Monday 2 January 2012

More than a woman. And a village.

I only popped in for a brew and a few malted milks. Blaring on HD was the River of No Return, a light hearted spit and sawdust rom com featuring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum from 1954.

Impossible a feat as it would be to rip off a film of similar ilk that was spawned later than it (The River Wild, 1994) both directors thought that the premise of a macabre bit of family high jink on an out of control raft down some dawg gone river would be an afternoon’s entertainment.

Monroe, I have to say on the otherhand, looked magnificent. Awash as we are now with pastel coloured shiny celebrities which resemble more pipe cleaners than people, it was beautiful and refreshing to see a flawless creature of such elegance yet a deeply sexy attitude which almost made her seem like she was playing herself than the yelping mum on the raft. “God, she was really pretty” I said to my Grandma between mouthfuls of my breakaway biscuit.

As I always do, when I visit the grandparentals, I am given the indispensable education into the devious world that is the sleepy suburb that is Rishton.
Now, most people from the East Lancashire district are staunchly proud of their roots. They love the football teams, the weather, the attractions, the food, and even obscurities like the mayor. A pastime even more enjoyable is showcasing facts on the many celebrity visitors that the local area either created or attracted.
Rumours that Jay Kay used to busk outside Burtons in Blackburn town centre have done the rounds whilst I was at school. Chinese whispers of the fact that Shane Warne may well have a lovechild roaming Accrington from his stint as a cricket pro in the early 80’s. All add to the subterfuge and mystique of our beloved BB1 district.
A well seasoned scripture that have been told many times in many a school lesson and dinner party in the borough is that Mohandas K Gandi himself once graced Darwen.
Poor lamb.

Apparently he came along to Greenfields Mill to see the impact of India boycotting the cotton mills.
My Grandfather was a mill worker himself in Rishton. A paper mill though. Gandi did not feel a visit here was appropriate.
Now Gandi is good and in the celebrity top trumping stakes, he is flying high however I feel that this legacy may take the edge.
Back to the movie and at this point the family have just seen the demise of their make shift raft breaking into smithereens on a rather torrent rapid. Marilyn herself displaying all the poise and resourcefulness of bear grylls as she trugged up on the banks.

It was at this point my grandparents almost in unison, revealed that MM was a one time visitor to our beloved Rishton.
I was still watching Miss Monroe at this point being flung around on a horse and cart through a dusty village on this film, when I tried to visualise her walking around Rishton high street. Surreal stuff.
I asked the seemingly stupid question to my Grandmother, why on this earth would Marilyn visit Rishton?????

Whilst waiting for some back catalogue to be revealed of whom she may have dated in the area or perhaps President JFK himself had good reason to be in the area, perhaps a late visit to Liverpool to see the Beatles? Yet, I was given a perfectly rational reason for her now infamous visit which was relating to the sheer affection for her interest in manufacturing.
“You see love, some people are just really interested in how things are made.”
Of course they are. Aside from her iconic fame for singing and being a serious love interest of the late great President John F Kennedy and simultaneously dying tragically, I had been illuminated with the fact that Marilyn also had a penchant for the operating functions of post war loom machines.
I do love visiting Rishton, with probably equal affection as Marilyn.
She may have the killer curves and the egg shell skin but she doesn’t know the short cuts and ginnels as well as I do.

To the outsider, this may appear your average thoroughfare village, but to the life long residents, it is it’s own little Chicago town right in the heart of the pendle valley.
First stop of the day with my Grandma was a walk to Rays. A bizarre store, which Alan Sugar and Theo Pathitis would certainly have issues with. What is it’s product placement or USP? Half sweet shop quarter stationary and naff kids toys.
Who knows what it’s place in retail is. If you want cat litter you’ll get it. If you want a high school musical lamp, you won’t be disappointed either.
I just wanted some cheap Cillit Bang.

I loved growing up in this village. I had an extremely innocent and hedonsitic upbringing which consisted of all day bike rides, buying tub lollies, calling for people and making dens in my friends back garden.

