from John F. in Tadcaster, UK. August in North Yorkshire.

Post no 14.  August 17. We are well behaved in this rural part of the country; masks are universal and even in the little village shop when the postmaster hands me my morning paper, I don a face shield. So far there is no sign of the virus erupting again, as it has in West Yorkshire, not so far away. The local hospital has not had a death since June 18th.

Some of the restrictions are proving frustrating. I saved Rishi Sunak £100 by taking all my grandchildren and parents to a wonderful tapas restaurant last week on a Thursday, just missing the £10 a head gift. The food was excellent as always (far better say the Spaniards whom I have taken there, compared to what they get at home) but the complex ordering system made me cross.

The menu was on the internet, so I printed off copies for everyone to save time. However we could not simply tell the shielded waitress what we wanted, but had to download the menu and an ordering system from a mobile app. As we were spread over two tables there had to be two orders and drinks were also online. The whole ordering process took 45 minutes but the waitress finally relented and accepted a drinks order before we had entered it on the mobile. Payment had to be made before the order could be sent to the kitchen; later the whole process was restarted for the ice creams etc that the children wanted.

Sandsend Beach, north of Whitby, UK

Like many people I am still a little uncertain about the regulations; I may well have been breaking them when my wife and I went to the beach at Sandsend, a little village north of Whitby. On a lovely sunny day we joined our grandchildren for a light lunch on the terrace of their holiday house and then in deckchairs on the beach. But what a wonderful orgy of nostalgia it was, as I used to go to that same beach 75 years ago just after the war.  However the young now have 21st century equipment such as wet suits and surf boards and are far more active than I ever was.

The weather has been far cooler than in the south of England and as a result our harvest has barely started. However those farmers that have combined, report low yields of poor quality barley – fit only for cattle feed rather than milling for food (or beer). Straw is very short and stubby so the income from this will be negligible. Wheat has still to be harvested and the potatoes are being drenched by huge irrigation pipes.

As ever, our local church has been slow to restore normal operations. It provides one Zoom service on Sundays for all four parishes in its benefice and a live one in the biggest church; it then lets the local churchwardens open up their churches for private prayer an hour once a week. No plans are given for full live services in the three smaller churches.

From David Vincent in Shropshire, UK: Home Restaurant

Yorkshire parkin, salted butterscotch sauce and clotted cream

july 20. We always knew that this would be the hard stretch.

When everything was shut and no-one was going anywhere, there was little sense of frustrated opportunity.  But now shops and restaurants are beginning to open, and the young and fit are getting out of the house.  Lockdown becomes daily less amusing.

So we consider food.  One discovery of this event has been the interplay of pleasure and spontaneity.  The best meals you cook for yourself are those for which you conceive an appetite one morning, go out and buy the ingredients and cook them in the evening.  When you are confined to an intermittent home delivery, each night you are faced with a vague intention conceived a week earlier when the order was compiled.  All invention is lost, except in so far as there have to be unexpected workarounds because some essential ingredient has been left off the list.

Out in the country there is a trade between clean air, fine views, quiet roads on the one hand, and an absolute absence of takeaway services on the other.  But then we read, in a restaurant column in one of the weeklies, that proper restaurants are delivering proper meals irrespective of distance and at a reasonable price.  One of these is the chain of six up-market bistros run by Gary Usher in Manchester and Liverpool.  Usher has gained a reputation not only for the quality of his meals but for his approach to the business, launching ventures in unfashionable areas using crowdfunding and adopting an ethical approach to employing his staff.

So, as if in a restaurant, we read the online menu and order the following meal:  Starter: Burrata with charred spring onion dressing, fennel and chilli crisps; Main: Confit duck leg, red cabbage, mango and macadamia salad, tarragon bbq sauce; Braised featherblade of beef, truffle creamed potato, glazed carrot, red wine sauce; Desert: Yorkshire parkin, salted butterscotch sauce and clotted cream; dark chocolate and seal salted fudge.

