Friday, July 28, 2006

Food Bites: Sweet Cultural Treasures

Just to let you know that I'm interested in many forms of food history, not just the gourmet, here are some interesting Scottish culinary finds that some friends have brought into my world.
Most of us have very strong memories of the horrible sickly sweet crap we gorged on as children. Hell, many of us still suck or slurp down some Americana treats. Here are a few that are cultural icons that my Scottish friends have introduced into my world. Now, you know I'm not a chocolholic by any means. Hell, if I never ate it again, I'd never sweat it.

And despite what many of you think, yes, I can still be a woman even though I don't care for chocolate.

The sweets I tried were made by the Tunnocks company. My friends say it's a Scottish institution, since 1890, and how everyone (old and young) has eaten at least one of their products since they were kids. Tunnocks makes caramel wafers, caramel logs, teacakes, some coconut flake-covered junk called a snowball, and some nasty crap with orange-flavored cream filling in biscuits.

I was first given the milk chocolate caramel wafers (there's also a dark chocolate version). It reminds me of a KitKat bar with caramel. Honestly, I really enjoyed them. Sweet, not too chocolately, but very dense and substantial. The next time I get another one, I'll have to break it open and strip it layer by layer just to get at candy's structure. It's basically caramel, wafer, caramel--repeated 4-5 times! I'm surprised they've never tried to sell them in the states. They would be a hit.

The next one was the teacake. Ok, so, I'm still unclear as to the definition of "teacake". I think it's something tasty and sweet that you may have with "tea". But even the definition is confusing. Sometimes, "teatime" specifically means dinner. But I've also heard it to mean generally a "meal" in the afternoon or even an elaborate ceremony of snacks during "high tea time".
I don't know...I'm working on understanding it. Hell, even the differences between cake, pudding, dessert as well as chips, fries, biscuits seem to vary in meaning.

Freaking Brits...

(cough, cough-- clearing my throat)

Now, as I was saying, next came the milk chocolate teacake. Basically, it's soft marshmallow on a cookie covered in chocolate. This is Andy's favorite. I couldn't try it. Just too damn sticky-marshmallows goop.
Interestingly enough, there are various consumption rituals associated with this teacake.
Some people (like Andy) must strip the teacake of chocolate, exposing the marshmallow and cookie. Then, he eats the marshmallow separately, ending with the pure crunch of cookie.

Others, like my Glasgewian friends, prefer to cut a sizable hole into the teacake and gut out the marshmallow first. Then, the chocolate and cookie are eaten simultaneously.

It's funny; it reminds me of the many ways there is to eat Oreo cookies back home.

If you check out the products from the Tunnocks (retro 1930s?) website, you even get the nutritional information! What a riot!! As if you can really make an argument for the nutritional value of candy and teacakes! Oh well, somebody's got to try...

But beware... The site has some games that will suck you in! I found myself playing them and I don't even LIKE video games!! Ugh!!

And then there's the choice drink for kilted folk: Irn Bru. The soft drink has been around since 1901 and it's about to be promoted as an energy drink (like Red Bull) in the coming months, I hear. It's just as popular as (and in certain counties, MORE popular than) Coke. People LOVE this stuff.

Get this: when McDonald's restaurants first opened in Glasgow they didn't serve Irn-Bru. The wee hairy shirefolk were pissed off that they couldn't get their crack-drink with their artery-hardening food. People got their blue war paint and crude axes and declared a Braveheart campaign war. Needless to say, McDonald's is not stupid. Guess it made sense to serve the salt and grease along with a biggie size of caffeine and sugar.

It's much like Mountain Dew: it has a neon color, heavy on caffeine (maybe even more than Mountain Dew) and loads of sugar. I've been told that it's the cure for most hangovers. The strange thing is that Irn Bru also has .002% of Ammonium Ferric Citrate. Who knows why. It has a bubblegum-like flavor that reminds me of a drink I used to have as a kid. Only, I can't remember what it was.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dinner Party/Postscript

Saturday night, Andy and I had a 6-person dinner party.

