TV, Julia and Chopping Onions

Not so long ago I published a post called A Kind of Foodie Sort of Blog Post. It was about cookery and food and brought me in quite a few new readers as well as some new subscribers. A lot of those subscribers were food bloggers and to a certain extent they must be feeling a little short changed with their new subscription as I haven’t written much on the food and drink subject since. Anyway, at least they have had some different content for a change, stuff about 60s and 70s TV shows, classic films and secondhand books and so on. A change is a good as a rest as they say. Anyway, perhaps it’s time to redress the balance and thank those new readers for their support with another foodie sort of blog.

I’ve not been at my best this week. I tested positive for Covid 19 and at one point I felt so bad I thought I might have picked up Covid 20 and 21 as well. I’m feeling much better now and another positive lately has been in the bread making department. A few weeks ago, I made a loaf of bread without the assistance of my bread maker. I’d read somewhere that it’s best to make a wholemeal loaf using a combination of white and wholemeal flour. I found a recipe in one of my numerous cookery books which called for 500g of flour so I thought I’d use 250g of each. As it happened, I only had a little wholemeal flour so I made up the shortfall with white. I added my yeast and salt and olive oil, mixed it up and gave the result a good kneading and left it to prove for thirty minutes.

It rose quite well so I gave it a second kneading and then found I didn’t have a tin in which to bake it. After a rather frantic search I came across one of my mother’s old cake tins and used that. My bread later came out of the oven looking wonderful and tasted just as good. I do love warm bread with a good lashing of butter. Now you might be thinking well done, he’s managed to make himself a loaf of bread, bravo! Yes, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself but could I reproduce that feat, could I make another?

Only yesterday I made another loaf using a 50-50 white and wholewheat flour mix. It wasn’t quite as good as the first one so I reckon in future I might use a 40-60 mix, even so, I’m already looking forward to the next loaf. Also, the thing is, once you have some great bread you need something equally as good to have with it, great cheese or pâté or great soup even. Perhaps it’s time to take a look in my cookbooks or see what my favourite TV chefs have to offer on the small screen.

Talking about TV chefs I want to talk about a TV show, a current TV show. Yes, not from the 1960’s or 70’s like I usually write about but an actual current mainstream TV show. It’s Julia, the story of American TV chef Julia Child.

These days a lot of new TV shows always seem to be on some TV channel that I don’t have access to, Disney+ or Netflix for instance but happily, Julia is currently showing on Sky Showcase which, thanks to Liz’s Sky subscription I can actually get to see.

Those of us in the UK are probably not that familiar with Julia Child. In the 1950’s she lived in Paris with her diplomat husband where she embarked on a training course to be a French chef. She learned all the tricks and techniques of French cookery and she was so keen about it, she decided to write a cookery book called Mastering The Art of French Cooking which she hoped would bring the excellence of French cuisine into the American home.

The TV series picks up Julia later living back in the USA when she gets invited onto a local TV show to talk about her book and rather than just talk about cookery she took into the interview room a hot plate, a pan and some eggs and proceeded to cook the interviewer an omelette.

Julia is played by Sarah Lancashire, a British TV veteran. She started her career in TV soap Coronation St where she played the dizzy Raquel. She played the character for five years but then left to do other things as she apparently tired of the relentless fame of being a TV soap star. Since then, she has starred in many other TV productions and series. In 2000 she signed a ‘golden handcuffs’ deal binding her exclusively to the TV channel ITV. The deal was worth 1.3 million pounds and made Sarah the highest paid UK actress at the time.

It’s hard to say why I like Julia so much. Lancashire is excellent as Julia as is David Hyde Pierce who you might remember from the US sitcom Frasier where he played Frasier’s brother Niles. It appears to be a faithful reconstruction of 1950s America. It’s gently humorous and it’s interesting to see the dynamics of TV production in the 1950s, what the TV executives of the time thought would and would not work and also how the idea of a TV chef came about. There are no car chases and explosions but instead there is plenty of food.

I’m not a great cook myself but I do like watching food programmes, especially those that highlight the skills of a particular chef and how we, the great food eating, TV watching public can try to emulate them.

Now this isn’t the first time Julia has been portrayed on the screen. In 2009 Nora Ephron wrote and directed the film Julie and Julia. It was based on two books, My Life in France, an autobiography by Julia Child and a memoir by Julie Powell based on her blog, in which she decided to cook all 524 recipes in Julia’s cookbook, in a 365-day period. Meryl Streep played Julia Child in the film and I’d be hard pushed to name another film based on a blog, if indeed there are any. Meryl’s version of Julia Child was quite unsurprisingly very similar to Sarah’s and I’d be hard pushed to say which I prefer.

In the film Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, the blogger who decides to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes, all 524 of them for her blog. She experiences a number of disasters and frustrations but she finally pulls off her task and to her surprise, her blog ends up with a huge amount of followers and becomes a great success. The film also looks at the other Julia’s life in France and the trials and tribulations of learning to be a French chef. I mentioned earlier about the skills of a chef and I do love those moments in TV cookery when the celebrity chef will dazzle the viewer with their incredible chopping skills on an onion or something. For me it’s just chop, chop, chop, gradually getting through the onion. For the experts is one quick superfast ch-ch-ch-chop with an entire onion reduced to slices in seconds and in the film, Meryl Streep as Julia goes on a great chopping spree to hone her chopping skills.

I can completely identify with the disasters and frustrations experienced by blogger Julie as can most amateur cooks. Sometimes I have made a fabulous meal, other times I’ve produced that same meal using the same recipe and it’s been a little tame to say the least. What made the difference between the outstanding chilli from last week and the insipid offering from today? What did I do wrong? Was it the meat or the seasoning? Did I miss an ingredient? Usually, I never manage to work out why my food went wrong which is really annoying.

So, shall I look in my recipe books for a soup recipe to go with my fabulous fresh bread or just make a sandwich? Maybe it’s time to settle down with Julia Child’s book? I was saving it for a holiday read but what the heck, I think it’s time for a cheese sandwich, a cup of tea and a good read.


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The Idea, The Inspiration and The Kebab

A few weeks back I was asked to test some new editing software for a company whose software I used to use regularly. They were trying something new, in fact a feature that I had advocated a few times on one of their forums. It was a surprise to be asked to test the new feature but also rather nice. It’s always nice to be acknowledged so anyway as soon as the feature was enabled I set out to make a test video.

I thought about doing a new version of my usual content. You know the sort of thing, the videos that you usually find down at the end of my blogs extolling the virtues of Floating in Space and A Warrior of Words. Instead, I thought of doing a quick few minutes on the subject of poetry writing. It was called Ideas, Inspiration and Effort.

