Tuesday, October 29, 2013

...for the perfect espresso... (part nine)

I've been lucky of late in that I've tasted some very fine coffee. However I'm not sure whether the global standard of coffee-making is on the rise or my own standards are in steep decline. To be truthful I feel convinced that neither of these are in fact the case, and the net result has proved to be one of great pleasure to me.

For many years now coffee has been my constant companion. Wherever it was served, you'd find me present.

I've realised I won't find life's answers at the bottom of a demitasse, instead I'll discover all the reasons for being alive by looking beyond the rim of the cup and across to my companion.

When the book of my life is written, it will be measured not in the number of cups of coffee I have drunk, but instead through the quality of the company in which I consumed them.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

...for the land of hope and pork pies...

Undeniably, the French know a thing or two about food. And fighting. So it takes no great leap of faith for one to believe Napoleon Bonaparte was well-informed and indeed accurate when he claimed “An army marches on its stomach”*.

We British, knowing less about food but nonetheless agreeing with Boney’s sentiment, went on to conquer two-thirds of the world’s landmass during the 19th century fuelling an army purely on beer, beef, and pork pies (mixed with a cunning refusal to learn the native tongue).

Forced to retreat to these shores during the first half of the 20th century, the reasons for the failure to create an enduring empire became apparent as we returned to this Sceptred Isle clutching such exotic delicacies as the balti, the pita, and the kebab. All admirable and delicious foods in their own right, but not manna for sustaining an occupying army.

Whilst the empire has long disappeared, fortunately those three staples of beer, beef and pork pies remain in great abundance. The first two are both well-known and have their own global iterations, so it is for the pork pie to stand alone as uniquely British.

Today, civilisation is divided in to two distinct spheres: those who adore a good pork pie, and those who have yet to taste one. They have become something of an obsession of mine.

In common with all the world's finest food, their concept is terribly simple. The traditional British pork pie consists of roughly chopped pork cooked in a hot water pastry crust. The pies are unique in that the base is raised by hand around a wooden ‘dolly’. The dolly is removed, the filling placed in, and a pastry lid seals the deal. Yes. The French raise their children by hand. The Austrians, no doubt, raise their veal calves by hand. But we, the Brits, raise our pork pies by hand.

The crowning glory of the humble pork pie is in its jelly. As the meat cooks it reduces, leaving a void within the pastry casing. As any pork pie aficionado knows, this just won’t do. In order to maintain moistness a jelly, made by boiling the pigs bones in water, is injected through a hole in the now deliciously golden crust. Really, what’s not to love?

And there you have it. A simple food borne of the English huntsman’s desire to have a tasty snack while out shooting fox and boar, and one that went on to feed those who felt the world’s riches were there to be plundered in the name of the king (or queen).

Throughout much of its history the pork pie has been associated with one town, Melton Mowbray. It is our Parma, our Kobe, our region de Champagne. And there, amongst the hills of Leicestershire, it lays quietly anticipating the second coming of the British Empire. It may be in for a long wait…

* Yes, for the pedants amongst us, it is far more likely that what Napoleon actually said was, “Une armée marche sur son estomac”. But no one likes a smart-arse, do they?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

...for an achievable target...

i've given up on intelligence.

having spent many years of my life in a lazy attempt to boost my iq by consuming brain-foods (oily fish, walnuts, pumpkin and flax-seeds), i've finally given up the chase for membership of mensa (which requires an iq level of 140)

i've learned that my brain weighs around one and a half kilos, 
but using it gobbles up a whopping 20% of my daily calorie intake. 
no wonder i'm always hungry.

not only would i eat brain-cell boosting foods, 
sometimes i'd even give it some exercise and read a book.

however even this i shall quit, since one of the books i read extolled the virtues of giving the brain complete down-time.

i know from my cycling that muscles can be over-trained, and that recovery time is an important part of any athletes strategy. 
so that's it, i'm permanently resting my brain.