The menu:

snacky bits- cibatta bread, herbed olive oil for dipping, Scottish cheddar, Manchego cheese, chorizo, fancy salami, roasted red peppers, seasoned tomatoes, parmesan, assorted olives in rosemary.
Dinner- roasted Marsala cod with roasted potatoes and brocolini
Dessert- strawberry creme tart with vanilla ice and raspberries

We love to entertain. It's not about showing off what we can make or how much $$ we can spend. It's about sharing the best of ourselves with our friends. I'm sure you've been there, right? A party where the hosts took much time and energy to make sure that you have a fun and sumptuous experience. There's always enough great alcohol, great food, and a bevy of laughter. Call me cheesy, but to give to others and share in their surprise and happiness is an amazing thing. What more can you ask for?
And at the end of the night, after all the laughs, food, wine, beer, and whisky, I'm exhausted.

I reflect back on all the hard work we did: the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the baking,setting up, beautifying the joint, receiving guests, making sure their glasses are never empty, their plates are always filled, and at minimum, there's always a smile on their lips.

But damn, I hate the mess that's left.
And then Andy said the most romantic thing yet:

"We'll do the dishes and clean up tomorrow."

Just fell in love with him again.
Honestly, I knew I was going to deal with all the mess in the morning. This is run of the mill for me. But having a partner in crime makes it all the more enjoyable. He's there for all the grunt work before the party as well as for the fun of the party. And he'll be there helping with the cleanup.

For the party and the shitty clean up, he's always there.

It's Sunday and I haven't much time. Tomorrow, two wonderful friends of mine are coming to spend a few days with us. These are really special people--friends who were there for me during my surgery (an extremely scary time for me) a few months ago. So you know I gotta show them a good time.


While I was making a few phone calls to my people in the States, Andy washed ALL the dishes and scrubbed up the kitchen top to bottom.

Gotta love that man o' mine.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Food Bites: Lychee Martinis and New Culinary Aspirations

As most of you know, I love food: taste, preparation, history, scent...everything. After living in Austin for several years, I became spoiled by some of the town's better food markets such as Central Market and the gastronomic Whole Foods , with the endless supplies of nearly any kind of food product I could ever imagine needing.
I may be in Negroshire, but at least I have a local gastro-gourmet store,Provender Brown that gives me amazing cheeses, wines, charcuterie, duck confit (Yum!), unique ice creams and sorbets.

So, whenever I travel, I seek out interesting grocery stores and gourmet delicatessens.
This weekend in Edinburgh, Andy and I managed to find a bottle of caƧhaca so I can make Brazil's best drink, the Caipirina, whenever I want. Even better, we came across a bottle of lychee liqueur! Back home, Sunday brunch was followed with reading of the Sunday papers or newly purchased books, bossa nova tunes playing on the stereo, and the consumption of lychee martinis!

Very, very tasty. I imagine it may become the new "it" drink soon...esp. among women, once bartenders change the color to hot pink, thus becoming irresistible to people obsessed with pronouncing their femininity and sexual prowess through pink alcohol.

Besides the hunt for culinary delights, inside the hearth, I've been experimenting and coming up with new culinary aspirations. Of course, these pics are not amazing--I'm not a food photographer, but you'll get the point.
Here are a few things I've tried:
For colder days, I sometimes want chili.
Making it from scratch, I found that adding port wine adds just enough sweetness and extra depth without having the taste of alcohol in my chili.
Bacon in the UK is really a cut of ham--like Canadian bacon. To get what we call bacon, you have to look for "streaky bacon". Simple enough. But I want to learn more about British bacon so I decided to roast it with a chicken stuffed with apples and onions. The strips are large enough that I only needed 4 strips to cover the entire top of the bird, legs and all. The drippings add something smoky to the gravy at the bottom of the roasting pan.

As for dessert, I wanted to do something with the lovely cherries since they are in season and pretty cheap. I altered a strawberry tart recipie and it came out pretty delicious. It's creme caramel tart that is almost a clafoutis except for the tasty crust. I always opt to do a pate brisee crust cause it's so buttery and very close to a shortbread. Needless to say, this is not something to eat if you're on a diet. Andy has taken to it like crack, sneaking into the kitchen get get an extra slice.