Nothing can start without an idea. Amateur writers like me just tend to wait for an idea to come but to be really professional you have to make the ideas come. You have to sit down and start writing. It’s only then that the ideas come. The same is true for blogs. I do get ideas. I get them driving to work. I get them while watching television. Sometimes I get no ideas at all but then I can always write about the books that I read, the old TV shows that I like and the classic black and white films that I watch on TV. Either way, blogs or poems, everything starts with the idea.

Next comes the inspiration. Again, when I’m in amateur writer mode I usually just wait for the inspiration to come. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. The thing that makes it come is just to start writing. Sitting down at the keyboard with the TV on and the sound off, that’s usually when inspiration strikes. Last week if you may remember I was doing battle with my electric company because they wouldn’t give me my money back, the money that I had paid, in error, into the wrong account. I wasn’t happy about it at the time but on reflection I could see the funny side and that is hopefully what made that particular blog post rather amusing. The good thing as well is that it’s that kind of self-deprecating humour which Floating in Space is all about so if you liked that post, you should like Floating. (An in-post plug for Floating! Hey, I’m pretty pleased with that.)

The same is true for poetry, once I have an idea I start playing with words until inspiration finally comes. Then of course I need to make the effort. The effort to get down to work, typing away until the first draft is ready. Then more effort comes, the effort to edit and to develop the blog or poem until I think it’s finished. That of course is where I usually fail. I don’t have my editor on my back, I don’t have a publishing company that has paid me a million-dollar advance and is waiting for the book I promised them. The only promise I have made is to myself, a promise to one day complete another book which actually may be a long time coming. The thing is there are so many other things to do, restaurants to visit, books to read, TV shows to watch and so on.

Anyway, it’s time for another blog post and as usual lately I’m struggling. What I need is an idea. So using my own method above I thought about an idea and I came up with disappointment. Yes, what has disappointed me lately? Let me see, well there was the pizza I made the other day.

When I spend a little time on my own I tend to eat a lot of snack food. I do love sandwiches as you might have guessed if you had read this old post about sandwiches but sometimes I like to do something a little more exciting. I do like cooking with my slow cooker and I’ve made numerous bologneses, chillis and curries in this way but the other day I thought I’d try and make a pizza, a proper pizza made from scratch. I had some flour and yeast and I had Jamie’s Italian, Jamie Oliver’s Italian cook book to guide me so what could go wrong? I mixed all the ingredients and made some basic dough then I gave it a good kneading and eventually I got a good spongy dough. I left it to prove and a bit later made it into a few portions. I left one to rise once again and made a simple tomato sauce using tinned tomatoes. Later I slapped on the sauce then some cheese, some pepperoni and some onions and I was all ready to bake. Jamie recommended putting the oven on its hottest setting, gas mark 9 so I slapped the pizza in and about ten minutes later it was looking good.

The crusts were ok but the rest was a bit soggy. Even so, it was pretty reasonable. The next day I tried again and looking at some other recipes I thought it was better to cook the base first and then add the toppings and cook again. I did that, added the toppings but this time I left it in too long and the pizza emerged a little frazzled. Maybe I should just stick with chilli in future.

Here’s something else that was disappointing. Sitting down to eat I was happy to find that The Time Tunnel, the sixties Sci-fi TV show was about to start on the Horror channel. It’s about two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present, the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

The Time Tunnel was a sci fi series from the 1960’s and as a child I was crazy about it. I thought it was wonderful but it only lasted one season before producer Irwin Allen moved on to something new. I had missed the first few episodes of this latest re-run but as I settled down I realised that my favourite episode, the one about Pearl Harbour, was about to start.

Tony lived there as a child and his father was reported as missing in action so the first thing Tony and Doug decide to do is to go and visit him. Cue some rather daft dialogue and some clumsy situations which led on to more clumsy dialogue and daft situations. What a disappointment that episode was and yet for years and years I’ve looked forward to finally seeing it again. There are some things which just don’t stand the test of time.

Another thing that I found rather disappointing this week was a large donner kebab. My last few shifts at work this week went pretty well and as I drove home after the last one I thought it was time to treat myself. I ordered a large donner with salad and chilli sauce, took it home and settled down with a small beer.

The salad was as limp as the Time Tunnel dialogue, the chilli sauce didn’t have much get up and go and the donner meat had seen better days. All in all, I could have done with a trip through the time tunnel to Manchester city centre in 1986 and gone to my very favourite kebab emporium where they served donner on naan bread with fresh salad and a tasty hot chilli sauce. Yes, I had the idea, I had the inspiration, I just wish I hadn’t made the effort and got that kebab!


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Enjoying The Fruits of Our Labours

A while back I wrote a post about Liz’s garden and all the things that were growing there. Now we’re in September it might be a good time to look again and see how things are.

The tomatoes have done well. There are not too many to show you because we both love tomatoes and between us we’ve scoffed a great deal. We’ve had some fried with bacon, sausage and eggs and some in my favourite salad; tomato and onion with plenty of olive oil.

We didn’t get many peas or broad beans but I’m guessing if we did Liz and daughter Zoë would have soon eaten those too. They like to eat them raw, nibbling on them as they pass by.

The cauliflower are not looking great as they have been the victim of some serious nibbling by the garden’s indigenous insect population. The insects can’t have been that keen on the celeriac as even though they were planted right next door to the cauliflower they are looking well.

We had a good crop of strawberries this year but they too have been harvested and eaten. We like them served with raspberries and some Greek yoghurt.

The padron peppers are looking good. I’ve seen padron peppers on the tapas menu in Lanzarote in the past but I’ve never tried them. This year we’ve had plenty of peppers on the barbecue and I have to say, I’ve got to really like them.

I grew some chilli pepper plants from seeds. Most have not done too well except for one which has resided on the kitchen window sill throughout the summer. That plant has a few chillies just waiting to be added to either a good chilli con carne or any one of a number of spicy dishes served in our household like Liz’s hot goats’ cheese with spinach and chilli. Another chilli plant, one that came direct from the garden centre sale is doing really well, that’s it in the picture above.

There is some garlic too, over on the far side of the garden which comes in pretty handy for curries and all sorts of spicy dishes. We sometimes add some to our tomato and onion salads too.

I’ve got two olive trees and both seem to have fruit on them, whether they will become fully rounded olives is another story. Some nice black olives would come in pretty handy as they are really nice when added to the tomato and onion salad I mentioned earlier.

It’s been nice to see that the apple pips I planted earlier this year have sprouted into two small plants about six inches high. Might be a few years before I see any apples though. that’s one of the apple plants in the collage below, bottom right.

Some years ago, I grew some lemon plants from pips. I really do love growing things from pips. It’s like having a close up of nature renewing itself. My lemon trees are probably about three years old now and according to the internet, they have to be three to five years old to produce fruit. That’s if they will produce fruit. The thing is if they did produce fruit, if they did actually produce a lemon for me that would be so wonderful, I’d be over the moon.

