Sunday, 14 November 2010

Moving on..

Dear readers,

I have long realised that my blog has moved on from being mainly about farmers markets and that visually the site needs a bit of an uplift. Hence I am very pleased to announce that my new blog is now up and running:

The Gastronomical Me at

This means that 'Around the world in 80 markets' is now closed for business, and I hope to see all of you again at the new address.


Saturday, 30 October 2010

Grand things are coming...

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

I am very much around and writing judiciously - albeit in my head mainly. The reason - my new website - bigger, better, sexier, more beautiful - is coming. You will like it, I promise.

What do you think the site will be called?;)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Idleness spread on a perfect peanutbutter sandwich

How do you feel about Sunday nights?

They come in different hues, from candy-floss melancholy to damn sticky depression. Oh, you can enjoy them, but only in as much as you are prepared to transgress the sado-masochistic boundary and give in to the fun of endless numbing telly watching, always horizontal, always you'll start afresh, you'll be focused, disciplined and live your life to the full. But for now...for now, you have the full right to be lazy, to be a sloth, to experience that sense of ennui..

The ultimate symbol of laziness - Oblomov: then and now by Boris Kulikov.

Russians have perfected this state of idleness to such an extent that there is even a well-worn term to describe the condition - oblomovshina. Oblomov was a character of the 19th century novel by Ivan Goncharev, whose symbol of the superfluous man staying in bed, unable to make decisions, has become mythical, quoted and used to explain the wrongness of everything from the Russian October revolution to Russians' weakness for vodka. As Lenin famously said:

Russia has made three revolutions, and still the Oblomovs have remained... and he must be washed, cleaned, pulled about, and flogged for a long time before any kind of sense will emerge.

( I particularly like the reference to flogging by the way)

Food of course is an exception (provided you have a devoted serf or two, or a local take-away). If I remember correctly Oblomov spent his days languorously moving from breakfast to brunch to dinner, then tea and supper.

For a lazy man,” Goncharov explains, “recumbence” is a “pleasure..

Peanut butter by

Peanut butter, I propose, is the solidified epitome of this state of mindless non-doing. It is smooth, even the crunchy version lets you slip each nut without resistance. It is so intensely savoury and sweet at the same time that all foods go well with it, letting you forget the good and bad: bread, with honey, pieces of fruit, yoghurt, other nuts, biscuits, bananas, salami, gherkins, with bacon or just its fat as I found the night before...a jar can be consumed slowly and exuberantly with just a spoon: so little effort, so much calorie. A perfect Oblomov meal.

How do you like your peanut butter?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cold war and school dinners

It's not all sex, drugs and roll'n'roll with me and food, you know. Whereas the food I often crave is high octave stuff - not in terms of it complexity (Michelin star plates leave me cold somewhat), but its impact (fat, offal, cream); today I've had the most warm and cuddly lunch possible:

...a school dinner par excellence - the Roast dinner with (many) trimmings.

The bestest school dinner: Roast chicken with stuffing, roast potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, with gravy

Not just any old school dinner, a very special dinner of Norfolk free-range chicken with local veg and a beautiful oaty apple crumble with grapes grown in the school's own garden (the M & S ad voice seems somehow inappropriate here due to its overt sexuality, but you get the picture).

You see, I happen to work for a project that aims to 'transform' the food culture of this country. Yes, as grand as this. You probably remember Jamie's attempts a few years back to get kids eating 'proper' food, instead of the infamous turkey twizzlers (although I'm quite intrigued by the latter, actually makes me thing of the 19th century fad to make 'things', fabulous, magical things out of foods)? Well, Food for Life (the name of this grandeurs endeavour) started there with Jamie and school dinners. Then the grand dame of the British food world - the Soil Association - took over, got some funding, and made the whole thing bigger and better.

The most important people in the school: the dinner ladies.

Today over 5000 schools across England ate their Roast Dinner simultaneously, in an attempt to break the Guinness record for the most number of schools serving the same dinner at the same time'! These schools were also making a point, a stand if you like, to 'save the school dinner' in view of all the mortifying budget cuts so thoughtfully put upon us. Go dinners, go!

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to be a little helper for a morning, and boy did the smells and sounds of that bustling school kitchen bring a tear to my sceptical eye. Inevitably, I remembered the days full of buckwheat smells and the looks of the wobbly semolina porridge...

Soviet dinners, sans beer for the little ones.

In those far-away Soviet days of communist cheer and seemingly unspoilt ration feeder I would very often take my obed (a more substantial version of the Western lunch if you may) in the kindengarden where my mum worked as a teacher. In those days Soviet kids used to study in shifts in schools, ie either study from early in the morning and be done by early afternoon, or start at about 1pm and finish at 6. So I would come to visit my mum and be fed after my daily Lenin's 'study, study, study'.

Oh, the sweet memories of those wholesome meals...

I remember getting down to a bowl of watery but brilliantly red and delicious borsh, following it up with a plate of mash potatoes and kotlety (often translated as burgers into English, but really, how can you compare those little dense flat patties of course pork mince and chunks of onion to a mere burger?!) and finish it off perhaps with a bowl of zapekanka with kisel' (a warm baked cheesecake with raisins, served floating in a fruity, thick drink)...

The most quintessential English pud - apple crumble with custard.

I'm not going to go all nostalgic on you and say that the food in all schools and kindergardens were this good, but the food I remember was ordinary and boring, 'real' as we love to call such food these days, made without any pre-packaged sauces (they were none to choose from), totally from scratch on that day. There were no choices ('Vegetarianism does not exist in the USSR'), no allergies (you go a bit red, so what, a normal child reaction), no care for the provenance of your meat (you probably didn't want to know).

...'We have made extraordinary into ordinary' said the head at the school about their school dinners. Sounds damn pompous, but makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I ate diligently my full plate of the Traditional Roast dinner, finishing it off with some crumble and custard - not far at all from my beloved kotlety and zapekanka, are they, really?

What is your favourite memory of the school dinner?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Yet another autumn, yet another breakfast

Early autumn in the Alexandra Palace park.

I love autumn. In all its disguises: the hellishly changing weather, the wind, the soft sun, the unexpectedly piercing light, the colours, that suit me so much better than the unapologetic brightness of summer, they also seem milder to the world around.

Where summer is brash, adventurous, in your face, like a young girl that just wants to have fun, sleep around, not think, only act. Autumn is melancholic (that most promising of all moods when a sad smile comes together with a thoughtful eye), understated, sensual, akin to a woman who reflects on her pleasures and only allows those who appreciate and take time to come closer...

Ally Pally, once early Saturday morning.

Autumn also means, of course, the gathering of fruits, harvesting - when all the cliche statements about seasonality and the glut keep flooding in. But this is also the time to collect thoughts, to gather up, a kind of slow breathing out before a jump. The fog and dump air, the early nights allow one to wonder around almost unnoticed, to watch people and rain. To put a hood on or snuggle in underneath a big black umbrella - and think...

Perhaps it is a school girl in me that still thinks that a year starts on 1 September (and in Russia it is always this precise date and never a more practical 4 or 5), with hordes of excited kids wearing long, white socks, and a tomato-red pioneer tie, carrying awkwardly the only imaginable flowers - Gladioli - huge, strangely erotic, grown-up. This is when you notice that tick!, the clock changing, you changing - you are deliriously excited and shit scared about the year ahead.

Gladioli by Van Gogh.

...I took the pictures above just this morning, whilst jogging up to Ally Pally. I was rushing, I was on the way to do business, serious, practical stuff, but I had to stop and drink, chew the view. I feel almost embarrassed about being so affected by a few leaves and clouds, but it must be something with that almost physical sense of being part of the cycle - it makes me feel the change, believe that something marvelously exciting is around the corner. I become a little girl, with big wide eyed, holding a strong, warm hand, not yet comprehending but liking it even more for that.

