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Although this blog is called ‘The Distracted Gourmet’, I have to admit to you that, apart from the ‘The Distracted’ part, I’m nothing of the sort. A gourmet is, after all, someone who has discriminating taste, and although I’m always up for a bit of food snobbery, I can’t pretend I have one refined bone in my body. I’m all about everything, when it comes to food, and although my squeamish sensibilities won’t induce me to eat offal (I have to throw in ‘knowingly’ here, because goodness knows how often I’ve eaten minced floor sweepings disguised as sausages before I put my foot down), I’m pretty easy about most things. In fact, when it comes to anything a little bit foreign, I absolutely delight in the commonplace and the ordinary. How else can you explain my delight in buying cans of French green beans from Carrefour, in the full knowledge that these haricot verts are exactly the same no matter which side of the English Channel you’re on? Or devouring ready meals purchased from an am-pm near my hotel when I stayed in Tokyo for a week a couple of years ago?
Where ever I go, I always try to explore using my stomach. I use food as a way of peering into strange new worlds. The most exciting thing for me to do in a new country (I’ll admit, I haven’t been to many, please don’t think I’m well travelled) is go to a supermarket. My friends think I’m nuts. Maybe, if you’re reading this blog, you know where I’m coming from. There’s just nothing more exciting to me than groceries. I stalked every aisle of every supermarket I visited when I went to France this month. And needless to say, I went into every supermarket I saw, even when it involved leaving Sara and Michael in a McDonald’s, and dragging Rachel across industrial scrubland, across car parks and down slopes obviously not meant as pathways.
Maybe I am a bit of a food snob in my homeland, but when I’m abroad, I turn into a food hussy. I’ll have anything, the lowlier the better. A can of casserole, you say? Is it FOREIGN? Well, I’ll try it. In England, if you tried to feed me stew from a tin, I’d gamely eat it and then bitch about you behind your back in a shocked and hushed manner. But abroad, well, it ceases to be crappy food and turns into an archaeological gem, revealing to me the mysteries of these strange alien beings that look a little like me, but are decidedly stranger. At this moment, I have in my cupboard a packet of French mashed potato. When I eat it, no matter how bad it is, I will feel like a culinary explorer. I know that’s odd and sad, but really, there are no losers in a situation where a 26 year old woman can get genuine happiness out of box of dehydrated potato.
A while back, in my Economy Gastronomy post, I wrote that I had been living off about £15 a week for food for two people for a few months. Maybe some of you read that and went, “woah, what a liar”, or possibly, “why?”, or maybe even “£15? She’s the lucky one, I have to walk ten miles every day to eat food from a rubbish dump”. No matter what your reaction, I feel like I must explain myself.
I decided to go on holiday with my dear beloved to Franchland, so we could visit a few of the places that we used to when he lived there. We stayed in Granville and drove up from St Malo, and had a blast visiting Cherbourg and Mont-St-Michel. But, in order to fund this jolly, we had to seriously scrimp on the shopping, fasting in order that we may feast our little hearts out eating chips and steak twice a day the whole time we were there.
We worked out a budget of £60 per week for food, and then, whatever was left at the end of the week, we put into a pot to save for France. We ended up taking over £700, which should indicate how much we’ve been scrimping. But, it was worth every single last can of Tescos Value Beans, because I bought everything that wasn’t nailed down, including copious amounts of fleur de sel de Guerande and salted caramel everything. My cupboards are now full of delicious French foods from the supermarche, and I am content. AND I’m back up to £60 a week for food, and I feel absolutely rich beyond my wildest dreams. I even bought a sliced white loaf of bread from Sainsbury’s the other day, which is the first time in ages I’ve not baked my own. Yes, baking your own bread is fun to begin with, but when you have to do it three times a week to save money, the novelty soon wears off, even with a breadmaker.
As far as how you live on £15 a week, it’s pretty easy. Bake your own bread, like I said, that saves money. Having a well stocked larder and freezer is obviously a cheat, but also pretty damn essential. I buy huge packets of chicken thighs and drumsticks and freeze them in pairs, which is very thifty. Mince is a massive essential around here, as well. Eating very little meat makes things easy. I make massive batches of chilli and bolognaise when I can. Eggs are great value and Sainsbury’s do these great family packs of free range ones which are really cheap.
I reckon it generally just helps if you’re really stingy, and your OH doesn’t mind eating wheat biscuits and marmite sandwiches every single day of his life (he actually insists on it). Even so often, I’d cave and buy something with my own money, rather than our joint account, so I can’t claim to be totally angellic about this, but I’m sure you can see why I feel totally vindicated in laughing my ass off at the fantastic savings to be made from following Economy Gastronomy.