I’d probably cut a big slice of my lemon -my future lemon- and drop it into a gin and tonic with a whole lot of ice or maybe even a Bacardi and Pepsi Max. Then I’d savour it and quietly thank my tree for giving me a lemon. Once, Liz and I rented a villa in Spain and in the gardens were a whole bunch of lemon trees so we could pick one whenever we wanted.

I do have another lemon tree, a shop bought lemon tree. It’s only small but is obviously grafted and came with a few lemons already growing on it. After a few days my two small lemons dropped off and that was that. I’ve had it for about a year but I’ve watered it regularly, letting it dry out just like they say in those how to do it YouTube videos and blogs that I’ve been researching. I’ve fed it too with the correct fertilizers and nutrients. The other day I noticed something on one of the branches, something that at first glance seemed like a small bit of fluff or something that had been blown in on the breeze but it wasn’t. It was a flower and the beginning of a small lemon!

September has never been one of my favourite months. The days are getting shorter and cooler but last week here in the north west UK we had something of a mini heatwave so rather than go out to a restaurant or eat inside, it was time to crank up our very handy mini gas barbeque. As usual we started off with a tomato and onion salad. Slice your home grown tomatoes and place them in a dish, sprinkle with finely chopped red onions, pour over a glug of good olive oil and season well and if you fancy, throw in a few black olives and even some garlic; lovely.

Another addition is a tomato, chive and rice salad and some homemade slaw. We usually add a bag of salad leaves and we’ll nibble on all that while Liz slaps on our first course, small kebabs made from beef lorne sausages seasoned with cumin and some salt and pepper.

Next up on the little barbeque are some padron peppers, home grown of course, just simply seasoned and rubbed with olive oil.

A couple of homemade burgers go on the grill and I like them served up in a toasted bun with some of my tomatoes and onions and a nice portion of either mustard or tomato sauce. Final course, a small steak served medium for me and medium rare for Liz. Glass of wine? Don’t mind if I do!


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A Week in the Life of a Locked Down Blogger

A major disaster happened to me this week. Not an actual disaster like a car crash or anything but for a writer and blogger it was the blogging equivalent.

I spent a few days at my mother’s house as usual, checking the mail, tidying the garden, giving the heating a good blast in this cold weather and so on. It’s also good, especially being a writer, to have some time alone to work on my various projects like my blog, my books and my videos. Last week I did just that. I added a few more pages to the two novels I’ve been writing and tinkered with some of my videos as well as creating some new ones.

I added a couple of my new videos to two Facebook pages, one for amateur video makers and another for YouTubers. They both did quite well there and brought in some new viewers. All my videos have a link back to this blog and all these blog posts have a link to my books, Floating in Space and A Warrior of Words so with a little luck these new video viewers might even add to my sales which in turn will add to the Higgins coffers.

The crazy thing about the pandemic and the resulting lockdown is that just lately I’ve been spending less money so I’ve actually got a little more in the bank than usual. My usual spending on restaurants, pubs and taxis has stopped completely and I do wonder how all those establishments are faring without me.

This Valentine’s Day, instead of dining out we dined in. We ordered in a full restaurant meal, including wine and settled down in front of the fire to await delivery. I’d ordered the meal a few days before from the Birley Arms, a pub I haven’t visited for many years but it does have a restaurant with a reputation for great food. The day after I ordered the food my phone rang and someone came on the line asking about my order. They didn’t say they were from the Birley Arms, in fact I didn’t actually catch their name but they started talking about my food order so I guessed it was they. All was in hand but apparently I hadn’t specified when the food was for. Now as I’d ordered the Valentine’s Day special I thought it was pretty obvious we would be wanting it for Valentine’s Day. That thought hadn’t occurred to my caller until I mentioned it but he quickly recovered, said something about just making sure and he was off.

What else has happened to me this week? Well, for a long while I’ve been after an eye test; it must be over two years since I last had one. Every time I called the opticians they gave me a date weeks into the future and as I wasn’t sure which shift I was on I always declined and said, I’ll get back to you. I tried again recently as now I have a brand new app on my phone which shows the days I am working. Great! I’ve had the app for a few months and it works fine. I tried it the other day, one hand on the app and the other poised to call the opticians and of course, it wasn’t working. Nothing I could do would get it to work again, not uninstalling, reinstalling, pressing force stop, updating my mobile phone software; nothing.

Anyway, diary at hand – manual diary that is, you know, the old-fashioned type made of cardboard and paper – I went online to the optician’s eye test booking app and lo and behold, there was a free appointment the next day. Presumably a cancellation but what the heck, I grabbed it anyway.

The opticians had changed considerably since my last visit but of course everything now has been affected by Coronavirus. Masks were mandatory as was hand sanitising. I was gradually moved to various socially distanced seating areas, finally ending up with the optician. My eye test was a traditional one using those special glasses where the optician drops in various differing lenses to adjust your vision. So much better than my last eye test at Specsavers. No offence Specsavers but I really do not like having my head in an electronic headset where the lenses are changed at the touch of a button.

Later I decided to order my new glasses from Goggles4U, an online site that I found and have since bombarded me with various offers. The new specs were cheap and were made even cheaper by various discounts. I had some problems getting my order through and then heard from somewhere that my new eyewear would be coming from Pakistan! Was this a con I thought?

Well as it happens my new specs arrived and they are just great. It always feels so good to have a new set of lenses. Everything looks so good and so sharp. People with 20/20 vision probably take perfect sight for granted but as a spectacle wearer since I have been a child, I assure you, I do not.

Okay, let’s get back to Valentine’s Day and there we were, waiting with bated breath and dangling tongues for our food. The appointed time came and went. Knives and forks had been deployed and the plates were warming and just at the point when I was searching for the pub phone number to complain, our Valentine’s feast arrived. There seemed to be quite a lot of it but then again, the meal consisted of appetisers, starters, mains and puddings. We slapped it into the oven to keep warm before nibbling on the appetisers and then it was on to the starters. One big mistake was when we put everything in the oven, we had forgotten that one starter was pâté. Warm pâté was new, not something I’d tried before but I liked it.

Round about then I realised the delivery guy had not left any wine. A quick call and happily the driver was nearby with an order for someone else so the wine came shortly after. Luckily, another bottle of red was already warming by the fire but with so much food, that second bottle came in pretty handy.

Just to make your mouth water, we had various appetisers including crab on toast and belly pork fritters. Starters were smoked salmon, prawns and scallops for Liz and duck spring roll and chicken liver pate for me. Mains were Beef Rossini for me and Rack of Lamb for Liz and a bevy of desserts, all for me as Liz isn’t a lover of sweet things.

We enjoyed the meal although I have to admit, being served at a nice table in a restaurant doesn’t really compare to a take away, even a restaurant standard one.

