Wednesday, 22 September 2010

They Walk Among Us

The word 'foodie' it seems has many different connotations for different people. For some, the word gets right up their noses. They find it pretentious and elitist and anyone who labels themselves as such is deemed to a complacent knob-end with an overinflated sense of superiority. For some, it's the actual phrasing of the word itself with it's pronounced "-ee" at the end that winds them up. It all sounds far too cutesy, nauseating and precious. Witness Sophie Dahl self-proclaim that is she a 'foodie' and you might understand. However, for others it is just a simple way of defining yourself as someone who is interested in food. That you view it as a hobby, a passion, that you like to talk about food, write about food, cook food, photograph food. That you like to dine, entertain, eat in, eat out, explore, experiment and on the odd occasion, are willing to fail in your pursuits (or to have your pursuits fail you). Or you can think like me and believe that 'Foodies' are true believers of a higher culinary authority. When the time comes, we, the greedy but select chosen few will be whisked off in a great apple pie shaped spaceship just before the arrival of Galactus the planet devourer. I can tell you with absolute certainty, when he turns up all Earth will amount to is a mere patty of butter to be spread on a colossal slice of cosmic toast. Meanwhile, the 'Foodies' will bask for all eternity in the galaxy of Gluttonia, which is largely made from butter, anti-matter and marshmallow. I am a Foodie. This is what I believe.

But anyway going back to the meaning of the word, despite its varying resonance, I would say that it is a fairly generic term these days so for the rest of this post I shall continually refer to the word (can you guess that there's been a fair amount of hand wringing going on?)

Ever since writing this blog and my other one, I have been lucky enough to meet a fair number of people who share the same enthusiasm and as time goes past, more and more foodies seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The proliferation of new food blogs that are popping up daily and the growing interaction of foodies on social networking sites are testimony to this. A case in point is Clerkenwell Lunchers or #clerkenwelllunchers as you'll find it trending on Twitter. Via the idle chit chat of tweeting with folk announcing what they are up to for lunch in their area, a collective seems to have evolved out of nowhere. Well not exactly nowhere, out of Clerkenwell of course. Having discovered that they work quite close to each other, you now have a group of people who once a week actively plan a different lunch destination (our High Priest is The Grubworm) where they meet, eat, chat, laugh and be merry. How brilliant is that? It certainly beats sitting in the park on your todd with a lunchbox on your lap. There are other lunch clubs springing up I believe, such as #greenparklunchers and #cgardenlunchers. Which is all fine and dandy so long as they don't stray onto our turf, sparking off some ferocious gang war battle reminiscent of a scene from The Warriors. Except we'd use sharpened mangoes instead.

But what does this explosion really mean to me? Well it's simple, it means that there are more and more foodies out there that I can tap up to take part in WMPC and feed me. I am positively rubbing my hands with glee. Saying that though, upon coaxing a willing victim into my trap, it is strange to find out that they work around the corner from me. This is what happened when I met Mary of Did You Put Garlic? outside St John's Restaurant, just a stone's throw from my office for a food swap.

"Where do you work then?" I asked Mary

"Just a few doors up there" Mary replied, pointing.

I was gobsmacked and I stared back at her as if to say "why didn't you tell me this before?" even though her attendance at some of the Clerkenwell Lunchers get togethers should have suggested that she worked nearby. We only had a brief conversation on the street with Mary giving me the lowdown on her Maltese background, her impending nupituals and of the particular dish she had prepared for me but I have to be honest and say that my mind was on other things. Given the revelation that Mary was a foodie who worked so close to me, I began to wonder just how many where out there and just how could you tell? Mary's lips were moving but speech and sound slowly faded out to silence as my eyes began to dart up and down the street, focusing on passers-by. That old man walking his dog, does he keep charcuterie hanging on his balcony? That woman tottering across the road in high heels, is she into baking cupcakes or does she find them too twee? That young boy in the pram, does he throw a tantrum after his mother has lovingly prepared and served his dinner using an Annabel Karmel recipe? I hope he does. These were the thoughts running through my head when suddenly Mary coughed and announced that she really had to get back to her office. I just dumbly nodded and handed over a bottle of Torres Sangre de Toro in exchange for her contribution. As I watched her walk off, like a broken record I kept muttering to myself over and over again, "how many of us are there? How many?"

And then it hit me.

"My god! We're going to need a bigger ship!"

So what did Mary make for me and does she deserve to get on that apple pie shaped spaceship? Well given her heritage, her blog primarily centres on Maltese food and recipes which pleased me to no end as I have never tried Maltese before. Ha and I call myself a foodie. Her menu consisted of Laħam fuq il-fwar, Torta tat-Tamal and Cisk. Or for the unitiated, Steamed Meat, Date Pastry and Maltese Beer called "Cisk". Mary also provided some very healthy steamed broccoli, cauliflower and Chantenay carrots with hazelnut mash. The steamed meat or Laħam fuq il-fwar sounds like a very efficient and economical dish to make. As most Maltese meals begin with soup, the meat for the main course is often cooked over a large pot as the broth bubbles away underneath. The meat itself is usually beef which has been thinly sliced and sandwiched between two plates, seasoned with garlic and herbs and placed on top on the pot (see I was listening Mary). This sounded amazing and indeed it was, even after reheating in the microwave, the steak was wonderfully tender. Mary had also been very generous with her toppings of parsley and bacon but maybe a little too generous with the garlic but hey, given the name of her blog, I suppose it was to be expected. Mrs FU asked me not to breathe in her general direction in bed that night. The vegetables like I said were very healthy and still had a firm bite, there's nothing worse than soft, boiled beyond submission carrots. The hazelnut mash was a bit of a delicious surprise actually. There are plenty of ways of livening up your Maris Piper but with nuts, well that seemed unusual to me but Mary's mash with just a subtle kick tasted gorgeous. Unfortunately her date pastry didn't fare so well as it was a little bit too dry for my liking. The flavours of clove, aniseed and orange blossom came through well but overall, it did clog up my mouth somewhat. Thank gawd then for the Cisk Maltese Beer she gave me (and by all accounts saved from the clutches of her boss). This beer was really refreshing with lovely floral undertones, quite unusual for a lager really. Now that I know where she works, I shall be putting my orders in. I mean how hard can it be carting a case load over from a small island in the Med? Though after my dissing of her pastry she may feel inclined to throw a full can at my head.

Thanks though Mary, it really was a great WMPC contribution and you certainly have won the right to be on that spaceship.

Laħam fuq il-fwar (Steamed Meat with Steam Vegetables and Hazlenut Mash)

Torta tat-Tamal (Date Pastry with Clove, Aniseed and Orange Blossom Water)

The very refreshing Cisk (posing with empty can the next day)