Foot and mouth

Wales 1 SMALL

Before she died in 2012, we used to make annual visits to a dear friend, whom I had known since my childhood, in South Wales. She used to live in London, but when she retired, she moved to a village in the Brecon Beacons, near the River Usk. We stayed in her cottage but were encouraged to leave her in peace from after breakfast until about four in the afternoon. We did not mind this because there is plenty to explore in the area and often the weather was good at the times of the year that we visited her.

In 2001, disaster hit Wales in the form of a vicious outbreak of foot and mouth disease. In order to prevent its spread, all footpaths and many open spaces were closed to visitors. This and the appalling rain that fell relentlessly during our visit, restricted what we could do while we were allowing our guest a few hours relief from her guests. We drove around the countryside not particularly having much fun.

One day, we arrived at a small town with a name I am unable to pronounce correctly:  Llanwrtyd Wells. It was lunch time. We parked outside a hotel near the town centre. The floor of the lobby was covered with a grubby, well-worn carpet. We were shown into an unattractive dining room. Our hopes for having a decent meal fell as we surveyed the room’s dingy uninviting décor. The sight of incessant rain falling outside did little to enhance the dreary mood that this unappealing room was inducing.

The hotel’s owner brought us menus. We asked what he recommended. He said “steaks” and showed us the large range of meats listed in the menu. We asked his advice about which steak to choose. Then, he did something that transformed the dingy place for us.

He gave us a ‘tutorial’ about the relative merits of different kinds of beefsteak and their tastes. The least tasty, in his opinion, was the costliest cut, fillet steak. Sirloin steak was, he advised us, tastier and cheaper than fillet. However, he considered that the tastiest cut was rib-eye. He explained that the latter was marbled with fine streaks of fat, and it was this that gives it its superior taste. We ordered it and discovered he was right. He regretted that he was unable to serve the local, and in his view far superior, Black Mountain beef. This was because of the problems connected with the foot and mouth outbreak.

Whenever I buy steak, I look for rib-eye first, and if this is not available, I go for sirloin. Whenever I think of beefsteak, I always remember that dreary eatery in Llanwrtyd Wells and its helpful landlord. For a long time, I could not remember in which town in Wales, we were given our tutorial about steaks. Recently, I discovered some photographs I had taken there almost twenty years ago. In one of them, there was a pub sign that read “Neuadd Arms Hotel”. Seeing this helped me discover where we had been.

What is in a name

When I was a young child, I used to love eating slices of tongue. It was a cold meat that I really enjoyed. In those days, I never thought about the name of the meat, that is ‘tongue’.

When I was about 10 years old, I put ‘two and two together’ and realised that what I had been eating was once a living animal’s tongue. This realisation put me off eating tongue. I have hardly ever eaten tongue since that discover of what is in its name.

The curious thing is that, with plenty of knowledge of anatomy, I have no difficulties eating, say, liver or pancreas (‘sweetbreads’) or stomach (‘tripe’).

Picture from Wikipedia

Rice and meat

Hyderabad is justifiably renowned for tasty biryani although the very best version of this rice based dish that I have ever eaten was at Paragon in Calicut. There, they serve Moplah biryanis, which are both Arabic and Indian in taste.

The biryani we ate at the Café Bahar in Hyderabad was delicious. It was delicately flavoured and cooked with a light touch. To enter Bahar at lunchtime it is necessary to join a long queue that extends from the top of tje stairs at the doorway to the first floor dining room down on to the busy street outside. It is worth the wait.

The restaurant itself is very noisy and as busy as London’s Oxford Circus at rush hour. We shared a table with a charming couple, who let us try their ‘double masala’ chicken biryani which is richly laden with extra spices. I preferred the less spicy ‘special lamb biryani’. It is made special by adding hard boiled egg and meatballs made with minced chicken.

One should not visit Hyderabad without eating at least one biryani, but avoid the much advertised Paradise restaurant chain, which is ok but nothing like as good as Bahar or Shadab (near the Charminar)

Veggie burgers and other creatures

veggie

The popularity of vegetarianism and its relative veganism has greatly increased in the western world in recent years, and is still increasing. Popular reasons for abandoning the consumption of meat and/or products derived from animals (e.g. milk and eggs) include seemingly virtuous reasons such as love of animals and a desire to protect the world’s climate.

On the 23rd of July 1939, one world-famous vegetarian wrote a letter to another equally well-known vegetarian. Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler. Here it is in a much abbreviated form (from: https://www.mkgandhi.org/letters/hitler_ltr1.htm):

DEAR FRIEND,
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes.

… We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness

… I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice

You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? …

I am,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. GANDHI
The letter never reached Hitler; it was intercepted by the British in India.

I have no idea what the monster Adolf Hitler had to say about vegetarianism, but the saintly and peace-loving Gandhi wrote much about his abstinence from meat. For example, in 1932 he wrote:

I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to
kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. The beautiful lines
of Goldsmith occurs to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:

‘No flocks that range the valley free
To slaughter I condemn;
Taught by the Power that pities me
I learn to pity them’

(see: https://www.mkgandhi.org/ebks/moralbasis_vegetarianism.pdf)

And at another time:

“It is very significant that some of the most thoughtful and cultured men are partisans of a pure vegetable diet.”“.

Maybe, he was thinking of the man of culture, Bernard Shaw, rather than Adolf Hitler!