So what was the big disaster you might be thinking? Before I get to the main one here’s another. Back in January I bought a bundle of six CDs. They were advertised for £25 and I offered £18, the seller declined but they failed to sell and the buyer came back to me and finally accepted my offer. I waited and waited but they never turned up. I contacted the seller and she asked me to wait a little longer in case Covid had affected the Royal Mail. The CDs still didn’t arrive so ‘sorry’ I said, ‘I want my £18 back’. The seller duly refunded me and the very next day, what should turn up but the CDs!

I’m not sure PayPal understood when I asked how could I refund a refund?

Finally, back to the disaster I spoke of earlier. At my mother’s house I had done some writing and fiddled with my videos. After staying for a couple of nights I tidied up, took out the rubbish and gave the place a hoover. Outside in my car I began to wonder if I had forgotten anything but it was cold and whisps of snow were in the air so I drove off. Later I realised I had left behind my iPad and laptop! Nightmare!

Luckily, I updated my iPad a few years back and still had my old one so this blog post is my first written completely on an iPad. A number of my apps were missing so apologies for the lack of graphics.

Hopefully I’ll have my trusty laptop back for next week’s blog instalment, as long as I don’t suffer protracted symptoms from laptop separation syndrome of course!


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The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger Part 3

While the lockdown is still ongoing there is not much going on my little life except for work, television and eating. I’ve written a lot about TV in the past, in fact as a couch potato of the highest order, TV viewing is one of the few activities in which I can claim to be an expert. Still, when it comes to food I’m an expert too, an expert in knowing just exactly what I like. Just in case you the reader ever decides to ask me over for dinner I thought it might be an idea to blog about my favourite foods.

Sandwiches.

What I thought I’d do is just stick with sandwiches for now. Now you might be thinking sandwiches, wow, that’s not really grabbing me, what else is available on WordPress? Where’s my google tab when I need it?

Let me see if I can just stop you from navigating away, just for a minute.

Personally, I love sandwiches. I have sandwiches every day at work and even on my days off, I tend to look longingly towards the bread bin round about early afternoon, especially if I’ve had an early breakfast.

A while back I was eating in the work’s mess room and one of my colleagues, a lady, in fact a lady of somewhat larger proportions sat nearby, and we began talking about healthy food. A lot of what she was saying was some sort of a rant about people who eat unhealthily and regrettably not a lot of what she was saying has quite caught in any lasting way onto my memory banks, but I was able to remark, in response, that my lunch, ham salad on a brown bun, was pretty healthy.

Healthy? She replied in a very shocked and surprised manner. Bread?

What’s wrong with bread I asked? It’s one of the oldest foods known to man.

As a general rule I should add that it is better never to argue with a woman who has found an almost religious fervour for the techniques of dieting and weight loss. Bread as far as I am concerned is one of the oldest and healthiest forms of food. Over on Wikipedia it is described thus:

Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking. Throughout recorded history it has been a prominent food in large parts of the world. It is one of the oldest man-made foods, having been of significant importance since the dawn of agriculture, and plays an essential role in both religious rituals and secular culture. 

The name sandwich comes from John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich who one night asked his valet to bring him some meat between two slices of bread so that he could continue his card game, apparently cribbage, and eat without using a fork or getting his hands greasy. Sandwiches though, at least a form of sandwich, arrived in the world at a much earlier date and bread in various forms has been used to scoop up or wrap food in many cultures all over the world. I have always liked the humble sandwich because the sandwich enables one to eat on the go and as a hungry bus or van driver I’ve always taken advantage of that fact. Even today working in a purpose built hi tech control centre, my colleagues complain when the microwave is out of order or the oven has failed. Ha, I think, you should have brought a sandwich!

Anyway, here are a few of my favourites.

Bacon Sarnie

We in the northwest of England sometimes call a sandwich a sarnie or a butty and one universally loved in the north is a bacon butty or bacon barm. A barm, actually a barmcake, is a round white bread bun or bap. Cut one across the middle, butter it and slap on some grilled bacon and there you have the perfect way to start the day. As a further refinement, slap on some brown sauce or even an egg.

Sausage Sarnie

Similar to the bacon sarnie. Slap a few sausages on the griddle or pan. Cook until ready. Slice down the middle and arrange on your bread. Perfect with brown sauce.

Bacon Grill Sarnie

Bacon grill comes in a tin and is similar to spam in appearance and texture although in taste it is similar to sausage meat or bacon. Like a Big Mac it’s supremely unhealthy but one sandwich every now and again won’t hurt. Open the tin, slice the bacon grill and slap it on either a frying pan or under the grill for a few minutes. Transfer straight away to some buttered white bread and enjoy.

Ham salad

Probably what I’ll be eating tonight at work, I prefer this on a brown bun, split it in half, slap on the butter or margarine then chop some iceberg lettuce, some red onions, some sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper and then plenty of thinly sliced ham.

Cheese and onion

Not much to this one, get a brown bun, cut in half, slap on the butter or margarine and then you’re ready for some cheddar cheese either sliced or grated. Throw in some red onions to taste. This is nice on some plain white bread too.

Cheese and ham Toastie.

You really need a toastie maker for this but if you haven’t got one you can either grill your toastie or dry fry in frying pan. Butter the bread on the outside so it won’t stick in the toastie maker. Throw on your ham, grate some cheese and add a little onion. Slap it into the toastie maker until the cheese starts to melt. Great after a busy late shift at work. Serve with chilled lager.

The Steve Higgins Special

There’s a great moment in the Woody Allen film Broadway Danny Rose. The films starts and ends with a group of comedians, actually real-life US comedians discussing the world of comedy in New York. The conversation turns to Broadway Danny Rose, an agent who has a stable of not so great artists. Later, at the end of the film they mention that Danny Rose has received the ultimate New York honour, a sandwich named after him in the deli where they congregate. Here then is my own contender for that special honour. If I ever get to New York I might just mention it to any deli owner willing to listen.

I prefer this with a fresh white bap but it’s equally as good with a brown bun: split and butter it. Slap on some thinly sliced honey roast ham, then some grated cheddar and to finish off add a generous portion of coleslaw. Settle down, tune the TV onto your favourite channel, pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!

Fires.

I very nearly added a line in that last paragraph above about turning up the heating, after all, summer is long gone and now the temperature has dropped considerably. Liz still has a traditional fireplace and it is nice to sit in front of a roaring coal fire (with a steaming hot cuppa and my ham, cheese and coleslaw special) while we still have the chance. The government has banned the sale of coal from next year, so we have been buying extra supplies.

Our first few coal fires this year were a little smoky, so we felt that maybe the chimney could do with a clean. Many years ago, when I lived at home we had a coal fire. My Mum used to get up early and sort out the fire which would have been left murmuring away from the previous night. In those days the fire also heated the water in the house so no fire, no hot water.