To make the tart, I had to make a caramel. Since I've stopped using white sugar for the most part, I had to subsitute brown sugar which ended up as a black caramel. Sweet but dark as its color. Much like molasses.
With the leftover black caramel, I found it's delicious when lightly drizzled on slightly tart fruit or extremely pungent soft cheese.
There are plenty of times, I just don't feel like cooking and I don't want to go out either. So, we do a picnic.

In this picnic featured, I did the blueberries drizzled with black caramel in the lower left side. After that, there is my new favorite cheese, the soft Irish Cooleney. Ooo! It's like a pungent brie with wonderful flavor. Next are slices of tomatoes from the vine, dressed with salt and pepper only. Fresh lettuces. Parma-ham (that's prosciutto to the US) baked for 3-5 mins to make it a bit crunchy. Black cured olives. Blanched asparagus dressed with salt pepper and lemon juice. Fresh cherries. Delicious Shropshire Blue cheese. In the center is a little container of shelled pistachio bordered by roasted red peppers. To accompany, sometimes we use good, top-quality fresh baked bread or large crackers.

It doesn't get any easier or tastier than that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Scotland's Bi-Polar Weather and the Unbearable Sickness of Me

I'm just taking a break from writing this damn dissertation. I'm sitting on the couch working, while Andy's in his office his boxers. It's warm today. The forecast said a high of 75 degrees. As I check the time on my watch, 4:30 p.m., it's actually 82 degrees.

While everyone (the fish-belly white natives) walk around outside as if it's the Mohave Desert, the weather is rather nice, in my Floridian opinion. But when it's cold, I don't mind the weather too much.
I just need consistency. I can't deal with up-down weather anymore than I can deal with people who run hot and cold.

I lost my voice a couple of days ago. Last weekend, I was in Glasgow running around in the cold rain, then hitting the hot clubs, only to walk through the cold, wet air looking for a taxi.
Needless to say, I got sick. Actually, I'm still sick. I still force myself to hit the gym, but really hate it now. There's coughing, there's hacking and there's the fatigue. But all the week, the weather's been cool--upper 60s. Thinking, I was ok, Andy and I trekked to Edinburgh on Sat. for the day. Take in some shopping, museums, sights, and the cow parade.

Edinburgh was crowded and very, very warm. In the eve, we met up with a friend of Andy's, the head of marketing for the hip Traverse Theatre, for drinks, debates and dining.

Well, I must of had too much fun cause it was a bitch to drag myself back to Perth. By late Sat. evening, I lost my voice.

And I'm still sick. It's 82 right now and tonight, the low will be in the mid 50s--still too cold to sleep with the windows open. By Sat. the daytime temps should drop back to the lower 60s with rain. And if there really is rain, then it will feel colder. What is with this bi-polar weather??

What makes this annoying is that I'm SICK of feeling sick. I want my voice back and I want to stop hacking and coughing and feeling like crap. I don't want to feel like I'm dragging myself to the gym. Andy thinks I should be resting but if you saw the pics from my high school friend's Class of 86 reunion--you'd be right there pumping hard with me. Hell, my 20th reunion is next year!

I feel like crap. But I must press on. I must struggle with the dissertation monkey on my back. I must continue going to the gym. Maybe pushing myself will allow me to be so dead tired that I will finally get some decent sleep without coughing/hacking interuptions. I do rest, however, in front of the tube, watching British tv's import of Black entertainment shows and music videos. In a European context, knowing so many people don't know any blacks or know anything about Black Americans except for the booty and coochie-shaking they see on television, I find that I'm extremely uncomfortable. And let me tell you boys and girls, the stuff they show here after 9 p.m. is uncensored! Racy videos with NAKED black and brown female bodies writhing and jiggling quickly to money, alcohol, and oh yeah, the beat...the skewed perspective Europeans get of Black Americans is pretty scary and worse, sad.

Excuse me for coughing again. I gotta get better soon. I have friends, my friends from the States, coming up next week to visit.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"I love the Nightlife! I love to Boogie (in Glasgow)!"