Autumnal (ish) breakfast.

I came back home and marked the arrival of yet another autumn with the tastiest breakfasts I have had in a long time.

Slowly crisped up bacon Salad of lettuce, ripen tomatoes, spring onions, baked beetroot Marinated Polish cucumbers Pain complet (French wholemeal bread) that I let to soak up all the bacony juices A cup of strong, milky coffee

A very simple, nothing to report breakfast. It was tasty above all. It made me believe that there would be many, many more breakfasts like this - and that's what matters.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Taste Awards - Kafka would have had a feast...

Hell with it. I'm going to let go, gorge, indulge myself, over-do it, envelop inside and out with this voluptuous feeling of a total surrender to food. I am going to enjoy every molecule of it, slowly and quickly at the same time, anticipating the guilt to come and saying hell with it.

It's a rainy Monday evening, and even the tube is on strike. I am invited to the finals of the Taste Awards in Fortnum's - that pompous dinosaurs of a store that manages to be both eccentricly archaic and tenderly up to date. I have been a judge before, but on this occasion I am wearing high purple heals and gipsy dangling earrings.

Fortnum and Mason's window displays.

Every time I come to the Awards I promise to myself to network, to 'do rounds', to do deals with useless and useful men. But this time I'm saying fuck with it. This is supposed to be THE emporium of food and I am going to do what the Romans did - eat, lick, goggle, swallow until your eyes feel with a delirium of over-satiation.

This is a psychological vomitorium, with me imagining starving African children on the background. Heck with it. My feelings of nutritious happiness will purvey the world and make everything all right.

Fortnum's know how to do high class and kitsch.

Surrounded by the impossible dream of a fat store, full up to its bream with exquisitely branded goodies and exotic packages, all lying, standing, kneeling, all around you, all having their price tags carefully tucked in. They tempt you to forget that not all of them here is for you delectation. Not them. There is so much that you can put your lips around.

...I start with a pig, of course. A big and curvaceous leg of a pig lounging sensually on a crisp white linen. A man with a thin and sharp knife and knowledgeable hands (this skill requires years of practice and a certificate to proof) smiles innocently and offers a sliver to try.

Iberico ham (an unknown to me painter).
My taster thanks to

I take the warm piece of Iberico ham, burgundy and almond colour, roll it and put my tongue over it. Oh hell. If there is a re-incarnation, I know I want to be an Iberico pig, leaving on acres and acres of free land, feeding myself silly on acorns and occasional grass and roots. So Russian of me really. They say these pigs endure extreme temperatures and survive any weather.

Oh, and the fat.

The woman selling the ham started briskly telling me how this fat is actually good, I glanced back and she stops. I do not need to be told that. This fat is so fucking good. I want to put a thin stack of these warm, grainy, fat slices in my bag - for all its £12 per 100gr price tag - and fish out one by one three times a day, to remind myself of the woodlands, smell of mushrooms and wet soil. And this ludicrous over-indulgence.

...After stall after stall of - the best but expected - cheeses I spot a modest little plate full of warm fishcakes (thanks to Moxon's fishmongers). The fat of the Iberico ham is brush and lush, these cakes of cod, lug (?) and wild garlic, are like old-fashioned, flower-patterned pottery laid out on a sunny day.

The man explains that the lug (apparently a forgotten, back of the ear, part of the fish) gives the cakes a more grainy, salt-cod like texture and flavour. Perhaps. I just think they are good and clever - in that they are the only ones on display tonight that are warm and home-made-like. I keep nagging the man about the unsustainability of the cod (he says that the stocks around the UK have actually 'replenished remarkably' - hmm, who knows), whilst putting a blob after blob in my month. I feel cheery.