I can fondly remember evenings sat in front of a fire watching television. Our old family dog, Bob, so named because all my Dad’s dogs were called Bob, would make his way forcefully to a spot right in front of the fire. After forcefully pushing either me or my brother out of the way he used to get as close as he possibly could to the fire and gaze thoughtfully into the flames until his nose dried up and Mum would shout at him until he reluctantly moved. A dog with a dry nose? No, not on Mum’s watch!

The visit from the chimney sweep was a big event for us kids back then. The lounge would be covered with white sheets and the sweep would bring his collection of brushes and connecting rods. Firstly, the brush would be shoved up the chimney then the next rod would be screwed on and the brush shoved up further. Then the next rod or pole would be connected until the chimney sweep would ask me and my brother to nip outside and look out for the brush popping out of the chimney.

It was always pretty exciting to see the brush pop up out of the chimney. We’d rush back in and advise him of the situation. Then he would bring down the brush, disconnect the rods and pack things away. Mum would spend forever then cleaning up despite the sheets that covered all the furniture. The dark fingers of soot would appear on the window frames and mantelpiece but the fire that evening would be brighter than ever.

I’m not sure if there still are chimney sweeps in the 21st century but it so happens that Liz has a set of chimney rods and brush, so we set about cleaning the chimney ourselves. The fireplace was sealed with a sheet of plastic and the brush poked through a small hole keeping the lounge free of soot. Ramming that brush up wasn’t so easy but finally I made some headway and started on the next connector and then the next and so on. Luckily for me Liz lives in a bungalow so there wasn’t too far to go but after a while I ended up stripping off my top as I was pouring with sweat. Afterwards, covered with soot and sweat it was time for a shower.

They must have been a tough old lot those chimney sweeps!


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5 TV Chefs Who Will Change the Way You Cook!

I do like my food. Like everyone I have my likes and dislikes, for instance, I’m not a great lover of fish although I’ve been known to eat cod, hake, calamari and even mussels. Good food though is more than just ingredients or produce and a good chef is in his own way as much of an artist as a great painter or a poet. I do love watching great TV cookery shows and although I am not a great cook, I have sometimes tried to follow the advice of various TV cooks who have inspired me to make something exciting. The results will not be spoken about here but getting back to those TV chefs, who is your favourite?

Ken Hom.

A few years back when I first lived on my own, I saw one of Ken’s TV shows and began to wonder if I could actually make some tasty Chinese food. I remember going down to the Chinese supermarket in Manchester and picking up various things like sesame oil, lemongrass and of course, my first wok. Chinese cooking is quick and fresh and most of the work is in the preparation because the actual stir frying is a pretty quick process.

I followed all of Ken’s instructions and seasoned my wok and now and again I manage to dish out some reasonable food. I couldn’t quite find the clip of Ken Hom that I wanted to show but below is a recent clip with Ken talking about his food.

While I’m on the subject, wonder what I did with my wok?

Antonio Carlucci.

One of my favourite cuisines is Italian. Some people say pasta is boring but I’ve never really felt that at all. I love pasta, especially spaghetti and my favourite pasta dish is a very simple one spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino. It’s basically spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli. Simple and tasty and it’s always handy to have some fresh bread nearby to mop up the olive oil. Antonio Carlucci, who sadly died in 2017, made a great series back in the eighties and one of the highlights was where he visited some small Italian village and the locals showed him their authentic versions of pasta or how they made a ragu for instance. I’ve always liked simple rustic cooking and I think that is what is at the heart of Antonio’s food.

If I remember correctly that ragu was something involving tomatoes, onions and garlic, all of my favourite ingredients. I couldn’t find a clip from it on YouTube so here’s one of Antonio in his later years.

Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver is a very modern cook and he seems to cultivate a sort of Jack the lad streetwise fast-talking persona but he really is a great modern chef. In his many TV shows he caters for the modern household where people come home from work after a busy day and inspires them to cook some simple and fresh food instead of just shoving a frozen pizza in the oven.

Jamie made his TV debut in 1999. He was spotted by a TV producer making a documentary about the River Cafe where he was working at the time. His TV show the Naked Chef followed soon after and his cookbook from the series was a best seller. I’ve got quite a few of his cookbooks in my collection which I always refer to when I get down to some serious cookery.

Here’s one of his many YouTube videos showing how to make another of my favourite Italian dishes, Bolognese.

Keith Floyd.

Keith Floyd is the master of the TV cookery programme and his shows from the seventies and eighties were the forerunners of some of today’s TV cookery shows. Floyd visited lots of places, soaked up the local atmosphere, checked out the local dishes and produce and then turned up somewhere, a village square, a beach or even a local restaurant and started cooking. During each monologue to the camera, Keith made sure the cameraman filmed exactly what he wanted him to film, giving a running commentary on the ingredients and the cooking process as well as directions to the cameraman. The supping of wine during the cooking was clearly compulsory. His shows were a mix of travelogue and cooking visiting various far flung places and his impact on the genre is still visible in today’s food programming.

Rick Stein.

Rick is a direct link to Floyd in many ways. Rick’s first appearance on TV was when Floyd visited his famous fish restaurant in Padstow and later when Floyd’s producer wanted to work with someone new, Rick turned out to be the obvious choice. Rick, together with producer David Pritchard produced a series called Ocean Odyssey which was a big hit and the two went on to make more foodie programmes together. A recent series and one of my favourites was Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. Incidentally, a while back I reviewed Ricks autobiography which is well worth a read if you ever see it on the bookshelves.

Graham Kerr.

I had always thought that Graham Kerr, AKA the Galloping Gourmet was Australian but a quick check over on Wikipedia showed me I was wrong. Kerr was born in London to Scottish parents who were hoteliers and later Kerr moved to New Zealand where he became a culinary advisor to the New Zealand Air Force.

In New Zealand Keith appeared in a highly successful cookery show called Entertaining with Kerr. Later the show moved to Australia and later still Graham and his wife Treena made the move to Canada. There Graham began a new cookery show produced by Treena called the Galloping Gourmet which again was very successful. The title came from Kerr’s fast moving and enthusiastic style in which he literally galloped into the studio.

The format of the show was a film travelogue followed by Graham cooking a dish inspired by his travels live in the studio. I remember watching his shows as a child where he would taste the dish and then give the camera a look of food rapture before running into the audience and grabbing someone to taste his food. I loved it and it’s always been one of my foodie favourites.


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France in Six or Seven Restaurants.

I was tempted to label this post as another of my ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ but as Liz and I have just returned from another motorhome trip through France and neither the sun or a sun lounger made much of an appearance, well then, I thought I’d give that a miss.

I do love France but sometimes I think my love affair with this country is waning. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the food, the restaurants, the innate calm of sleepy French villages but, I do miss the absence of nightlife. The nights when I would stay out till the early hours are long gone of course but I do like a nice friendly bar or a busy restaurant. In rural France those things are hard to find.  In our favourite French town of Doué la Fontaine it is hard work to get a restaurant table on a Saturday lunch time but on Saturday night, the bars close around 9 pm and the restaurants are empty except for a few English tourists.

Coming over on this latest trip Liz did her usual research and found a lovely restaurant in the town of Montreuil sur Mer, a short walk from an Aire du Camping Car. As we motored along serenely through France after exiting the Eurotunnel Liz was urging me to get a move on but I knew in my heart of hearts that like so many other plans earlier in the year, the restaurant would be either closed or one that did not open in an evening.

We arrived in pouring rain to find that a huge amount of cars were parked in this small town. We had decided, wisely I thought, to park up and check the restaurant was open before going to the motorhome parking area. I squeezed gingerly into a small space and then we donned our rain coats and went off in search of food. One positive sight, apart from the numerous parked cars was the various bistros and bars all with a thriving clientele.

We wandered eagerly through the old cobbled streets and finally came to the restaurant Liz had found on the internet. Yes it was open and yes there were people inside! We entered to a round of bonsoirs from the serving and cooking staff clustered around the open kitchen, A table for two? Have we booked? No but could you fit us in? Yes of course! Moments later we were seated in a lovely restaurant full of old world charm and plenty of happy faces enjoying their food.

Le Pot du Clape specialised in home made soups and French flans so we started with mushroom soup and I chose a flan Italienne and Liz ordered a Welsh, nothing to do with Wales but a sort of cheesy quiche. The food was excellent and we particularly liked the red wine served at room temperature unlike so many establishments which serve cold red wine.

The next day we motored on further south. The bar is sadly closed at our regular stopping place in Gizeux and when we stopped at Bourgeuil the hotel and restaurant where we dine regularly was also closed. Oh well, time to light the barbecue once more! While I’m on the subject of barbecuing I think it’s important to share these two universal facts.

One. Always watch your barbecue because if you don’t it will burn itself out before you’ve had a chance to set the table and serve the salad.

Two. Never watch a barbecue because if you do it will just take ages and ages to get going and just when it finally reaches optimum cooking temperature well, it’ll probably be time for bed!

The view from our camping spot at Gastes.

Liz found us a super place to stop by a lake at Gastes. Nine Euros for two nights seemed pretty reasonable even to a tightwad like me so we found ourselves a nice spot with a view of the lake and parked up. The first evening was a lovely and warm one so out came the barbecue again. The next night was my birthday and there was a restaurant just by the motorhome parking area. We had a look in and there wasn’t much to the menu but the place was actually open with people inside eating food. Happy days!

That evening we got ourselves dressed up and meandered down looking forward to a birthday meal. However, the French restaurant curse struck again. They didn’t do food in the evenings! Quelle dommage!

I’m happy to report that we did finally finish the holiday with a lovely meal. We parked up in the village of Clérac in a lovely leafy aire. Sadly a bunch of noisy idiots in a clapped out campervan parked next to us and proceeded to annoy us no end with silly juvenile larking about. After a while they decided to move to the other end of the park and left us in peace. We walked into the village and found the hotel restaurant ready for business.

The Auberge des Lacs Bleus is well worth a visit if you are ever passing. The starter was an excellent cold buffet served with plenty of crusty French bread, next up was an escalope of chicken served in a tasty creamy sauce and we finished with some excellent cheese. The wine too was lovely.

Buffet starter looking yummy.

Of course I should mention the tasty food that Liz serves on board our motorhome. We have three rings on our small gas cooker and a grill but sadly no oven so cooking can be a challenge but even so we regularly find ourselves miles from anywhere enjoying a lovely English breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg and tomatoes, served with toast or fresh bread if there is a boulangerie nearby.

On one of our last nights in France we dined on Pasta Bolognese served with crunchy French bread and followed by an impressive cheese board sourced from the French supermarket Super U. Who needs French restaurants anyway!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

A kind of Foodie Sort of a Blog Post

Ok. It happens to all bloggers and all writers. Even the greats like Hemingway and Dickens, they too had a moment when the blank paper stared back and them and nothing, just nothing came back.

Of course in the case of both Hemingway and Dickens, whatever moments they had in the course of writing, they overcame them, they wrote and went on to ever greater success, which is why many years later here we are talking about them.

These days one way to beat the blank screen problem is to do a search in your favourite search engine and look for blog prompts. Yes, there are plenty of those blogs around that tell us amateurs how to blog and how to write and just what to write about. I searched and found a post that gave me 189 creative blog post ideas. 189, pity they couldn’t have rounded it off at 190 or even 200 but hey, that’s just me being picky.,

A lot of those 189 blog ideas I have already done, and I had come up with the ideas all by myself with no help from ‘how to’ blogging sites but ideas 151 through to 162 actually got me thinking. They were all about food so without further ado, here’s a few thoughts on food:

Blog idea 156: How did I start cooking?

The first dish I ever made was probably soup. Now I don’t mean that I actually made the soup, after all, I was only about 6 so give me some credit. No what I actually did was I opened a can of tomato soup, warmed it up on the hob, poured it into a dish, got myself a spoon and sat down and ate and felt, well, pretty proud of myself. These days some 56 years later, tomato soup is still one of my favourites. It’s a sort of comfort food I suppose, tasting the same taste from all those years ago is a soothing relaxing feeling, a feel good, comforting feeling. I even choose soup today in restaurants and one of my favourite soups is from our local Italian restaurant here in sunny St Annes, Allegria. They do a lovely tasty minestrone soup with lovely chunks of vegetables in there. One important accompaniment to soup is tasty fresh bread. Which reminds me, I do have my very own bread making machine on top of the cupboard and it’s high time I pulled it down and made some bread.

The first actual cooking I ever did was a boiled egg but I don’t think I ever really did anything more about cooking until I left home and was forced to fend for myself.

Blog post idea 151: share a regional recipe.

Bacon and eggs hot off the Higgins grill!

Well, I’m not sure about that but here is a recipe regional to anyone in the UK, bacon and eggs. Now bacon and eggs is just one of my favourite meals ever and just recently I happen to have started producing a top-notch plate of this dish by digging out my George Foreman fat-free grill. Yes, I bought one years ago just before my divorce and my grill has lain untouched in a box in my mum’s spare room for many a year until on one epic search of my ‘stuff’ -I was actually looking for a VHS video but that’s a whole other blog- I came across my grill.

So here’s what you do. Crank up the grill, this is easy, just plug it in. Open it up and slap on a sausage. (OK that makes it bacon, sausage and eggs!) Give it a chance to get going and make sure (big tip coming up) your little fat collector is in place at the bottom of the grill otherwise your kitchen top is going to get covered in fat. After a while do a visual check on the sausage and when you think it is beginning to look good, slap in a couple of rashers of bacon. At the same time, get the kettle on because that boiling water will come in handy soon.

Check those rashers and flip them over and then get a pan filled with boiling water from the kettle. This is also a good time to get the teapot warmed. Next step, get that water to a good simmer, give it a stir and drop in your egg.  Check those rashers and sausages, if they are looking good, switch off your grill but just leave everything in there to keep warm. Make the tea. Pour. Serve your eggs and bacon when ready and if you have a tomato handy, slap that in the grill round about the time you dropped the egg  into the water. Serve with fresh bread or toast. Season to taste. Result, perfection on a plate.

Blog Post Idea 162: Share a post about a cooking experience that failed.

Hey I’m writing a blog post here, not a book. How long have you got?

Blog Post 153: Talk about the History of a Dish.

Well, one of my favourite dishes is chilli, or chilli con carne to give it its proper name. It originated in Mexico. Chilli spread to San Antonio in Texas and as the town was a tourist destination the dish spread rapidly through the area. In 1977 it was designated as the official dish of Texas but how it got to the UK I haven’t got a clue.

I started making chilli in the 1980’s and I like to think I make a pretty mean chilli. In fact, I think it’s high time I nipped down the supermarket, picked up the ingredients and got a smokin’ hot chilli cranked up!

When I moved into a new house in a small avenue in Merseyside in the 1990’s all our neighbours were about the same age and all nice and friendly people, or so we thought. My next door neighbour invited us for a barbecue and I noticed that by the barby was a large pan of chilli bubbling away. My neighbour’s wife commented ‘don’t go near that, it’s just the rubbish that Mike cooks!‘ However it turned out I had met a fellow chilli lover and Mike and I regularly swapped chilli recipes and tasted each others new batch of the dish.

Yes, how things changed in that street! We fell out with next door (number 2) because of a crazy incident involving cats. You can read all about it in this post about the Cat Wars where it turned out Stella’s cat was spending far too much time at Mike’s. Mike didn’t like it that we had told Stella (number 8) but actually we told Elaine (number 3) across the road and it was she who had told Stella. Elaine didn’t like it that we had told Mike that she told Stella and that was another friendship out of the window.

One day we went to a barbecue at Shirley’s (number 6). It was not a great affair and they soon ran out of lager. Dan, Shirley’s husband asked for a whip round to get some lagers so I chipped in a fiver. ‘What do you want?’ he asked. ‘Anything but Carling’ I replied as Carling is my least favourite beer. 15 minutes later Dan was back with the lagers. It was a really hot day and I had been keeping the barby going while Dan was away. He handed me a lager in a glass which was strange because up till then we had been drinking out of cans. I took a long slurp of the beer and it was not nice, not nice lager at all. Turns out, Dan had bought a crate of Carling and thought he could fool me with the lager in a glass trick so then he and I got into a dispute as I had specifically requested him not to buy me any Carling. I demanded my fiver back (naturally under the circumstances) and after some heated words we left when Shirley gave me a refund. That was another neighbour we fell out with. No wonder they all later moved away. Pity really because not long after I found this great new chilli recipe that I wanted to tell Mike about.

159. Review a Cook Book

I do have quite a few cook books and I think I really have to thank Ken Hom for my interest in cooking. Back in the 1980’s I became really hooked on his quick stir fry methods of cooking and I bought a wok and started stir frying. In recent years one of my favourite TV chefs is probably Jamie Oliver. OK, sometimes he comes across as a bit of a lad, a bit of a geezer as they say but at the heart of what he does is a love of good food, fresh produce and healthy eating. He produced a great chilli recently on one of his 15 minute meal shows and his cookery programmes, like his books are snappy and vibrant. I own a couple of his books and they are always handy when I want to cook something new or even just for a few tips when I’m in a culinary quandary.

Blog Idea 158. Try Something New (And Write Your Thoughts About It)

Not so long ago, Liz and I stayed in Edinburgh. We weren’t in the centre, we were parked down by the sea front in a spot where motorhomes could park for free. It was well away from the centre of the city and we knew we were in for a walk or a bus ride to get to a restaurant however, just by the parking area was a rather nice restaurant. It appeared to me to be rather focussed on fish, not my favourite food by any means but we decided to give it a try. Liz chose something thoroughly fishy and I had calamari (OK some fishy things are acceptable if not too fishy) and followed it up with a lentil curry. The waiter assured me I would love the dish and it was nice, in fact it tasted more like a chilli than a curry to me. Now I think of it, add a little more chilli and some meat and it would have been perfect!

Blog Idea 190: Plug your book and Sign Off.

Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Christmas Day Menu: Starter, Main and Classic Film.

There has been some discussion in our household recently about Christmas dinner. Personally, I think I am just easy to please but others apparently think differently. No one in our house is a great turkey fan although now I think of it, at a Christmas party recently at the Inn on the Prom in St Annes, a local hotel, I did choose the turkey roast as my main meal, and very nice it was too.

One thing I do not like is fish. Well, let me clarify that, I don’t like fishy fish. I quite like fish and chips, usually deep-fried cod because it doesn’t really taste that fishy. I’ve had a hake dish before now. Occasionally, very occasionally I have eaten mussels. They are not my cup of tea but sometimes I can eat a few especially with some strong sauce, something garlicky or spicy to drown out the fishiness.

Liz and daughter number 2 who is dining with us on Christmas Day like fish and they seem to favour something like smoked salmon for a starter. Yuk! Not for me please. Another idea was prawn cocktail. I have to say I’m not a great prawn lover either. I have eaten prawn cocktail before now, though I must say it’s not my dish of choice. What would I choose for myself then? Well, a nice pâté might be nice but some crusty fresh bread would be vital for that. Perhaps a nice tomato or even minestrone soup, yes that would be nice.

Many years ago the two dishes I first cooked for myself as a schoolboy were boiled eggs (I do love my eggs!) and tomato soup. By ‘make’ I mean I opened the can and warmed up the soup on the hob so no great talent required there but I have loved tomato soup ever since and today it’s one of those comfort foods for me. If I’m ever feeling low or under the weather, a nice bowl of tomato soup just does it for me.

Boiled eggs are the first things I can claim to have actually cooked. If the eggs come from the fridge, warm them gently in some warm water before cooking. The perfect timing for me is 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Serve with lightly toasted fresh bread and you have a wonderful snack or breakfast.

Back to the main course and a great favourite for me would be roast gammon. That apparently is off the menu because we will be having that when Liz’s French family come visiting just prior to Christmas with gammon leftovers also being served on Boxing day when daughter number 1 comes for dinner. I did mention roast beef but that suggestion was frowned upon. Goose and duck were also mentioned but they are two meats that just don’t do it for me. Roast chicken? OK with me but I’m in a minority there. That of course brings us back to . . turkey. Oh well, I may have to bow to a majority decision and perhaps suffer one or two slices of duck with some extra roast potatoes.