the clincher though was my discovery that the average iq
 of nobel prize winners is just 120. 120!

henceforth my aim shall be to reduce my iq in the hope that
 one day i shall be awarded a nobel prize.

finally, an achievable target.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

...for the perfect espresso... (part eight)

this is what bicycles in heaven look like.

the perfect fusion of coffee and cycling.

the velopresso is a human-powered bicycle and coffee maker.

using two belt drives (one to move the bike, the other to grind the beans), the only fuel required is to boil the water. The designers (lasse oiva and amos field reid) are currently figuring out a way to extract ethanol fuel from the used grounds, 
giving a carbon neutral system.
 a flick of a lever and the transmission belt diverts to grind the beans. the perfect amount for a double shot of espresso can be delivered in just five seconds. four if you're doping.
the design has already won a deutsche bank award 2012 for design and 2nd place in the 2012 pininfarina design contest.

oh, look, here's a link to their website... hello!

Monday, November 26, 2012

...for the first mince pie of the season... (year two)

i have proof, as if it were needed, of the continuing
 degradation of civilised standards.

(for background reading click here if you like although, 
personally, i wouldn't bother)

the festive season has barely begun and yet, for me, 
it may as well be over.

after last year's devastation at the unveiling of 'luxury mince pies', i have returned to the scene of that particular culinary crime and uncovered this year's travesty - mince tart.

there's mince (but very little of it).

but (as indicated) it is not a pie, but a tart.

how hard can it be to stick to tradition?

i think this best sums up my mood...

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message There Are No Mince Pies,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

They were my North, my South, my East and West,
My Christmas Day and my New Year too,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would be with me for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Without Mince Pies.

(sincere apologies to wystan hugh auden)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

...for a cause for which to fight...

i like to think that there are many things i'd fight for.

i'd fight for freedom (my own and of others), 
i'd fight for the truth.
i'd definitely fight for the last battenburg cake 
in marks & spencer's food hall.

so, my respect goes out to an elderly couple from zhejiang province in china whose intransigence has created this remarkable sight.

the unnamed elderly couple, who we will refer to as mr & mrs unnamedelderlycouple, refused to sign an agreement to allow their house to be demolished to make way for the building of a new road. they say that the compensation offered is not enough to cover relocation and rebuilding costs.

so chinese authorities built the road anyway.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

...for the perfect espresso... (part seven)

exclusive to harrods - the world's most expensive coffee.

it's easy to spot when a luxury brand is getting nervous that it is losing its rarefied status, that's when they start talking 'most expensive' rather than 'the best'.

i offer the following, an extract from a recent harrods press release, as a perfect example:

"Renowned for being the most expensive and luxurious coffee in the world, Terra Nera launches exclusively at Harrods this December.

Sourced from Quechua in the south east of the Peruvian Andes, the production of this coffee is integral to its indulgent taste.

Coffee cherries pass through the stomachs of civet palm cats and are then collected, washed and dried on specially-built elevated tables to be processed immediately in the jungle. Known as Uchunari, civet palm cats live with the coffee farmer where they roam freely around the house and plantation.

The coffee is highly exclusive with limited availability that is dependent on the natural order and mood of the Uchunaries."

one presumes availability is also moderated by the regularity of the civet's bowel movements.

it seems that not only is the coffee being produced courtesy of civet palm cat's shite, it is also being promoted through some of the finest (or, at least, the most expensive) press release shite too.

of more than 300 words in the press release, only 30 make a reference to the taste (possibly shit-flavoured, it's not specific). far more words are devoted to the 'sterling silver and gold plated sacks' your roasted and ground turds will be delivered in.

terra nera coffee will be exclusively available to pre-order from saturday 1st december in the food halls, ground floor at harrods. prices range from £140 to £6,800.

you can call harrods on +44 20 7730 1234 to either place your order, or to tell them to get a life.

you decide which.

if you would like to read more about my search for the perfect espresso, 
allow me to point you to these locations: