Did you know it’s Christmas time again?

“Do you remember the year that Nigella told us all to brine our turkeys?”

“No Erin. Normal people don’t remember that”

Because I’m me, I do remember. I vividly remember the year that Nigella told the nation to dunk our turkeys in vats of salt water to let them become succulent and moist. That year, sales of plastic tubs soared in November as people used them to test run their turkey soaking, only to realise turkeys are massive and don’t fit in tubs. Then the public looked balefully at their baths wondering if that was the best way to make sure their turkeys were completed submerged in their salty, salty soak.

Every year we all feel a slight impending sense of doom around Christmas food, how are we going to impress this year? Are canapes still in? Have we catered for all the allergens around the table? What if people don’t actually like apricot and pistachio stuffing!?

So what should we expect this year when diving into December, what madness has Heston created for Waitrose this year?

Once more unto the breach  

“Austerity is over”

Philip Hammond said the words and apparently Christmas food has heard him, and whilst I am undeniably dubious about the reality of his words out in the real world it would appear that we’re not in for a very healthy Christmas. Luxury is back baby. We want rich, decadent stuffed joints of meat, giant sausages wrapped in bacon because bite sized is done and desserts with molten, glittery saucy centres and we want it now.

Desserts

The focus this year is on all things sweet, sticky, caramelly (yes people, salted caramel is officially here to stay) and decadent. M & S is doing some ridiculous chocolate pine cone covered in glitter spray, Good Food magazine is giving our recipes for show stopping Christmas cakes and Waitrose have decided hiding oranges in the middle of their puddings is “festive”

Wreaths are everywhere

And I mean everywhere, puddings are shaped into wreaths, stuffing is shaped into wreaths, turkey is being reconstituted into wreath shapes and it’s all very odd. I get that wreaths are lovely and festive but wreaths are for hanging on my front door not for eating.
In terms of plant wreaths, they are also everywhere, but only half naked wreaths, we’ve taken the traditional and, of course, made it hipster by exposing half of the twisted wood or wire.

Extra fancy stuffing

Stick fruit, nuts and the kitchen sink in it. Heston has apparently been inspired by wassailing this year so wassail we will, especially in stuffing. So think apples people, apples are everywhere. It will also be shaped weirdly, be it in wreath or bundt the lowly stuffing ball is no more.

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& butter……

I’ve been thinking a lot about butter recently. Not that I’m not always thinking about butter, because, I am. I love butter. I’m a butter purist, this is a margarine free zone thank you very much. Feck off flora, carry on clover, yes I can believe it’s not butter thank you. A horrifying amount of my daily food involves butter, I love baking with it, slathering it lavishly on toast, making sauces glossy with it and just generally making life better with it.

The reason, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about butter though is because sadly, my grandma is not doing so well. This woman is a force of nature, a true matriarch and the woman that taught me to love butter. It’s stuff of family legend that June spreads her butter so thick on toast you can see teeth marks in it and I can totally relate. So it seemed like a cruel joke when I was sat in the doctor’s office being told that due to acute stress (it’s been an intense few weeks) I was suffering with IBS. Cut out dairy especially and anything inflammatory for a couple of weeks, take these nice pills and see how you go.

“I’m sorry. Did you just say cut out dairy?”

“Yes, just for a couple of weeks, you are lactose intolerant, it says so on your records. Probably best to ditch it for a couple of weeks till things calm down”

Now, the fact that I’m lactose intolerant (MILDLY. I say MILDLY lactose intolerant) is something I very regularly ignore. Infact. Always ignore. I love dairy, it’s my favourite. A meal isn’t a meal without cheese, butter, sour cream, creme fraiche *insert other dairy related product here* but here I was being told that for my upset stomach to calm down this was a good idea. I was devastated, lost, confused, hurt beyond all natural cause and reason and then, I saw the challenge. It’s been months since I’ve written, days since I’ve tried to cook something new and as yet again my life is about to drastically change I have always sought solace in experimenting with new food. This is just the universe telling me to get my cooking head on again try something new and write about it. So, here I am, three days in, haven’t killed anyone yet. Yet being the operative word. I’m going to do a series of blogs throughout this couple of weeks around my journey of going dairy free, i’m nervous and excited, there’ll be terrible baking exploits, an exploration of dairy free cheese in its many forms, a dalliance with Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines which naturally involve less cheese. So please send your dairy free ideas and recipes my way.

 

Let’s see how this goes and no I’m not counting mayo as dairy.

Panic stations are go

It landed with a thud on my floor. A weighty thud that with it held a warning, I could almost smell it coming but each year it gets earlier and earlier and I am always slightly shocked. How is it here already!? How are we already talking about it? With these questions the sweats, shakes and nerves start, why haven’t I started planning? Why haven’t I already bought anything and WHY OH WHY haven’t I got my sprouts on yet? I’m talking about Christmas.
The thud was my Christmas editions of ‘Good Food’ and ‘Delicious’ magazines. It’s here. Ground control to Major Tom. Panic stations are go. Oy with the poodles already.  