Whatever the roast of your choice some important additions are vital to your christmas dinner. Roast potatoes for instance. Personally I don’t like crispy ones. I like them soft and cooked in the roast beef juices. If not serving roast beef then goose fat is good for your roasties, apparently. Brussels sprouts are usually mandatory for a christmas dinner and the other day I saw them made on one of those TV cookery programmes but instead of boiling them, the TV chef cut them in half, gave them ample salt and pepper and roasted them. I tried them myself a while back in one of my rare forays into the kitchen and I have to say they were much nicer roasted than boiled. Carrot and turnip is another welcome addition for me. I’m not a great fan of mashed potatoes but I do like my mash rustic; mashed and served with butter is perfect although I have seen TV chefs mash potatoes into almost a puree and throw in butter and cream! Not in my mash, please.

I know that Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served with beef but I’ll be hoping for a portion of Yorkshires on Christmas day too. I recently produced a perfect Yorkshire pudding but my second attempt was a disaster as was my third. At least Liz will be in charge of the kitchen on Christmas day so looking forward to a veritable feast!

Now for Christmas day dessert we will be having Liz’s wonderful low sugar cheesecake. It is absolutely fabulous and we all look forward to having a slice. Another element is the cheese course. Here’s a question though, do the French have cheese before or after their sweet? I’ll have to make a few enquiries before the French contingent arrive because personally, I like to finish with some cheese, some English Cheddar, a little French Brie and perhaps a slice of Stilton to liven things up. A glass of red, some fresh bread or crackers, what could be nicer!

One last element of dining over the Christmas period is perhaps something that gets easily forgotten. the humble sandwich. Now I don’t much care for turkey sandwiches but the great thing about gammon is that when cooked, it becomes ham, and some freshly sliced ham slapped on some fresh bread is just perfect for relaxing with a late night glass of port, perhaps even a mince pie and my favourite Christmas film, A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes there are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, (73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw recently.)

A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge. According to my TV guide they are all available in the UK over the holiday period. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

Best wishes and have a lovely Christmas.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

The Giorgio Factor and other Dining Stories.


I really do love dining out. I think it’s one of life’s great pleasures, not that I’m a food gourmet or anything, in fact I’ve got pretty simple tastes in food. Give me a nice bottle of red, tasty food and good service and I’m a happy man.

Some years ago Liz and I used to frequent a lovely Italian restaurant in St Annes. It was a great place. It was only small and a little basic and I got the impression that in a former life it used to be a small shop. It was called, well, I won’t say the name but the owner was a guy called, actually, I’m not going to say his name either.

It was a lovely rustic place and when it was quiet the owner would say to me, ‘Steve, tell me what you want, whatever it is I’ll make it, even if it’s not on the menu. If I have the ingredients, I’ll make it for you.’ That was rather nice of him and I hope his offer was because we were friends and not because I was difficult to please.

One of his waiters was a guy called Giorgio. He was a really nice fella but as a waiter, pretty useless. More than two people in the restaurant and he’d start to flap, big style. He’d bring us a menu and then, well that was all he could do really. We’d order a bottle of wine and when it never arrived we’d have to prompt him by waving empty glasses at him. The main course would come and there’d be no cutlery. One time they had this other waitress who was Italian and spoke no English. Another couple would enter the restaurant and before Giorgio could get himself together the trainee waitress seated them and had taken their drinks order. Giorgio ambled over, asked what could he get them to drink just as the drinks were actually arriving! We do miss Giorgio and that lovely restaurant. Ever time you spoke to him he would say, in a strong Italian accent, ‘you’re welcome.’ He rarely did anything but he always said ‘you’re welcome!’

One day the restaurant sadly closed down and the owner started up a new place in Blackpool. When we visited a while ago I noticed Giorgio had not made the transition to the new premises. Pity, he did make us laugh. Anyway, when we dine out these days at somewhere new we sometimes try and spot which waiter has the Giorgio factor.

In Casa Carlos this week in Lanzarote, the main contender for this week’s Giorgio award was a lady that was determined to pour our wine. One of our pet hates is the waiter who tries to pour our wine when we are not ready. In fact, we don’t want the waiter pouring our wine at all. OK, he, or she, can do that initial pour after the opening of the wine and the tasting ritual but after that, leave us alone. We pour the wine only when we are ready and not before. Well, in Casa Carlos we fended this lady off a number of times when she made a raid on our table in a vain attempt to pour our wine. No, ‘get back’ we told her. Liz tried to fool her by hiding our bottle on the low window sill behind our table. Ha, we thought, try and get our wine there!

However, just as we were chatting and I had shovelled in a mouthful of barbecued steak the waitress homed in from our blind side, swerving silently towards us like a ninja but just at the last second Liz spotted her, grabbed the wine and said ‘no thank you’ firmly. You have got to be firm with these Spanish waitresses.

Tapas at the Blue Note Restaurant, nice but a little on the small side . .

When we first arrived in Lanzarote some years ago our first restaurant port of call was a place called the Blue Note, a classy jazz bar restaurant in the Marina Rubicon area of Playa Blanca. We were pretty starving so we ordered a few tapas. Sadly they were of the rather small minimalist type, you know, three meatballs to a plate. We had ordered six tapas but they were so small when we had eaten them we were still hungry. Next port of call was Cafe Berrugo. OK, we get the picture we thought, tapas plates are small in Lanzarote. We ordered four plates of tapas and two beers, then, thought, is that enough? Waiter, portion of fries please. Ten minutes later, the tapas arrive and guess what? They are massive plates! How can we eat this lot and the fries?

We have since become regulars at Cafe Berrugo. The waiters know us and what we like, for instance they always give out complimentary nuts to the English and olives to the locals. However, we have gradually shown them that some English people actually eat olives. Oscar, our favourite waiter looks after us and always serves us the vino tinto at room temperature. Our other favourite waiter is a guy we just call Good Morning as he always bellows out ‘good morning’ when customers arrive, whatever the time of day! It’s always nice to finish the night here with a complimentary shot of ice cold vodka caramel before getting our coats on and waving goodbye with a cheery ‘good morning’!

One final dining story: Here in Lanzarote the last few days have been a little stormy, however one day the heavens cleared and the sun shone again. The forecast had said heavy rain but what the heck! We were in barbecuing mood so we cranked up the coals and prepared the meat and salad. Yes, it was a lovely barby. Just at the end, literally as I was taking my last bite of a lovely burger and despite the sky in the west being clear and blue, the sky above and to the east darkened. It reminded me, like a lot of things in life, of a film I’d seen years ago. It was a space disaster movie from the seventies or eighties. The one where the crew need to launch to save the guys on the space station but Cape Kennedy is hemmed in by a storm. Well this hurricane passes directly over and the rescue mission launches through the eye of the storm, just like how we had our barbecue in the nick of time before the heavens opened.

What the heck was that film? If you know, answers on a postcard please!

(2021 update: It was Marooned!)


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