Monday, 29 November 2010

The Young Ones

Looking back, as I often do, it's quite amazing that after my tenure as an undergraduate at the prestigious University of Northamptonshire (formally Nene College) that I actually came out alive. A typically overwrought statement I know but seriously, money was very thin on the ground and I could barely afford to feed myself. I certainly dropped a couple of dress sizes I can tell you that. And when I did eat it was hardly ever nutritious let alone appetising. Cottage pies were often the order of the day, deconstructed cottage pies that is. Take one can of corned beef, mush up with various boiled grubby vegetables in a roasting tin, add a jug of Bisto gravy, blend until a slurry like texture is achieved, top with mashed potatoes, bake and eat at an ironing board substituting as a table. Very grim. I did once elevate the humble pie to another level though. I took one one of Fray Bentos finest and placed it in said roasting tin (my main piece of kitchen equipment) covered the abomination with more tinned stewing steak and sealed everything in with a Just-Rol puff pastry crust. A pie within a pie you could say and oh so post-modernist, ha ha ha! But that was probably the limit of my culinary creativity whilst at college. Otherwise my diet largely consisted of moribund fish fingers and watery beans on toast bought from the Netto down the road for threepence. Although this strict budgetary regime often left me hungry, it did at least leave me with more than enough spare cash to spend on alcohol and partying, the raison d'être for all students surely?

*Ruefully ponders the fact that he also came out of uni with no degree*

No, I really should have spent my money (and time) more wisely. On books, at lectures and in the library, that would have been a good start. And perhaps if I had headed towards the markets and stuck my nose in the bargain bins at the supermarkets or even struck up an uneasy relationship with the butcher, just concentrated on feeding myself properly then perhaps my brain would have cottoned onto the fact that this was one of most important times in my life. Instead I ran around like an idiot with a traffic cone on my head for three years. If I had my time again, I would certainly do it differently and maybe take a leaf out of Eve's book. Her remit is to cook decent meals, get those vitamins in and make ethical choices when buying food. All within a tight budget. Eve writes Apples for Eve by the way and she is currently studying English Literature in London.

Yes, I am pilfering WMPC dinners from poor students.

*Hangs head in shame for second time in a post*

I met Eve ages ago and this post is way past it's submission date so apologies for that. If was to be honest when I started writing this piece, it went off on a tangent rallying against the injustices of soaring university fees, talking about the recent demonstrations and subsequent riots but I never intended this blog to be overtly political in anyway. However if anyone is interested in my idea to set up a pop-up tea and cake stall inside a 'kettle', please do get in touch. So yes I met Eve on a sunny morning in October outside Liverpool Street. She was late and I thought 'ah stereotypical student' but then I spotted Eve wheeling her bike across the concourse waving with grease marked hands. She said that her chain had slipped which brought up memories of all those other old chestnuts. Ha yes "the dog ate my homework" and "I twisted my ankle". A likely story indeed. But then I realised I was projecting and decided to forgive her. We had a good chat actually, about her studies, life in London, the social scene, her plans for the future and before long I was starting to feel quite jealous of it all so I changed tact and began to brag about my blogging exploits. This didn't last long though for fear that I was projecting again and revealing myself to be a colossal prick so we switched to common denominator of food. Eve was fairly principled as you would expect from someone her age (oh my God, I do sound like a colossal prick!) Shop local and buy local produce, think organic, think seasonal, eat healthy etc etc. However Eve was also realistic about the expectations of living on a budget and was keen to highlight that some of the student cookbooks and guides out there, in her opinion at least, didn't reflect this. Which is why she started her blog. Like I said it was great to spend 10 mins chatting away with a complete stranger and I hope Eve got smashed out of her head on the bottle of red I gave her. Because I would have done at her age (I suspect she didn't)

So what did Eve give me in return? Well she certainly showed that you can still enjoy a good feast whilst watching the pennies with Homemade Soda Bread, Chickpea and Spinach Salad, (ingredients from Ridley Road Market, Dalston), Hummus and Bean Shoots (bought from Broadway Market), Pear and Stilton Tart (pears from a friend's garden) and Brownie with Raspberry Sauce (Eve freely admits that she got the ingredients for this dessert from Tescos). It was all hugely impressive and an absolute far cry from my efforts. Her soda bread was deliciously dense and crumbly which soaked up the warm nutty hummus. The chickpea salad was punchy in flavour and colourful to the eye and Eve's stilton tart was really was good. The salty, creamy textures of the cheese combined with sweet juicy pear made for good bedfellows, well worth the poach. The highlight though was Eve's chewy, chocolatey brownies set off against a sharp, vivid raspberry sauce. Fantastic. As in the past, I often take WMPC contributions home to share but not these brownies. Don't tell the wife though. Or the kids. Especially the kids. They've got to start learning things the hard way, the way their idiot Father should have done in the first place.

Thanks Eve.

Student Feast

Brownies with Raspberry Sauce

The Menu