Returning to the present day and the increasing appetite for meatless and dairy-free food, let us consider the current desire for vegetarian products to resemble meat products. Supermarket shelves are filling up with veggie burgers, meatless steaks, meatless meat balls, meatless shawarma, and many other products made to resemble meat without containing it. Recently, I was in a Chinese restaurant, which offered diners vegetarian chicken and vegetarian duck dishes. This yearning for vegetarian products to be named like and to look like meat products is absurd,

There are plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes that are not made to resemble foods that usually contain meat. Middle-Eastern and Turkish cuisine, for example, offer vegetarian eaters delights such as: humous, fattoush, Imam Bayildi, Mutabbel (an aubergine dish), falaffel, stuffed peppers,etc. Even the French, who until recently have not been overly attracted to vegetarianism, have a traditional dish perfect for vegetarians: ratatouille. As for Indian cuisine, there is a plethora of dishes that are vegetarian and do not try to appear like meat. In India, the land where Gandhi was born, vegetarianism is a way of life, rather than a changed lifestyle, for hundreds of millions of people. This has been the case in India for many millennia.

To conclude, what I am trying to say is that if you wish to abandon eating meat for whatever reason, then you might as well abandon the desire to eat things that look like meat, but are not. If you are adopting vegetarianism, then enjoy meatless dishes for their own sake, not because they remind you of meat! Bon apetit!

Picture source: tesco.com

Burgers

Everyone, who eats them, can reccommend a place that serves the very best beef burgers. Naturally, most people have their own favourites. So, it would seem that there are many places that serve the ‘very best burgers’.  I havetried a few of these highly reccommended places and have with one exception (Gourmet Burger Kitchen – a chain that originated in New Zealand) been disappointed. Most ‘very best burgers’ turn out to be ok (usually) but an anti-climax (mostly).

Now, I am going to seem very conceited. That is because I believe that I make the ‘very best burgers’ myself in our home, and so should you. My recipe is dead simple. I take minced beef with a lowish fat content (10% or less), add a pinch of salt and a small spoon of oil (sunflower or olive) and, after washing my hands, mush the three ingredients together before hand shaping patties of the  sizes preferred by those who will eat them. Then, I cook them on a griddle. That’s all. No egg or breadcrumbs are added.  Try this for yourself and you will no longer be wasting your money on overpriced, mediochre burgers.

 

ham burger with vegetables

 

A patty of minced beef 

Mould-ed by hand

Enjoy burger perfection

 

 

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Mad cow

we don’t see ev’rything

that we consume:

might be germs with any bite

 

Bovine_500

From time to time, the United Kingdom is subject to agricultural diseases that need to be accompanied by nation-wide restrictions to limit spreading. A frequently occurring example of this is so-called foot-and-mouth disease. During such epidemics, those not involved in agricultural activities, such as hikers and tourists, are confined to roads, told to keep out of fields where traces of the disease may be lying.

During one outbreak of foot-and-mouth, we were spending a holiday in Wales. Wherever we went, we saw signs and barriers that prevented free movement across the countryside. What with the incessant rain, it made our trip rather dreary. We stopped for lunch in an ugly little town in central Wales. The most attractive looking eatery was a dowdy pub, devoid of any architectural merit. We sat down in its ageing dining room, trying to avert our eyes from the peeling wallpaper and a horrible worn carpet that badly needed to be replaced. Things looked up when the inn-keeper arrived to take our food order. We were attracted to beef steaks. There was a bewildering range of options for this on the menu.  Our host patiently explained the differences between the different types of beefsteak, explaining how the tastiness of the meat itself was related to its fat content and distribution within the cut. Fillet steak, for example, has little fat, not much taste without sauces, but wonderful texture. He recommended rib-eye as being the cut with just the right amount and distribution of fat to be tasty on its own. He was quite right, we discovered in that unattractive dining room in rainy Wales.

bovine

Some years later, Mad Cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) became a concern in the UK. One evening, when we were going to a theatre near St Martins Lane in London, there were large headlines about the disease on the front page of the latest issue of the Evening Standard newspaper. Before the performance, we entered a branch of McDonalds for a quick snack. Almost everyone in the café was eating beef burgers, despite the headlines on the newspapers that some of the customers were reading!

Shortly after this, we went on a driving trip through France. In one small town, we walked passed a small restaurant with a sign hanging in its glass-fronted door. It read (in French): “We might be mad, but our beef is not.”

While the Mad Cow scare was at its height, we were invited to stay with some friends in Belgium. We had stayed with them often before. We asked them what they would like us to bring from London. They said they would love a home-made curry, enough for about twelve people. Although I am married to an Indian, it is I who makes the meat curries in our family. I prepared and cooked a huge lamb curry. As it is only a few hours’ drive between London and Belgium and the curry would have to be re-heated before being served, we thought it safe to transport the casserole containing it without refrigeration.

There were more security checks than usual at the English end of the Channel Tunnel. After our car had been examined, and the engine checked for hidden items including explosives, we were asked if we were carrying any meat products across the English Channel. We mentioned that we were transporting a casserole of cooked lamb curry. The security officials looked puzzled, told us not to move, and then walked away towards an office. One of them returned, and asked:

“It’s lamb, not beef is it?”

We confirmed that it was not beef.

“And thoroughly cooked?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what with all those spices, we’ll let you take it through the tunnel.”

Nobody asked us about meat when we arrived in France. We drove through a bath containing disinfected, and then headed for our destination.