weakness, my pleasure, is markets… The Mercato in Addis Ababa, biggest market in Africa: dangersous red-eyed tribesmen, maddened and delusional on khat, unloading bushels of the stuff flown in daily from the ancient cities on the Somali border. The stalls selling coffee and the winding lanes of incense dealers, the gifts of the Magi, smelling of martyrdom and plainsong.

Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market: miles of frozen tuna, lying like a thousand unexploded bombs steaming in the dawn as the auctioneers paint red characters on them, buyers cutting tiny nuggets of flesh from their tails to knead for water content.

Crawford Market in Bombay, the book market in Calcutta, the bird market in Denpasar, the karaoke market in Tashkent…”

However, when it comes to the market’s market, the perfect market, Gills puts his money on “the weekly markets of southern France.” And what makes them so superior? It’s the je ne sais quoi:

Je ne sais quoi is France’s abiding gift to the world. More je ne sais quoi for your euro is to be found in a French market than anywhere else. We wander down the aisles of trestles and stalls aghast at the marvellous repose of produce. There are peaches warm from the tree, ripe and golden. Figs, green and black, bursting with sweet, ancient, darkly lascivious simile. The smell of fresh lemon, the bunches of thyme and lavender and verbena, the selections of oil and olives, pale green and pungent, and the they honey, from orange blossom, from heath and orchard, and the beeswax. The charcuterie, the dozens of ancient and dextrous things to do with a dead pig, in all the hues of pink, and pale, fatty cream.”

Never was A.A. Gill happier than when in France, the land of Armagnac, Calvados and a thousand cheeses, wandering its markets, savouring the je ne sais quoi.

Apples


When A. A. Gill ate mutton in Scotland

Sunday, 28 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2015 and it led to this memorable sentence: “Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying — and one of the finest if you’re a guest.”

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. In Scotland, he met Peggy McKenzie, “a retired gamekeeper’s wife who was one of the most naturally in-tune, modestly perfect cooks.” Both discovered a mutual passion for… mutton.

“I, like you, had forgotten mutton. With a great marketing and agri con, it was replaced by lamb. If you look at 19th-century cookbooks, you’ll see very few recipes for lamb and hundreds for mutton. Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent. Sheep weren’t slaughtered until they were four or five years old. The most valued were gelded rams. But today, wool has no value, and farmers want an immediate return on their animals, so the sooner they can slit their throats, the better. And the more they add value to young, tender meat, the better. Except it isn’t better. Lamb is a bland, short, monoglot mouthful compared with mutton’s eloquent, rich euphemistic flavour. We’ve been cheated by agri-expediency to eat an inferior, flannelly, infantilised alternative. In fact, we’re led to believe that younger is better for all meat, when the opposite is the truth. Flavour, richness, intensity and complexity come with age. Mutton is the true, base taste of our national cuisine, and it’s gone.”

This is excellent journalistic writing. Staccato sentences that hit the reader between the eyes: “Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent.” Factual and musical is his description of worthy wool as “Fluffy gold”.

Mutton and child


Unboxing the cake that Millie baked

Sunday, 7 January, 2018 0 Comments

It’s the time of year when we unbox the annual cake from our dear friend, great neighbour and queen baker, Millie Hanley. It’s a traditional fruit cake and it goes nicely with a glass of sherry but it goes best with a strong cup of tea.

Millie's cake wrapped

Millie's cake slivered

Millie's cake papered

Millie's cake unboxed


Last supper

Friday, 29 September, 2017 0 Comments

Catalonia is a geographically diverse region and it produces a variety of high-quality seafood, meat, poultry, game, fruit, vegetables and wine. These are often served in odd combinations: a main course known as mar i muntanya can contain meat and seafood, rice, fruit and nuts. Catalonia’s 10 denominated wine regions focus mostly on Cariñena or Samsó among red grapes, and Garnacha Blanca and ­Xarel-lo among white grapes.

Bicicleta


Better the butcher than the meat

Saturday, 22 July, 2017 0 Comments

“Either you get eaten by a wolf today or else the shepherd saves you from the wolf so he can sell you to the butcher tomorrow.” — Ogden Nash

meat


Low carbs at the Fish & Chip Bar in Cardiff

Wednesday, 12 July, 2017 0 Comments

The do like their bars in Wales. And not just for pints of Brains and Tiny Rebel. At the Fish & Chip Bar in Cardiff the emphasis is on low carbs. Just one chip!

Cardiff


The Queen who dare not speak her name

Friday, 16 June, 2017 0 Comments

British Queens arrive on the shelves just after the first early potatoes, so they are often referred to as “second early” potatoes. Floury and delicious, they are suitable for steaming, boiling, roasting and chipping and are said to be one of the best for mashing.

The British Queen was created by Archibald Findlay (1841 – 1921), a prolific potato breeder, who also created the Majestic and Up-to-Date varieties. Findlay was a Scot who moved to potato-growing country in Lincolnshire in England to follow his passion. In Ireland, his British Queens are marketed as “Queens”, due to the absurd nationalism that has corroded language and corrupted thinking.

Northern spuds

“Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.” — M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf


Plate and palate and photography

Monday, 8 May, 2017 0 Comments

The food photographer Eric Wolfinger is a cook who has found his vocation via the camera lens. His global travels have led to the creation of Beyond the Plate, a SmugMug documentary for foodies and photographers.


Irish food truck

Thursday, 20 April, 2017 0 Comments

Irish food truck

Basics: fish and chips = iasc agus sceallóga

Example: “We ordered fish and chips to go.” (D’ordaíomar iasc agus sceallóga le tabhairt linn.)


Unboxing Millie’s Easter cake

Sunday, 16 April, 2017 0 Comments

Great neighbour, great friend, great baker! Happy Easter! Beannachtaí na Cásca! Boa Páscoa! Frohe Ostern! ¡Felices Pascuas! Buona Pasqua! Joyeuses Pâques!

Cake 1

Cake 2

Cake 3

Cake 4


Berries

Thursday, 30 March, 2017 0 Comments

Blackberry panacotta, raspberry, pistachio and blackberry sorbet with biscotti at the Fern House Café in Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow.

Berries

“As one who appreciated the tragic side of eating, it seemed to him that anything other than fruit for dessert implied a reprehensible frivolity, and cakes in particular ended up annihilating the flavour of quiet sadness that must be allowed to linger at the end of a great culinary performance.” — Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, La Soledad Del Manager