Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm officially in with the in-crowd. Come and visit me and my cool friends.

I'm also a food geek. I've been experimenting with non-cheese cheese and have attempted to make raw flapjacks this week. I've been thinking about the food writing that I want to do (and who I want my food writing to be read by) and have decided that the only way to develop the way I want to develop is to try as many different things as possible and broaden my repertoire of recipes and basically challenge myself more.

So this week, I bought a small block of vegan cheese. And I regretted it.
It is vile but strangely compelling. One of the main ingredients is potato starch. It's like a block of compressed instant mash flavoured with the "parmesan flavoured" powder that cheap pizza parlours put out on tables. I am convinced the stuff is evaporating in my fridge. The ingredients are:

Water, potato starch, non-hygrogenated vegetable fats & oils, soya protein, yeast extract, thickener: carrageenan; salt, flavouring, emulsifying salts: tricalcium phosphate, colour: carotene

What the fuck is carrageenan?

I'm a big cheese fan - I'm happiest with the bluest, softest, ripest and most pungent, full fat and perhaps unpasteurised stuff that is available (but never goat's cheese. Oh, god, how I hate goat's cheese). I feel like I have betrayed some sort of community by bringing this vegan atrocity into my house and onto my cheeseboard. Mea culpa.
Munda cor meum ac labia mea. I can't even cook with it because it doesn't melt the same way real cheese would. I haven't even considered grating it; when cut into very small pieces it has a tendency to crumble then reform into what looks and feels like nearly dried toothpaste.

However, my raw flapjacks are a success. Raw food diets are so odd and against everything I have been brought up to believe about food (salad isn't food, it's just a pile of *ingredients* on a plate according to my dad, the Chinese chef) that I had to investigate.

A raw flapjack is basically a handful of dried figs soaked in warm water so they're soft and moist then put in a blender for a short while so they form a sticky paste. Into the paste, I pressed an equal amount of muesli, seeds and some chopped dried apricots, then wrapped it all in clingfilm and chilled it in the fridge. Not bad, a good breakfast snack that doesn't crumble too much and is not only completely raw but vegan too.

Next week: I'm going to be entirely kosher. Oy vey!

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Just try to relax. This might feel a bit odd..."
I've had a very busy but very productive Monday in the office, which is very rare. Still, I've just had a weekend of activity and productivity so I'm hoping this streak of energy for Getting Things Done continues. Hard to believe that only a week ago, my Monday was like this:

I went to work and had a fairly productive morning

Had lunch and brushed my teeth thoroughly afterwards

Went to the dental surgery ward of Guy's Hospital about 5 minutes walk away from my office and incidentally, only two minutes walk from the Old Operating Theatre which I had visited on Friday. The dusty bottles of ether and strychnine, the 2 inch wide syringes and rusty, gigantic saws for amputation were still lodged very prminently in my imagination. I was pleased to be in the 21st century about to have surgery and at the same time feeling absolutely rotten about it.

I sat in a scary dentist's chair with an amazing 23rd floor view of London

A very nice nurse and a very nice doctor dressed me in a bib and a lot of paper towels and unwrapped some trays full of shiny tools

Then they gave me four massive anaesthetic injections in my lower lip

Then they cut into the swelling that has been distorting my lipstick for the last few months and removed the cyst and damaged saliva gland that has been causing all my disgusting and disfiguring trouble

There was a lot of blood. I had to wear goggles because there was a small amount of gory spurting and both doctor and nurse had to lean on my face in order to get the curved blades in at the right angle. I counted three different types of scissors being used on my numb and swollen lip

Two stitches and lots of swabs later, I was on the tube home

My mouth was still numb and a bit bloody when Mr Avenue came home and we couldn't enjoy our usual "welcome home" kiss which made me rather sad because I would have liked a bit of comforting

The anaesthetic finally wore off and I was hungry so despite the soreness of the incision and the bruising along my lower lip, we had dinner

I went to rinse my mouth with hot salt water as recommended by my surgeon and decided to investigate the site of my operation

There was a bit of blood. And there was one less stitch

I had eaten one of my stitches

I had had quite enough for the day, so I went to bed early feeling rather creeped out with myself but was mildly cheered when I went through my wallet the next morning and realised I had won a voucher for a bag of frozen beans from Sainsburys

A week later and there's a definite indentation to mark that something had happened to my lower lip but apart from that, I can eat again, I can paint my lips red again, I can bite into hard green apples without worrying about bursting the damned cyst and best of all...

... I can kiss again. I'm very, very, very pleased. Aren't you?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Falling Asleep on the Train Will Be Very Different This Time
While Prandial ponders the heavy footfall of his carbon tread upon this earth, I'm congratulating myself on having undertaken a flight-free five day solo tour of the south coast of England last August which took me from Lyme Regis in Dorset to Bridport, West Bay, Dorchester, Winchester and Brighton. I took lots of pictures. There were lots of cathedrals, Roman ruins, cooked breakfasts, apple trees, charming little hotels, thoughtful strolls along quiet beaches and uplifting climbing around beautiful cliffs. I finally wore out my hardcore walking sandals as I must have walked miles each day, over all sorts of terrain. And I spent a lot of time on local buses that were not much bigger than a minibus, sitting next to old folks with baskets and trolleys who were spreading their shopping between three or four market towns or sometimes sullen teenagers longing to have something to do in their long summer holiday. I overheard a lot of gossip, a lot of tutting and sighing and cackling in soft West Country accents put forth by all age groups and genders.

Though I had to plan carefully to get to my destinations in time and not spend too much of my day getting on and off local buses, I felt connected with the places I was travelling through. I felt safe and protected among these people who were always quick to offer advice ("oh no, that bus will take you hours to get there... just nip across that field there... when you see the house with the red door, it's only another ten minutes past the duck pond...") and who were proud of their towns. I really enjoyed counting apple trees as I trundled along between villages and towns; the buses were often so slow, I could wave and pull faces at babies being pushed in their buggies alongside the bus lane. I spent a lot of time on trains too and felt my imagination and creativity stirring as the landscape passed by and day turned to dusk then into night as I made my way from one town to another.

Ryanair makes me sick. I'm always ill after flying with them - and Easyjet. Even British Airways makes me feel flu-ish after I've flown with them. Airports are depressing and unglamorous places. I always feel sad when I've rushed to the airport, bags packed and ready for adventure and then I have to sit still for hours when I want to be on my way. It's awful to land somewhere I've been looking forward to visiting only to be grumpy, grubby and badly treated when all I want is to feel excited and enthusiastic and start my visit feeling relaxed and clear-headed.

With that in mind, and taking on board Prandial's thoughts on carbon footprints, and my own pleasant experience of local transport and long train journeys, I've booked another holiday for Mr Hypatia Avenue's birthday.

We're going to Edinburgh. In March. By sleeper train. We'll be away for 6 nights, two of which will be spent in our bunks, in our cabin, which we will board at midnight at one end of the country and depart at breakfast in a completely different town, very far away. We've picked a "boutique bed and breakfast" which is "straight-friendly" and "dog-friendly" and run by two lovely men and their Scotch terrier, just outside the town centre (some local buses may need to be used). Travel has just got a little bit more interesting with the new emphasis on ethical and environmental responsibility and I'm keen to take up the challenge. I may not have a very big carbon footprint but it's nice to know I don't have to risk enlarging it to have a nice time away.