What a weekend. I'm still tired. And it's not that I did a ton of drinking and partying. But it was busy. Friends (Diane and Rik) came through Perth Friday and we were up late drinking and eating some nibbles. Since Andy and I decided not to repeat last year's fun in the sun by spending the weekend with 70,000 of our closest friends at the T in the Park music festival, we went, instead, to spend the weekend in Glasgow with them.

After a lovely French bistro dinner, the four of us hit a nice pub for drinks and check out what clubs we should hit. We were given flyers for other cool, funk, R&B, neo-soul spots too. So we were going to have a good time regardless.
Slowly, I'm learning that Glasgow has quite a scene for black music. Various venues support and celebrate new and creative ventures blending disco, funk, soul, gospel, latin, house, drum and bass, house, US garage sometimes with live vocals, horns, and percussion. There are equally interesting terms to describe these new dancefloor sounds: soulsa, dancefloor jazz, souljam, discojuice.
In the end, we headed to the Favela club for some salsa and Afro-pop dancing.

I thought it interesting that the club would be named after the term for a Brazilian slum neighborhood. I saw it as the possibility to hang out in a non-glitzy, maybe even dodgy, gritty spot to have a truly organic experience.
People, THIS was the place!! Black folk (African and Diasporic) were doing their thing. Fine brothers were out and about. More than that, this was an extremely mixed crowd (Persian, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, European)---more so than ANY club I've ever been to ever.
And what a crowd: there were the Hen parties (British bachelorette parties <----and the women always have to be dressed some outrageous, trashy outfits to attract as much attention as possible); gross OLD, wrinkly European men out with their extremely young, Black escorts for the evening (watching them nearly made me puke). Some of the more pathetic people were these women who pretended to have too much to drink and wanted to try the moves they taught themselves after watching a hiphop video on MTV. One woman finally gave up trying to make her pancake ass bounce anad reverted (I kid you not) to doing some RiverDance jig...while dancehall was playing.

Of course, there were the amazing syncopated booty movements by some women (black and white) who really knew how to work their ass and legs to the nastiest of dancehall. I envy that kind of sexual power--you cannot take your eyes off of them and they make it look so effortless. Still, I'm sure some men watch that and think she might pull a move in bed with them and snap his pee-pee off with one twist of her groin.

The most pathetic were these men and women who moved en mass, all members of some salsa club. You can always spot these people. Although they are technically individuals, they moved together as an organism--not an independent thinker among them). Moreover, no matter what was playing the DJ played (hiphop, Congolese music, etc) the entity had to danced their newly learned, heavily processed salsa steps. God forbid they stopped dancing salsa to just shake it a bit to some Destiny's Child song.

What I mean by "processed" salsa is that it's nothing like what any person would dance in Latin America. Real salsa doesn't look anything like that! Sadly, much of what is taught in Europe and the US that passes as salsa is really some strange ballroom aberration with a lot of hands running up and down the womans body, minor aerobics to emphasize how long and shiny the woman's hair is, followed by the stare-down competition between the couple to demonstrate how sexy they look, which then leads to a long succession of at least 25 quick spins of the woman to emulsify her dinner in her stomach, and of course, to end with the heavily exaggerated dip.
What I find so funny is that if any of these idiots tried to head to Cuba, Puerto Rico, god forbid, the Dominican Republic with those moves, they would be stabbed in mid ballroom traditional spin.

Anyway, Favela was wonderfully diasporic. People in attendance were a beautiful racial and ethnic mix. The DJs played a wide variety of music-African, Soca, Latin, Reggae, Reggaeton, Ragga, R&B and Bhangra. We danced our share to hiphop (not the best), dancehall, soukous, and all this other African music I have never even heard of! Yeah, that's the fucking spot!
After dancing, we headed back to their apt. and did quite a bit of political, historical arguing on slavery, and religious/economic domination of empires throughout time. By 4 a.m., the sun started to come up and we decided to call it a night.

The next time, we'll have to check out some of these other funk and soul venues. It's great to know there's some really interesting clubs partying.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Northern Soul": An Unexpected Cultural Treasure of Britain

Sitting in a Glasgewian flat, hanging with some proper Scottish friends,can and will always bring about some of the most interesting topics. It's a moment I always treasure but only in hindsight; for I never know that I'm about to learn something amazing.
Even now, I can't recall how it came about, but while deciding what funk venue to check out for the evening, I first heard of "northern soul".

What is northern soul? It's a style of music associated with dance and fashion of the working class youth culture of Britain during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the soul music in the north of England was said to be quite distinct from any other part of the country.
The music originally consisted of Motown music and similar obscure American soul recordings of Detroit and Chicago labels. Northern soul had to always have that uptempo Motown beat (for dancing).

Due to the rarity of the music, collecting associated vinyl is an expensive pasttime. Vinyl discs can go anywhere from $3000 to $30,000 each!
Apparently, the classic image is of men, dancing, not with young ladies, but alone, competitively against each other.
It reminds of similar contemporary images, much what you still see in dancehall and modern African popular music scenes in nightclubs.
The northern soul culture was influenced by the mod scene in style and fashion. Everyone dressed up like Austin Powers all the time. (lord)
When it comes to supplemental drug use, uppers must have been the thing, in order to do all that fast-pace dancing all night long. There were club badges with the icon raised black fist as a prominent symbol (hm...very interesting). The vespa was the signature mode of transportation tricked out with fancy mirrors and lights. (I gotta find a movie or archival photo book on this stuff)

According to my source of all things musical in Britain (aka Andy), northern soul music scene is still alive and well with original fans as well as some young audiences of 21st. centuy. I'll have to check out when I hear of a club I can get access easily. Check out this more recent venue poster with a raised WHITE fist. I don't even know what to say about that.

Any one know anything about this scene?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

American Ambivalence on the Fourth of July

It's the Fourth of July here in Scotland as it is in the US. And I'm telling you, the biggest event going on right now is if we can get the stupid Apple Airport device working so I can be on the net on my own computer instead of Andy's.

Ok, so I admit. I really wish I was back in the US right now to partake in our greatest national holiday. Not because I'm terribly patriotic, cause I'm not. I'm more than aware of how janus-face the US can be when it comes to capitalism and global power. Hell, being Haitian allows me to be pissy with the US for not sending us help during the Haitian Revolution (which we did more than fine without their punk-asses anyway!) after we helped the fledging colonies in their fight for independence from England. But you know that little thing call the Louisiana Purchase was on the line and the newly founded US didn't want to upset Mr. Napoleon. Basically, they said "sorry, Charlie but, I gots to get paid" and blew us off. And don't get me started on the early 20th century invasions and occupation by the US either!
However, I'm not simple enough to not remember that it was here my parents chose to find a better life for themselves and their family. Despite all the crap that has happened to us, I have a brother who's making a little change with the Post Office and I'm trying to finish writing my PhD. The life I'm living, the life my baby bro lives would not have been possible in matter how much we love our Cherie Ayiti.

I wish I was back in the States to have the big cookout today. Drinking beer, eating great bbq with my friends (cause my people can cook!) and having the world's stupidest debates while putting on bug spray and questioning whether sunblock actually necessary for someone as dark as me. I got serious fieldslave skin tone, y'all!
And of course, the big finale is always the fireworks at our local park. I'm in my late 30s and fireworks still hit me with awe and joy as it did when I was a child.
The Fourth for me has never been about patriotism and rememberance of our country's forefathers Declaration of Independence. I get more misty-eyed over a good "Little House on the Prairie" episode. But it is the closest I get to bonding with the rest of the least the common joys and events that is tradition on this day.

Have a good burger for me! I'm thinking of you all.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Food Bites: On Breton cuisine and local Scottish Farmers Markets

God, I'm soooo sick of the World Cup. And to be fair, Andy has not tortured me with the insistance of watching every bleeping game from start to finish. However, as we grew closer to the finals (thank you, Jesus), Andy is having to watch more and more of rich men run around the field chasing a white ball with a bunch of hexagon patterns on the hopes that they MIGHT make a goal.
Well, at least England got knocked out. Go Brazil.

Earlier today, Andy and I walked to downtown Perth for lunch at our favorite cafe, and a little furniture shopping. Le Breizh cafe is absolutely adorable and inviting. All waitstaff is dressed in the traditional French striped shirts with black pants. The only thing missing was a beret! The cafe features cuisine, light-fare, from the Brittany region of France. Therefore, much of the dishes are very thin, wide pancakes, called "galette", made from buckwheat or white wheat flour. Toppings include mixed variations of ham, eggs and other savoury fillings. The desserts include French pastries (pain au raisin; croissants au chocolat) and sweet crepes. People, they do NOT play when it comes to the food. Today's featured crepe had pineapple, apple, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries...all of that with ice cream on it too! What an overdose. I didn't even pretend to think I could handle something like that. Even if galettes or crepes are not your thing, guess what, they make phenomenal pizza as well. Some specialities include ingredients such as parma ham, lardon, egg, chorizo, salmon, and scallops. I could go on, because they certainly do. If all of that is still too much, they do have plain cheese pizza--some of the best tomato sauce and dough I've had outside of NY city.
For something different altogether, the cafe offers amazing brochettes of thick chunks of pork, chicken, porkbelly, Toulouse sausage...all, of course, in multiple varieties with several different yet delicious sauces too.

Although we wanted to have lunch out, our true reason for heading downtown was to hit the Farmers Market. The first weekend of the every month, kiosks are occupied by various vendors from all over the shire (Middle/Old English term for "county" in case you wanted to know) with fabulous produce such as organic veggies, meats, fish, spirits and any other products shire-folk may desire.

Today, we picked up some New potatoes and minced lamb to make wonderful burgers and spuds cooked in a bit of duck fat that I've saved. There was an interesting vendor selling whiskey ale! Everyone was allowed a sample. Its bouquet and taste was definitely whiskey, but was most certainly an ale. I will have to pick up a few bottles for some beer snobs friends of mine. I wonder if they've ever heard of such a product.
Andy and I missed out on getting some buffalo meat--they were sold out within two hours of the market's opening.

But we were tempted into getting some wild boar sausages and with cider and apple as well as some wild boar smoked back bacon! MM hm! I bet that is going to be really tasty; grilled with some yellow, green and red peppers and onions.
Much of the veggie selection was nice but not nice enough to lure us in. Our fridge is stocked high with greens.

Andy and I have been making a conscious effort to buy and consume only organic and/or conflict-free wild bred produce. For example, we came across a kiosk selling vension products (you know: steaks, sausages, minced meat, etc).
"Yum! Venison! Shall we get some?" I asked.
Andy gave the stall a brief look, I believe at the name of the vendor, and dragged me on.
"I don't buy farmed venison."
So you know I gave him that look which says 'uh...huh? why?'
"Because I can get wild stuff for nothing."
"Andy, that's it? That's the only reason."
(With Andy, you always have to prod him to get the full explanation. He never willing gives it up. I think it's part of his macho code of being the silent, strong guy)
"Well, [the wild product] tastes hundred times better. It's just like how you can taste the difference between farmed and wild salmon."
(Actually, I can't. At least not yet. But I'm working on it. It's bad enough to know that farmed salmon are not naturally that beautiful orange-rose color. That only happens in the wild. Therefore, salmon farms inject a dye into the salmon so that it LOOKS like the wild variety)
But back to topic cause, Andy was still explaining: "You are what you eat, you know? They get a more varied, tasty diet on the hill that carries through the meat. While farmed animals are fed mostly just grass, pellets and cattle-feed type stuff. They don't get anything with flavor. On the hill, they have heather, wild thyme, blueberries..."

Anyway, you get the point. And that's why we didn't buy venison today.

You know, sometimes it gets harder and harder to enjoy food when you learn of all the tampering humans have done. But many of us are trying to get back a more natural state of eating. We'll never revert to a true hunter-gatherer gastronomic lifestyle. But the less crap we put into our bodies, less crap we or worse, the doctors, have to take out.