Those days are a distant a memory as Gandi’s audit at the factory.
It is half term and the kids are chasing each other across the road, queuing for lunch in the chip shop or sitting on the library wall texting.
I wanted a few oddments so it was a quick call at the butchers. The same plastic red and green parsley adorning mountains of mince meat and paving stones of gammon as 20 years previously. As a puritan of hygiene, I winced when he took a grubby fiver off the lady in front and then proceeded to squelch and paw at her mince meat.
Bit of alcohol gel son. Nil poi.

As we trundled back home, I reflected upon some good advice from my good buddy, Ty Pennington. Who also has more to him than ripping out kitchens and installing home rollercoasters. For example, did you know before he started moving buses, he was the diet coke man?

The bloke is ridiculously cut mind even for a wizened old bloke.
Watching an episode of extreme home makeover, Ty, ever the educator and champion of community spirit, highlighted another little fact that I have been blanketed to, was that trainers wrapped up on an overhead telephone line denotes a location of a drug den.
I always thought myself it was a nasty stag do prank. This is the innocent child in me again.
I would also take everything Ty says with a big salt sprinkled hyperbole. He does have a tendency to romanticize.
As I walked not too far from her house, my Grandma pointed up to a telephone wire that someone had lost their trainers.

Oh yes grandma.
I didn’t want to pass on my Ty Pennington knowledge though. I think that pair of trainers have been on that wire since I was about 6.

I love my village too much.

Sunday 17 April 2011

And then there are Doughnuts...

Remember Rapunzel. Bloody hell, that was a torrid tale for disney.

A full bonce of sunkissed blonde hair from the get go and born into royalty. Top bedroom and everything.

Only to be babynapped by some gruesome villager who wanted her magical hair.

Now correct me if I am wrong but look at the rows sparked by Ofcom over the recent Eastenders storyline of babyswapping. Yet, I went to see this film Rapunzel recently and no one picketed the cinemas for Rapunzel. She had to live with her cackling captor for nigh upon 18 years.

Now the Princes in our disney tales clearly have little acumen for self survival techniques. I highly doubt that they are forced into a bit of Royal Air Force duty or a stint into the armed forces for a couple of years.


This Prince had all the navigation techniques of a well soaked Garmin.

It is a good job that he was not in our band of brothers and sisters today. Time is everything to our tour guide.

Day 3 on the eatathon of the city they named twice.

GI count running low. How many more blocks to go?

Probably a little like Rapunzel when she asked her fake parent to go into town for the day, she was given some promises inflated with false hope and dreams.

We were asking our tour guide for a good hour for some food being rebuffed with NYC metric systems and pavement perimeters. Gallantly winding our way around the never ending circuit board of pavements, we were greeted with a tiny building literally squashed between obscurity on the Lower East Side.

The Doughnut Plant had landed.

Sugar wins over salt for me any day so I was delighted with the outcome.

Back over in the brothers Grimm district of Germany where our little lady was on lock down, we are still being tortured with her constant hair climbing cruelty and solitary confinement.

OK, so eventually with the help of a few animals, the prince managed to track her down. The reunion scene between her parents was something of a let down. They didn't even get her any welcome home banners or part food. Plus they then had to deal with the fact that she was already hooked up with the prince and they were getting married.

All in all. Everybody loved the happy ending. As do I.

And this is no further than the truth from our case in point here at the Doughnut Plant.

Mark Israel moved to NYC some 30 years ago and began baking using his Grandmother's family recipe for doughnuts in 1994. Mark created all his recipes in the basement to his apartment of his lower east side block. Baking through the night.

Oh to be a neighbour living above him!

I suppose a little like our heroine in our disney saga, he worked alone for long hours endlessly perfecting his techniques to create the unique recipes that he uses today.

Not so long into his move here, his endeavours had valiantly paid off and big hitters such as Dean & Deluca in the city were buying his divine doughnuts for sale in their shops.