Looks promising.  An insulated, chilled box arrives exactly on time containing a host of labelled polythene bags.

Then the problem.  The food has been half-prepared.  There is not much that can go completely wrong.  On the other hand, this is absolutely not a Marks and Spenser microwave job.  Everything has to be separately reheated in different ways for different times, or unpacked and reassembled.  If you have a basic kitchen competence, each activity is not so difficult.  But, like a real restaurant, there is the question of timing.  When you go out for a meal, the company usually makes a point of ordering different items from the menu, to compare and contrast, to enjoy your own choices and everyone else’s.  In this game, such behaviour is a fundamental mistake.  Like the professional chef I find myself having to prepare two multi-layered dishes for completion at exactly the same time, whilst my wife is busy with two other sections of the menu.  At one point I am boiling bags on the stove, roasting in the oven, and grilling a duck leg, whilst at the same time preparing a salad and heating a sauce. All to a deadline.  I have always regarded the new verb ‘to plate’ as an affectation used only by wannabe tv chefs, but on this occasion when I got to the last line in each of the extensive instruction sheets, plate is what I did.

And of course, when the meal was finished, no-one came to clear the dishes, or deal with the pots and pans and a small mountain of discarded food bags.  We have a rule in my household, as in most, that we wash up before the day ends.  Not this time.

It was an event (with candles and a good bottle of wine).  Not to be missed.  Or repeated, at least for a while.  

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: time to have another drink … or three

May 23. In South Australia we are opening up: restaurants and pubs are once more open for business – but only for seated customers and with a limit of 10 people inside and 10 outside. What these businesses appear to be doing is limiting your stay to an hour so they can serve more customers. At first our state government said restaurants could open – but not serve alcohol. There was a backlash and mockery about this ‘no alcohol’ idea so it was quickly scrapped. NO ALCOHOL – how ridiculous to suggest this!

Australians love their alcohol and the authorities apparently felt that patrons might ‘forget’ about social distancing. One is aware that these venues need to be viable and the profit made on alcoholic drinks is significant compared to a cuppachino.

As the shutdown got underway 2 months ago, the jokes about alcohol proliferated across social media. Basically, the theme was: we are all drinking more than normal and that’s OK because life is tough and we NEED our alcohol to survive.

No question a glass or two of Barossa Shiraz is a pleasure with a good home cooked meal. It’s a question of excess and the behaviour that goes with it.

In South Africa they closed the bottle shops – not deemed the source of ‘essential’ purchases during the shutdown. Some bottle shops were attacked and looted by mobs. Online purchases went ahead. I think the ban was in part an attempt to reduce domestic violence. All violence. Car accidents, stabbings and shootings declined. Trauma cases presented at hospital declined by two thirds.

‘It’s not all been bad. One of the benefits of the alcohol ban has been that the reduction in drinking probably led to a quarter, or 9,000, fewer trauma cases in hospital wards every week, according to Charles Parry, a researcher at the South Africa Medical Research Council.’

Think of that! 9,000 fewer trauma cases in South African hospitals!

Coming back to South Australia, what has been startling on the local evening news is the number of horrific road accidents involving drivers who are found to be way over the regulation .05 blood alcohol level. One woman was 7 times over the limit and had 2 young children in the back of her vehicle. I am surprised she could even crawl to her car. And all this is at a time when there are far fewer cars on the road.

Our police have not been road testing for alcohol or drugs due to the fear of covid-19 transmission. Our absolute number of road deaths is relatively low, but so many of the dead and injured are younger people. It’s not so much us retired people, locked down at home, who are out driving under the influence.

From our government fact sheet on ALCOHOL AND DRUGS IN ROAD CRASHES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA. June 2019.  ‘Overall, 36% of drivers and motorcycles riders killed test positive to either drugs or alcohol or a combination of both for the 5 year period 2014-2018. This means over a third of vehicle operators killed each year are driving with an illegal BAC and/or drugs in their system.’

Alcohol is such a strong theme for Australians when they want to express that they are having fun. It’s often portrayed as a ‘blockey’ thing – those beers (‘stubbies’ or ‘frosties) at the ‘barbie’ on Saturday ‘arvo’. Mateship stems from such times.

I was thinking of this theme of our indulgence in alcohol when we collected the papers this morning. The local Advertiser is a typical tabloid with catchy headlines and little worth reading. It did not disappoint!

The Advertiser, South Australia. May 23, 2020

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury: fast food …from 1861!

22 May. As part of the hesitant relaxation of the lockdown regulations, some of the fast food chains have been experimenting this week with reopening their restaurants.  McDonalds has unlocked thirty-three drive-through outlets in London and south-east England.  Burger King, KFC and Nandos are said to be exploring the challenge of selling food whilst observing safety measures. 

It’s a glimpse of pleasure, the possibility of going out for a meal, whether or not these particular outlets are entirely to taste.   But in my shielded lockdown, this is still a forbidden promise.   So as last Friday, we must be content with reading about food, again relying on Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor of 1861.

After reviewing the markets for fruit, vegetables and fish, he turned his attention to the ‘street-sellers of eatables and drinkables.’  Once more he found a trade of enormous vigour and variety.  He recognised that the demand was not necessarily for the most nutritious food.  ‘Men whose lives’ he wrote ‘… are alternations of starvation and surfeit, love some easily-swallowed and comfortable food better than the most approved substantiality of a dinner table.’  ‘Easily-swallowed and comfortable food’ is a perfect description of McDonalds and their rivals, however much their menus are deplored by nutritionists.  And like the fast food outlets of the modern day, it was essentially cheap, though far more varied.  The following feast was delivered to the penny economy of the London poor in the mid-nineteenth century:

The solids then, according to street estimation, consist of hot-eels, pickled whelks, oysters, sheep’s trotters, pea-soup, fried fish, ham-sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meet puddings, beef, mutton, kidney, and eel pies, and baked potatoes.  In each of these provisions the street-poor find a mid-day or mid-night meal

The pastry and confectionary which tempt the street caters are tarts of rhubarb, currant, gooseberry, cherry, apple, damson, cranberry, and (so called) mince pies; plum dough and plum-cake; lard, currant, almond and many other varieties of cakes, as well as of tarts; gingerbread-nuts and heart-cakes; Chelsea buns; muffins and crumpets; “sweet stuff” includes the several kinds of rocks, sticks, lozenges, candies, and hard-bakes; the medicinal confectionary of cough-drops and horehound; and, lastly, the more novel and aristocratic luxury of street-ices; and strawberry cream, at 1d. a glass, (in Greenwich Park). 

The drinkables are tea, coffee, and cocoa; ginger-beer, lemonade, Persian sherbert, and some highly-coloured beverages which have no specific name, but are introduced to the public as “cooling” drinks; hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water; curds and whey; water (as at Hampstead); rice milk; and milk in the parks.  (p. 159)

That’s Fast Food!  Enjoy the sight.

from Megan in Brisbane, Australia: Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day …

22 April. I enjoyed the post describing the takeaway dinner which was savoured  at a well set table with a bottle of wine, and at the civilized dinner hour of around 7:30pm.

This led me to think about what happens in our house. 

Firstly, it is a long time since I cooked. The work I did saw me arrive home after dinner hour and my plate was kept in the warming drawer. My husband continued doing the cooking although I had stopped working. Because we live in an open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen, I know when he’s starting to make something and I say, just in case,

‘I’ll have what you’re having.’

This has changed since the start of the virus. I decided to pick up cooking and baking where I left off many years ago, and I have been enjoying the experience (#Greater Purpose). I now pull things out of a previously empty culinary hat that I never thought I was capable of.