I had to pop into the Choccywoccydoodah cafe, even though all I drank was tea… Of course I had to. Just check out the menu, for cripes sake. M had a delicious peanut butter shake. After stealing a sip, I have to say it was exactly what was called for – a real thin, subtly flavoured shake which was really refreshing in the heat. I’m sure most people would have wanted something thicker and stronger, but we had to save ourselves for Jamie’s Italian…
While we were in there, a couple were browsing through a catalouge of cakes,while the waiter hovered over them. This made me prick my ears up because I’d only just been talking about how I used to drool over Choccywoccydoodah wedding cakes a few years ago during my first round of wedding planning.
“This one would be about £800.” the guy was saying.
I nearly inhaled the milkshake straw.
K, M and I exchanged glances filled with the agony of being too poor to spend £800 on a cake.
“Or something like this would set you back about two grand,” the Choccywoccydoodah man was saying.
I didn’t see exactly which cake this was, but I’m sure it was suitably amazing.
“It’s not the materials that cost, it’s the work that goes into it,” he continued.
Blimey. For someone who takes nearly two months of sweating over a keyboard to earn that much cash, that was one painful sentence. I’m definitely in the wrong profession.
To check out the host of chocolatey delights we could have chosen from, follow this link to the cafe’s menu.
Yesterday I went to visit my lovely friend Katie in Brighton and stumbled upon Jamie Oliver’s Recipease, which is a food and kitchen shop that runs cooking lessons and sells kitchen equipment, ready prepared food and other bits and bobs.
I was totally shocked. I had no idea there was one in Brighton, but I’d been lusting over the one in Camden a while back, trying to see if I could fit in a recipe sesh during one of my trips to London. Ach, as if. So when I went into Recipease, I was, as usual, like a kid in a candy shop. I must have walked around that shop about three times, touching everything.
I’m always like this. If I go somewhere cool, and there is a shop, I must buy something. I feel like an explorer gathering exotic artifacts to bring back home – to prove I’ve been somewhere. Like, if I don’t bring something back, I might forget I ever went. It’s sort of a way of taking a bit of that coolness and preserving it forever in my house – which is of course what those hard hearted marketing bastards want me to think.
So I wandered around and around, a helpless consumer, past the class learning how to make pasta (I’d love to be in a pasta cooking class!), past all the ready cooked meals, past the mixing bowls and glassware, past all the bread and the jam, and back again. Eventually, I bought a set of measuring spoons, cos I always run out, even though I have three sets already. That’ll show those doubters back home I went to Jamie’s place!On the way back out I picked up a leaflet about the store, and we retreated to Starbucks to spend M’s vouchers – which he turned out not to have, but that’s another story. I took a look at the leaflet, and on the inside it had a map of all the foodie destinations Brighton had to offer – including a place called ‘Jamie’s Italian’.
I knew Jamie Oliver was making a chain of Italian restaurants, but I didn’t realise there was one in Brighton. Why had no one told me? I like Jamie Oliver. I like Italian food. I like Brighton. Why did the world conspire against me to hide this amazing combination of pleasing concepts? I’m totally shocked I didn’t get invited to the launch party.
So of course, we had to go check this place out, and very nice it was too. We got in about ten past six and waited for about forty minutes – nowhere near as long as the 1-2 hour waiting time we’d been warned about earlier in the day by the host. We were seated right near the entrance, so it was only until someone ventured forth to find the loo that we realised how big this place really was, with loads of tables behind the bar, plus a whole floor upstairs. There was a really fun, foodie vibe about the whole place, generated by the chefs slicing up ham and waiters cutting hunks of bread, plus the chalkboards and Italian paraphernalia about the place like olive oil and legs of dead pigs.
Unfortunately, I only have one very bad photo of my food, which was taken on my phone, so you’ll have to forgive the crapness. I had a small portion of ‘delicious crab spaghettini‘ and a ‘seasonal antipasti meat plank’, which I had brought at the same time as the mains because no one else was eating a starter. In my defence, my whole meal cost less than K’s main, so there. It’s really good to be able to get a cheaper, smaller main course if you fancy pigging out on a starter. I wonder how long they’ll keep it up before deciding it’s losing them too much money though…
M had the sausage pappardelle, K had lamb chop lollipops, and I think J had spaghetti bolognaise. We all enjoyed ours – K the most. I think it definitely lived up to the brief of showing Italian food to be a celebration of simple ingredients and flavours. The food was lovely, but not overly ‘special’ or fancy. I definitely appreciated being able to have a couple of smaller courses without spending a fortune.
Of course, this will be the last time I ever need anyone to make pasta for me, as I’m definitely going to enroll in a course and become a pasta-making guru myself. I don’t know if I’ll do a TV show about it, I haven’t decided yet.
On my Brighton trip, I also managed to fit in visits to Inside Out, Choccywoccydoodah and Montezuma’s. More on that in other posts…