The shop itself had a beautiful blustery breeze of spun sugar, cinnamon and raspberry ripple ice cream.

Warm, compact and soft baby blue colours complement the interiors.

This shop does not need to be garish and brash. It does not need wall to wall of doughnuts drying out under the lighting.

A glass cabinet of his trademarked "blackout" cake doughnuts and rack of his freshly made yeast square doughnuts were enough.

We purchased Carrot Cakes, Strawberry glazed square and a Coconut Creme filled square.

As children we had to watch each other open our presents in turn on Christmas day and we decided to ensue this tradition with the tasting panel we had created in the window seating.

Watching my brother engulf his mouth into his strawberry square doughnut, which looked like one of the blocks that we had walked around all afternoon were glistening with it's potent pink paint. Outdoing me in the similie stratesphere, he decided to describe it as biting rainbow brites head off! Unlike some desserts flavoured with strawberry which are acidic tributes to the real thing, you could taste a fresh juicy punnet of strawberries in each bite.

Coconut's are one of my sisters favourite flavours and she looked as though she had been put under a local anaesthetic as she sunk her teeth into it. Dripping with sticky coconut creme, smelling as real as a trip to the Turks and Caicos, this was a piece of doughnut designwork to behold.

Last but not least, I delved into my perfectly formed Carrot Cake doughnut. This option comes from Mark Israels now infamous cake option. A little denser and bulbous than a yeast doughnut.
It was like biting into a christmas flavoured bath sponge. Soft, doughy and speckled with the perfect level of cinnamon and mixed spice. The lemony icing clung to my teeth long after the doughnut had disappeared.

Much like after opening all our christmas presents too quickly on christmas day, we were disappointed by how quickly our experience in the doughnut plant had been. Our sad faces clutching out greaseproof paper, licking the last pieces and mopping up crumbs with our fingers. Whatever it is that they lace them with, I want a bottle of it to knock me out on the plane ride home.

Lucky for us, we walked today by the Chelsea Hotel which has opened another shop.

So, christmas really does come early.

And they all left the doughnut plant to live happy ever after in the great kingdom of NYC.

Saturday 16 April 2011

And on the first day, God gave us Betel

A blindfold. Some melamine bowls and a ransacked cupboard.

The components to the perfect and free game in any household. Feeding my brother whole tablespoons of mayonnaise and making him crunch his way through maxwell house coffee have been some of my most inspired pieces to date.

An invasive and tyrannous game some might say.

I just call it ground breaking.

The fact that 20 years later, we pay to watch the likes of newsreaders and rotund footballers play a similar game with jungle creatures is a true testament to the skills and devices I bore as a youngster.

A population of 8 million and possibly a restaurant for each person.

No excuses for poor food.

Gyros, Tacquerias, Delis, Lebanese, African, Caribbean. Spoilt for choice is not the word. A Thomas Cook holiday superstore of flavours.

Walk past any eateries in NYC during the day or evening and you can guarantee they are buzzing with people. OK, so you will never be thin. never have any money, however eating out every night is normality in the city.

The fact that my brothers taste buds have now dilated to enjoy foods other than those with a 3 month freezer life or from a chicken tonight jar, we are able to experience some of the most uber hip and must see eateries in the city itself.

Step forward Betel.

The West Village.

A teeny portion of bohemia off the formal grid structure you may be following from your lonely planet guides.

If the west village had a local football team, Bob Dylan perhaps would play in goal, John Keats centre mid, Allen Ginsberg and Serge Gainsbourg up front and Stevie Nicks and Jonie Mitchell holding court at the back.

A close knit community for intellectuals and perhaps types who have shares in napa valley vineyards.

Intimate floor space. Tick.

Muted lighting. Tick.

Waitress using received pronunciation and decked out in Vivienne Westwood. Tick tick.

Sneaky corner table for cross examinations. Tick.

Yes. Betel was ticking all my boxes already. The faint misty aroma of parma violets, Jamaican ginger cake and lime cordial piggybacked it's way into my nostrils pummeling the sensory organs all round.

If Betel could bottle and perfume their ventilation pipes, I would deal into it.

In uncharted territory, it is always advisable to have a menu mentor, an IFA to back you, if you will.

So, big brother has been before, he raved about the 12 course tasting menu. We took his well travelled advice.

A coquettish cocktail list of majestical finger food. If was to start a chain of party food for the masses, he could get some major tips from the head chef Adam Woodfield.

Fifty dollars per person (about 35 quid) and this was worth every penny. I mean, dollar.

The first plate was the West Coast Oyster with red nahm cilantro and fried shallots. Should Haagen Daz choose to develop a range of seafood icecreams, I would grab a spoon. A silky, sweet and dense street veloute of the ocean.

And this was only plate one.

Plate two came after a well engineered lapse and was in my top three of the evening. The iconic and eponymous dish itself from our title play Betel.

Chicken Betel leaf with roasted shallot and eggplant with a lemon grass and mint relish. Like having an intense mouthwash with Ko Lanta itself, this was an overload of the senses. Two bites was being polite. This could have been inhaled had I not wanted to fully nurture each of the exquisite flavours of this tiny bundle of citrus bliss.

Everyone has a wild child on their menu. A dish with an exuberant story to tell. A young James Gandolfini.

The dish in question is "son in law eggs" or khai luk koei as it's known on the hawker markets of Thailand.

Now, my experience of boiled eggs are usually to repel their advances. Perhaps it is the texture and their ability to ice skate around your plate.

The Waiter gave us with the Gandolfini strapline that if a young man in questions, perhaps a young James in his heyday were being less than kind to his wife, involving nights fuelled with too much alcohol and perhaps red lipstick on his collar, then on a return home, he would be relieved of his manhood. The offending husband would be served up this dish, should he not shape up. The spherical outline was meant to be a mirror for his man parts.

I always knew there was something suspect about boiled eggs.

What I loved about this dish was that it had humour. It flirted with you from the moment it landed on the table. This dish knew that people talked about it. And for all the right reasons.

A tangy yellow bean tamarind sauce was used and topped with gracefully fried shallots. The perfect ying and yang of crunch to wobbly egg. The egg had been soft boiled at optimum temperatures to avoid a total hard boiled state.

Son in law eggs were winning the night.

I feel like I am one of those grandmothers with too many grandkids, as I am forgetting some of the courses here.

Back to plate four.

Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish with a Vietnamese Dipping Sauce. Huge hunks of fish literally falling out of the tiny basket they came in. This is KFC for the wall street elite. A utopian blend if black pepper, salt and mixed spices adorning the gutsy textures and flavours of the cuttlefish.

Ding ding. The game for best plate is back on!

Some much needed lighter courses came to our tables over the next twenty minutes.

Crab and coconut salads, snapper and chill jam.

Plate ten was the benchmark for making alternative arrangements for desserts.

Time to man up.

A few slugs of the chilled to perfection pinot blush and we had our eating faces on again.

Crispy Pork Hock with cilantro plum and tamarind sauce with nahm plah prik.

Stickier than a vat of bostik, each piece surrendered into individual tendons on the tongue at a rate of around two seconds.
Like eating the best meat lollipop from a sweetshop that you can ever imagine. Covered in an oil slick of caramelised sugars and a high brow hp sauce of rich sweet tamarind.

Potent stuff.

More pinot please.

Back in the ring. Throwing a few more bodyshots and windmilling a few uppercuts.

There's still a fight on at Betel.

I am never going to refuse a dessert. Ok, so it might be a banana, but it comes with a silent partner.

A perfectly structured fritter with an amber flecked crust. Juxtaposed with brilliant white coconut ice cream. Bounty on a Banana.

Banana Splits for rock stars and supermodels.

12 courses of some of the best food I have ever tasted and it is only day one.


A game changer.

51 Grove St
New York
NY 10014

Friday 15 April 2011

Fill your cups up at Double Ds

Day two and the temptation has been too much to bear.

Dunkin donuts in all it's hydrogenated fat glory has lured me in as it always does on a visit to the states.

This dd was located in the subway station around 34 street herald sq.

An assuming little dunking tightly packed between new stands and a pret a manger. The heady wafts of vanilla, chocolate tar and Christmas pump through the ac system.

What we lead to believe is a doughnut has been based on a confectionary lie.

The stands festooning with an array of dough balls, crullers and regular doughnuts spoil you for choice. You can even buy doughnuts in a pick n mix cup.

Wanting a sugar kick without the calories, my pious DD party went for coolatas.

People who work at Dunkins are doughnut doctors in their culinary field. They have a full profile on each of their subjects and the waiting system is by appointment only. The young lass on this occasion had a busy surgery and we were not so politely told to shift away to wait for our drinks.

Much denser than a frappe but oozing with more flavour. I was still sucking coffee juice after a good thirty minutes into my pavement
pounding. Columbian bean brain freeze comes as standard.

It's surely only a matter of time before Dunkins decides to go trans atlantic, like most things in the uk, we can be a little slow on the uptake. Ten million new yorkers can't be wrong. Dunkins has been named No.1 top fast food joint by the New York times.

Let me warn you first....
DDs are more than a handful.

Dunkin Donuts
51 east 34th street
New York
NY 10016

Thursday 14 April 2011

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard

The first in one of my culinary blogs from the city of NYC.

First stop on our tourist marathon was the flat iron district.

After skipping breakfast from a full tummy the night before, the sugar rush kicked in midday.

Lucky me, we stumbled across the shake shack in the heart of the flat iron.

Milkshakes are not something that I would have normally, however, always a sucker for a ploy. Having been told by my brother that this place is the most historic burger and milkshake place in the whole of NY and that peak season it queues round the block Alton towers style for a milkshake.

I'm in.

The milkshakes were not as we know them. Marketed as "custards" I could not decide which to choose. Each day you could choose from the custard of the day. Cheesecake brownie was on offer for Thursday. A little too early for pudding, i went for a safe strawberry.

My first ten dollars broken into, but it was all worth it just to get the vibrating device in my hand.

The genius idea is that you are given a mobile phone type device which reads "when I shake, come collect you shake" we waited in the sunshine poised for collection.

The milkshake was a drop of dairy heaven. Silky and thick enough to stick a spoon. If ambrosia were to produce a perfume, they need to get involved with these custards. A sweet blend of shortbread and opal fruits.


Milky Machiavellian mayhem.

Grab a spoon.

11 Madison ave.
New York

Thursday 24 March 2011

Hot from the oven Cookies


He was destined for bad things. Telling the poor chap that he would die from an arrow to the foot. His mum slipped up bigtime by narrowly missing his feet from a good soak in the mythical magical waters of the River Styx. Achilles did not stand a chance. Shot by a poison arrow.

What a way to go.

Still. He inspired one of ABCs finest pop melodies to date.

We all have them.

Achilles Heels.

Mine are usually baking conquests that I cannot do. Of which there are two.

Choux pastry and biscuits.

Now you see, the Greek tragedy that is the debate of biscuit vs cookie is itself a baking myth to some.

Why cannot we get that same chewy moistness in a cookie in our own bland biscuits.

Etymology of our biccies comes from bis (twice) and coquere (to cook), and, hence, means "twice-cooked.

This is why you get that hard crunchy texture of a biscuit.

Cookies however have a much buttery, toffee and chewy flavour, like cooked marshmallows. This is due to the temperatures at which the egg coagulates and the two varieties of sugars that are caramelising.

Cookies, I give a big Barrack Obama, yes I can cook.

They are so simple too and inexplicably moreish.

This recipe comes straight from my latest list of favourites.

Macadamia, Cranberry, White Choc Cookies.

