Not known for good taste

Tuesday September 26, 2006

I encountered two international food challenges today. I’ve been mulling them over and still haven’t come up with answers.

First one was: “Explain the British liking for porridge.”

As well ask someone from Germany to explain a liking for Sauerkraut to an old-fashioned Britisher. I cannot abide the taste of Sauerkraut; I’ve tried, honest I have, because it’s a great natural source of vitamin K and a lot less fattening than chocolate. Not just vitamin K, either, it’s got all kinds of good stuff in it. Makes no difference. Can’t be doing with it. I’ve heard from German friends that they have much the same reaction to porridge. Isn’t that strange?

I love the stuff. ‘Central heating for kids’, it’s been called and there’s certainly no better breakfast for warming you from the inside and setting you off for a good start to a winter’s day, fit to dance the hills or whatever energetic occupation catches your fancy.

But what is it, exactly. Porridge, that is. It’s about as simple and cheap as you could wish, consisting solely of flaked or rolled oats, nothing but oats. You simmer them very gently in lightly salted water [or skimmed milk] for an hour or so, stirring regularly until soft and creamy, and serve them in a bowl with a drop of milk or cream and a dusting of sugar to taste. When I was a kid it was a teaspoon of golden syrup. The purist takes his porridge boiled in water, with no dressing at all. Either way, down it goes, and off you go. From a dietary point of view it’s a wonderful source of vegetable fibre. From a dieting point of view it’s about as non-fattening a breakfast as you can find, if you go easy on the dressing, that is.

Explain it to a non-Britisher, though? I give up. Put it down to our native eccentricity. We like it, some of us do, anyway, and consider it a virtuous and sustaining dish. As the Americans would say… Go figure.

The second challenge was to explain why I find the idea of mixing feta cheese and melon difficult.

Now, I love feta cheese, especially when it comes from Greece and is packed in good green olive oil. I love melon, too, any kind of melon, though when I have a choice I prefer a really cheesy charantais. But, and here is the mystery, I really don’t fancy the idea of mixing the two together. To me, feta is a savoury, and melon is a sweet. I’d blame it on my childhood if it were not for the inconvenient fact that neither feta nor melon were commonly available in Britain back then. I blame that for my dislike of vegetable rice because when I was a kid rice was something you cooked in milk as a dessert; rice as a vegetable was simply not known. I’ve partly recovered from that one but, feta and melon? Nah. Feta is savoury. Melon is sweet. I can’t find it in my heritage to combine the two, though I shall try it, I promise, just as soon as I can steel myself to the experiment. After all, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that grated chocolate sprinkled generously over pan-fried link sausages could ever be a good idea and that’s one of the most delicious combinations I’ve ever come across.

Ain’t food a strange thing when national dishes are transported over national boundaries? I’ll try almost anything once but when faced with something like goat’s eyes gently simmered in apricot stock I find my inner child reacting in much the same way as my mother did when I first tried the taste of a garden worm.

While responding to externals, I got a little bit of (friendly) stick in comments and by email yesterday when I described Gordon Brown as the ‘most successful Chancellor in modern times’. That’s fair enough. When I touch upon controversial subjects I can’t reasonably complain if an opposing view is taken. Like any sensible debater I listen, nod, and am likely to say ‘yes, you have a point there’.

In this instance, a closer read of my words might help explain my take on Brown. Mostly I choose my words carefully and here I wrote ‘most successful’, where ‘most‘ modifies ‘successful’, and qualifies it. If we are ever blessed with an unqualified success as a Chancellor we’ll be blessed indeed. Sadly, they’ve been a motley crew over the years and Brown’s record is better only by comparison. Looking about me, at the improvements in my world which I can lay at Brown’s door, I conclude that the good he has done outweighs the bad. And that’s all any of us can ask.

So I’ll stand by my positive verdict on Brown’s overall performance and results. I’ve seen some awful bad economic times in my life, and this isn’t one of them.

On to the Exit of Blair circus. Today was Tony Blair’s farewell speech to the Labour Party annual conference. The man’s a creep. He gave an excellent, accomplished speech, fully fit for purpose. But he’s still a creep.

Not that being a creep necessarily bars a man from being an effective Prime Minister, overall. We’ve had worse.

Anyway, back to life in the little new townhouse in the West. I was delighted to find Graham still bouncy and cheerful at the end of his long, long working day. I think his rest day yesterday was a ‘just in time’ thing, and has helped him immensely. It was late, of course, and later still by the time we got back to the house and a ‘where have you been at this time of night’ greeting from Dolly the Mega-cat. We had a light supper and turned in, looking forward to being all together for the next day and a half.

We’re both of us facing the last week of the season with a mix of happiness and dread. Happiness because it’s the last week. Dread because it’s a repeat visit from the massed ranks of the transvestites. They’re a demanding crew and Graham will have to work flat out right through the week without a break to satisfy their insatiable appetite for endless quantities of alchohol.

We’ve discussed the possibility of Dolly and I joining him for the week but decided against. Graham’ll handle it more easily on his own, content in the knowledge that we’re safe at home, waiting anxiously for his return. Besides, massed transvestites are on the thankfully short list of things with which I cannot be doing. As good Queen Victoria might have said of them: ‘We are not amused’. Or perhaps not. Generally speaking, Royalty is not known for its good taste.



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