Christmas. We all love it, well no, that’s a lie, I love it. I love the glittery, the sparkly, the huggy warmth that is Christmas but Christmas as a foodie comes with a certain level of expectation, a level of decadence and class that normal people could never understand. So this year I’m getting ahead of the game and doing my research, what can I do this year that will set me apart and let me tell you it’s hard diving into the murky world of food trends. Once you’ve waded through the piles of chia seeds no-one wants and batted away the fanatics who tell you that you should be used cold pressed avocado oil for everything you start to actually get somewhere, so here’s a list of the things you can expect to see on supermarket shelves and in restaurants this Christmas, buckle up it’s not all smooth sailing

  • The 70’s are back Oh yes, i’m talking prawn cocktails, things that aren’t pineapple un-necessarily shaped into being a pineapple and everything stuffed. However, the main 70’s thing we’ve decided to bring back (for reasons best to know to no-one) is the Black Forest Gateau. Who knows why but this chocolatey, cherry, creamy mess is back with a vengeance, expect to see it murdered by chefs everywhere, lining the shelves in Tesco’s in January and turned into a panettone by Heston for Waitrose.

  • The forgotten meal returns I’m not being funny but literally no-one cares about breakfast on Christmas day. It’s the thing that gets in the way of opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning right? Apparently this year that’s wrong. Brunch is big this year (as if you didn’t know, have you been sleeping under a rock) and Christmas appears to be no exception. Supermarkets have jumped on the trend by creating brunch to go staples for us all to take home so we don’t have to stress about perfectly poaching an egg whilst balancing keeping Granny’s sherry topped up and starting to peel the carrots

  • There’s a new root in town A couple of years ago it was Kale, last year it was Beetroot, this year Celeriac is having it’s day in the sun. It’s in soups, rostis, roasts and just about everything else on restaurant menus everywhere this year. Long live the celeriac unless it’s cooked badly because then it’s bloody awful

     

  • The rise of the vegan We’ve gone meat free mad this year, 2017 has definitely been a turning point for the non carnivores amongst us. Vegan options are cropping up just about everywhere. Including Christmas, Seitan (or wheat meat as it’s sometimes called. Yes you read that right, wheat meat) turkey galore this year, restaurants and supermarkets alike have noticed this though so don’t worry when a surprise vegan knocks on the door then you should be covered

 

Things that are on the outs this year include:

  •  ‘Hygge’ which has been replaced by it’s equally ridiculous cousins ‘Lagom‘ and ‘Ikigai’

  • Upside down Christmas trees but who isn’t glad that they’re gone right? They were terrible
  • Completely brining our Turkeys Another one I’m not sad to see the back of

 

A return to coffee shop challenges

Two months.

Sixty days.

Eighty seven thousand six hundred minutes since I last posted on this blog.

The blog that has pretty much defined who I am for the last nearly two years. I pride myself on writing about food, being honest about my overwhelming love of cheese, the fact that I screw up very regularly in the kitchen and I have a completely irrational loathing of all things coconut.
The reason that it’s taken me so long to sit and actually pen (well more like type) my feelings is the huge career decision I made two months ago. I left my loving, wonderful, magazine family and dove back in, head first, to the world of hospitality. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about being back in a restaurant or cafe for months and knew that I wasn’t completely involved in the job I was doing. I needed to be surrounded by the world that I was writing about, I needed to be involved in creating, making and developing food. Whilst I don’t regret my decision the main reason that I’ve struggled to write about this journey is because whilst those who know me best congratulated me, a piece of feedback that just kept cropping up was:
“Well……don’t you think that’s just a bit of a step backwards”

There’s a self deprecating story I now like to tell, normally after a glass of wine, in which I was once told on a date; that was I aware I was “assertive….bordering on bolshy” to which I had very similar feelings. Namely, I wanted to scream and shout “how the heck am I supposed to react to that?!” Do you want me to say “No. No I’m not aware of my nuisances and this one very blunt comment will make me change my entire perspective on myself. Thank you.” Or am I supposed to stand my ground and say “Screw you. I’m happy to be bossy and yes most horrifyingly of all, I’m happy to serve you your croissant and coffee every morning”. In reality neither on those things happened but trust me, I wish it could have been the second one.
When I first sat down to write this blog I wanted to write all about the hilarious things that I’ve learnt since going back into hospitality (Which trust me are many). I stared at the screen for days, sometimes driving myself insane till 4am trying to sound funny and witty, but I couldn’t make light of this transition until I’d expressed this annoyance, and I couldn’t not address the ease of which people told me this was a horrible decision and the judgement of the service industry in general. I guess in their eyes I had it all, I was working with one of the most well reputed, fun, cool companies. I had a “real job”.
The reality is I’ve never been ashamed to be a waitress, or a server, or Front of House or whatever you’d like to label it. I wear my badge of working in hospitality with pride. My job means I get to see customers at their best, their most excited, engaged and most importantly at their worst, at their saddest, most vulnerable and I feel privileged that I get to bring that person a cup of tea or a loaf of bread and see their day brighten. No matter what language you speak, country you come from or up bringing you’ve had I have yet to meet someone who can resist talking about food they love or have a day improved by being given something amazing to eat or drink. 