Makes 18

75g white chocolate - the thicker the better
75g butter
1 egg
175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
90g soft brown sugar
60g white caster sugar
50g macadamia nuts
50g dried cranberries
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Pre heat the oven to gas mk 4 / 160
2. Grease and line with baking paper 3 trays
3. Whack all the ingredients (bar the choc, nuts and cranberries) in a blender and whirl it up
4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir
5. The dough will be thick and lumpy...this is good
6. Spoon heaped teaspoons on a tray (6 per tray) and leave enough room as these babies spread
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes
8. Remove to cool enough until you can wolf one down

Enjoy cookie monsters xx

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The pub can't even handle me right now

I love doing Christmas quizzes with my classes in school.

Although the entire cohort of my children are fully ensconced with the notion that Santa does not come down their chimney with his magic key, they are happy to play along with the remaining 59, 000, 970 of the population of the UK and throw themselves right into the party spirit.

The sheer magnitude of the yuletide season for me starts to throng around the 12th of December.

The usual garb of songs are bleating their way through the smooth, signal and heart FMs and through the sound system of many a boots, argos and clinton cards.

My best friend and I had an almost 2 hour conversation en route from London to the North West about which was our favourite of the Christmas songs and why.

We came to many conclusions.

People who write Christmas songs are married to women who get very excited by September and the royalties.

Christmas songs cannot be written anymore.

The only good Christmas song to come out of this decade has been Christmas Time (Don't let the bells end) by The Darkness.

People are forgiving when listening to Christmas songs.

If you listen to Shakin Stevens, Merry Christmas Everyone and you are standing opposite someone. You will eventually start dancing by moving forwards and backwards simultaneously. FACT.

What startled me was that for all the eons ago that some of these songs were created, my children in my class were not even born and neither were some of their parents. Yet when it came to my annual festive fun quiz. All of them knew who Noddy Holder was.
I even had a couple of little impressions thrown in the mix "miss it's him who screams ITZZZZZ CRISSSSSSMEEEEESSSSSSSSS"

Yep. The very one.

It would appear that for young people today, Christmas has a formula.

The weather.

Must be cold.

The trees.

Must be put up by December 1st.

The calendar.

Must have chocolate.

The presents.

Must have an i in front of them.

For teenagers and children today. The Christmas songs are now just part of their magic Christmas formula.

It just made me think how such modern day classics such as the Wesley brothers, Hark the Herald has now been ruined by Mariah, Destiny's Childs 12 days of Xmas and Christina Aguilera warbling her way through some carols.

I must admit. I dislike very few Christmas songs.

The one that does make me feel a bit green around the chops is a spaceman came travelling by Chris de Burgh. Not content with monopolising the commercial season of love with his smoochy slicked back, dry ice oozing classic lady in red. He created a rather unusual narrative documenting the travels of a UFO.

The video impales you with fluorescent green strobes and lots of mountain scenery. The flash photography warning has been omitted. Visions of heathcliff tearing wildly through the Yorkshire moors. And then you are smacked right in the ruud gullit with the la's.

And it went la la la la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

If I were a gambling man. I suspect old CDB was veering towards the metaphor inside the music.

"twas light years since time his mission did start, and over a village he halted his craft"

Sorry Chris. Stick to the mothers day album fanfare.


Whilst I continue to pump out the yuletide merriment and fun in school time, I take time to also reflect on some of our unsung heroes of the sleigh time sing brigade.

Step forward, Harvey, Mortimer, Hendy and Coldwell. That's the lads from E-17 to you.

Yes siree. Stay another day is my guilty pleasure.

Although when I hear the crackled tones of the lads, I am also reminded of Mr Brian Harvey and his bizarre car accident in which he managed to run himself ironically the East 17 district.

Reports from cockney reuters that day say "I’d been stuffing my face with jacket potatoes,’ said Brian Harvey. ‘They were big. I put cheese on, then tuna mayonnaise and I ate the lot.’

Not alrite.

Well folks.

It's been too damn long and I will be back with a Val Doonican spesh this week bringing you some more tales from the Christmas Crypt.

See you tomorrow door 15.