Then there are rows and lines and stacks of bacon (maple syrup layered), mini baps with sausage (Northumberland, pure pork), ice-creams and sorbets (Bloody Mary and Bloody oranges), more wine, more looking for more, avoiding the glances of lust around - they are for another sausage, no doubt, not for me.

Oaty Vanilla Crunch Creams www.cobbs.inf0

...My heart rate palpitates, I go up a floor, where sweets are laid out. Brownies always do good at such Awards - chocolate, butter, sugar, the no loose Big 3 - triple chocolate, gluten-free with cranberries, macademia nuts.

Eventually I get to a quiet plate of pale biscuits sandwiching cream. I like these. They are the essence of Englishness (perhaps the way the way tourists see it). 'Honest' all-butter biscuits, holding a naughty centre.

I imagine this is something I could make - or rather put together - at home. Proper, expensive oatcakes, say spread with a mixture of high-volume cream cheese mixed in with icing sugar, or caramel, or dark honey. These on display are not like this at all, but I like the feeling of connection to the guy-producer (I seem to think it's a man) who is at the same biscuit wavelength as me.

...I need to go. Words and gazes slur. People's voices are slightly hysterical (or is it my ears?) and so are they months. They keep chewing, munching, slurping. The displays are cleared but they continue moving their lips and teeth as if in a trance. I feel myself saying a whisper of a goodbye to someone, whilst patting my warm, expanded belly, but maybe I am not saying a thing, maybe I am like them, just keep moving, digesting, consuming.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On breaking fast and melancholy

I have been feeling rather melancholicly recently. May be because I have just come back from sparkly Morocco into the winds and rains of London; or the realisation that the summer, with all its promise of excitement and adventure, is almost over, never quite delivering; or some quasi-existential, not-quite-middle-life crises feelings all rolled into one. Getting out of bed and putting feet onto cold floor is a chore...

Breakfast is the only thing that has been rescuing me. The second thought after 'oh, God, it's morning again' is that of food. No matter how sad I feel, my appetite never leaves me. The enjoyment comes not just from the physical pleasure of tasting and waking up to flavours, but also from the process of thinking up your morning meal. The mental voyage through your fridge, slowly assessing what your tongue and belly feels like, what would comfort you most, adds just a touch of zing to your day. I love breakfasts and don't need to be told that it is healthy to eat them or that one shouldn't rush them. I wouldn't dare.

So here are a few examples of my morning little feasts. Some happened months ago and I have never quite found a reason to write about them. My humble, mostly solitary (J loves his oats with milk and ooof to work) morning meals are my favourite past time, so in the future I will be posting more, perhaps a collage of breakfasts, changing from season to season, mood to mood...But for now:

Soft-boiled egg, Lithuanian rye bread, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

This is quite recent, on another melancholic day, crouching on the decking of my garden.

Organic herby sausage, mushrooms fried with garlic and onion, lettuce leaves, with organic tomato ketchup.

Sometime in the spring: I had bought that bottle of ponsy organic ketchup and so made a fry-up to go with it.

Turkish coffee

Some of you, my dear readers, will remember my 'Hot, dark, tempting' post about the making of proper Turkish coffee, in a dzezva. This photo is some 6 months old, but this coffee is a frequent occurrence on my breakfast table (often in this charming butterfly cup).

Smoked mackerel, black bread, cherry tomatoes and salted Polish cucumbers.

Possible one of my most favourite meals any time of the day. You are probably wondering by now about the prevalence of protein and salt in my breakfasts, and lack of dairy and sugar. Yes, my Russo-Ukrainian genes (or habits really) talk here. A bowl of cornflakes (or even good musli) just never has the same soothing or exhilarating effect.

And lastly, but so not listly:

Moroccan breakfast: Ksra (flat bread), beghrir (pancakes), apricot and strawberry jam, watermelon.

From our recent trip to Fez, whilst staying in a beautiful riad, where we were having our breakfast in a courtyard with blue blue skies above us and a melancholy of fading mosaics around us..