It works like this. There are two specials of the day. 

I’m trying to create the restaurant atmosphere, you see. 

Only one special can be chosen. 

This is a small restaurant after all. 

Once decided, the preparation and cooking time are calculated and dinner is planned to be served around 6pm. The plates are placed on the kitchen counter, the food is dished up, and in accordance with the rules around restaurants in this time of coronavirus, we go to this takeaway counter and then set off to the TV room to eat. I love takeaway. 

I have made Mongolian Chicken, Cauliflower and Pumpkin Soup sprinkled with Chopped Chives for Presentation; I have produced Spinach and Feta Pie with a Hint of Dill; and Lasagne baked to a turn with a Slightly Crusted Cheese Topping. 

And now for the baking.

Two of my grandsons (in different houses) and I are participating in a bake off. So far, we have each made a batch of biscuits, which we shared amongst us. The parents are required to deliver and leave at the door (their #Greater Purpose). Other specialities have been dumplings, doughnuts and apple cake. We have our tasting time and report back. 

The next baking challenge is Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day on 25 April. I’m am reading up on every available recipe. I want to do better at this than I did at the algebra challenge (#Greater Purpose).

from John F. in Tadcaster, UK: the pandemic economy in Madrid.

The pandemic economy. Gigi was a surprising name for an Iberian ham cutter –a nattily suited Romanian, and definitely a man – who was renting out my garage parking spot. But then his Oklahoman colleague at the ham cutting business was surprising too. Glen had moved from a marketing role at a blue-chip American bank to being the office manager for Emilio García Ortigosa, a colourful Spanish personality show with an appropriate acronym, EGO, which he used as his company name. Glen saw no contradiction in being a practising Jew and the purveyor of cured Iberian ham, professionally cut, served and presented, with considerable ceremony and explanations, by trained ham cutters. Happily, this was an irony we could joke about together, the first of many.

The company provided a package deal, so to speak, for restaurants and high-end hotels around Madrid and beyond. Gigi was the star cutter and trained the junior ham cutters. This is a business model that would be difficult to explain succinctly outside Spain, where ham-cutting is a respected trade, combining artistry, performance, understanding of a high-quality artisan product and long hours putting up with the public. Pretty much the gastronomic equivalent of bull-fighting.  EGO’s ham cutting business was doing perfectly well, until eating out, a staple of Spanish life, became one of Covid 19’s first casualties. All restaurants were required to close under the State of Alarm imposed in the middle of March.

A little more than a month before, Gigi, Glen and I had been out together to celebrate our new rental arrangement. A bout of flu somewhere in China in no way impinged on the important business at hand: we were virtual strangers, united by the flimsiest of bonds, but this was more than enough for three adoptive residents to enjoy Madrid, a true party city. We had a splendid evening at a smart hotel bar, gobbling down EGO’s excellent ham as it was sliced, with actorly flourish, by one of Gigi’s protégés.

With the closure of Madrid’s night life, EGO’s business went into hibernation with no forecast as to when the revenue stream would start up again. What to do with the master cutter’s snazzy motor? Leaving it on the street in Madrid’s Latin quarter was not a sensible option. The neighbourhood is popular with anarchists, and the nearby square still houses the headquarters of the obstreperous CNT trade union, still remembered from the Civil War and the focal point for anti-fascist rallies on key political anniversaries. That is not to say that Gigi’s large black BMW would be any safer elsewhere, but he was a proud and protective owner. This was our dilemma; the owner of the BMW had no cash, but the owner of the parking space needed to make a return on her investment, too.

Some currencies, however, can acquire liquidity. Which is how I ended up lurking on the third and lowest floor of an underground carpark waiting for a Romanian ham cutter. 30 vacuum-packed envelopes of Iberian ham changed hands, and the rent for this month was sorted. Next month might be a good one for sheep’s cheese.

Guest blogger: Henrietta in Madrid