So, I’m using this platform that I’ve spent two years working on, building up somewhat of a reputation for to ask you, implore you, to remember that your waitress, barmen, manager, baker, butcher and cocktail maker are a human being just like you. We have pride and some of us (Shock- horror) have chosen to make this industry our career. Take the time to remember that whilst you’re spending your hard earned money with us, we’re also putting our heart and soul into your ethically sourced, hand-reared, single origin flat white and yes we do read your trip-advisor reviews and yes they are taken seriously. Some of the strongest people I’ve met have been in the service industry, the first women I worked for and worked with as a waitress is still a constant inspiration to me, it takes true grit and skill to run a successful cafe or restaurant. Ask us our opinion on what you should order, engage with us like we’re people and trust me you’ll get great service and remember we’ve probably been here and been on our feet for many hours, working, just like you. 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and I can come home to and scream out my frustrations at, the ones who didn’t roll their eyes at me when they found out I’d got “another job” or taken my massive “bolt back to safety” but the main thing I’ve learnt since returning to hospitality is please remember that you’re not being served by a robot, that person handing you your coffee is a person. 

Oh, and please don’t order a half caff-soy-mocha. That isn’t a thing.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not……

 Dating is hard. Like, really hard. If you’re the one in a million that managed to marry your high-school sweetheart and has never had to date, then in the most polite way possible; Sod off. This blog is not for you.

 For the rest of us poor unfortunate souls, even those of you who are now sat in marital/co-habitual bliss, there’s a feeling we all know well. The stomach churning fear of not being liked. For both men and women alike there’s the pressure of feeling like you have to be hilariously funny, intelligent but not intimidatingly so and let’s not forget jaw dropping-ly good looking. It’s almost like if the other person see’s even one tiny flaw then they’ll run screaming in the other direction never to be seen again. No matter how hard we try to mask the crazy, we’ve all heard those stories of dates going horrifyingly wrong, some of us, lucky as we are, have even lived through them. A personal highlight of mine being that recently someone rounded off a date with asking me”Are you aware that you’re assertive boarding on, you know, bolshy?” For the record, yes I am thanks.

So why oh why do we make this experience even worse for ourselves by adding in the pressure of eating. David Attenborough is always saying on Planet Earth that creatures both great and small are at their most vulnerable whilst eating and I can sympathise with this feeling. I’m certainly not at my most gracious or sleek whilst covered in pizza or whilst gorging myself on cheese. Am I the only one who finds it nigh on impossible to be at maximum level of whit whilst elegantly consuming food!? Especially as I physically can’t chew and talk. My mother would know and would still tell me off, even now.

There’s all sorts of nightmarish etiquette to consider, for example, I had a very awkward recent interaction where I made a joke about the fact that I always eat pizza with a knife and fork, to which the poor man I was sat with then assumed I was judging him for eating to sharing board we were digging into with his hands. It was most definitely finger food, I’m just weird. Cue much awkward conversation and me downing my glass of wine. You never end up ordering what you actually want, you make a snap decision because you’re worrying that the other person will find you boring or you’re taking too long to pick or you don’t actually like the cuisine of the pan-asian-thai-mexican fusion place you stupidly chose because you’re pretending to be “adventurous”. You could cook together but that will lead to the other person immediately having to see your house and the fact that you’re actually secretly a control freak who micro manages other people cooking (*cough cough*). Don’t even get me started on the amount of times I’ve nervously and recklessly declared I love camping because conversation was running dry. Which, for the record, I don’t. I hate it.

It’s a minefield out there people.

I opened the debate up to the many and asked all those who’d listen whether they thought eating on the first date was a good idea, some reeled away in shock and horror citing hatred of the sound of others chewing, or that they would eat but would always pick a “healthier” option than what they would normally go for. Things such as spaghetti, seafood and garlic were all big no nos for obvious reasons. So was cooking for someone on the first date, mainly due to the amount of stories I heard of people mutilating themselves and ending up with their first date in A&E. Not ideal really is it? Meeting for coffee seemed to be a nice middle ground but who goes for coffee after 5pm which is when most dates happen?

Rather reassuringly though most people said that they would be OK with eating on the first date because at the end of the day, we all gotta eat and why should we be ashamed of how we do it? So let us all be inspired by those of us brave enough to order seafood linguine with extra garlic bread, supposedly finding the right person means they’ll like you no matter what you eat……right?