Spring is on the way. The days are the tiniest bit longer and a couple of trees in my street are already decked out in pink blossom … and then it snowed. The mountains are well dusted with snow this morning. The same thing happened last year: sleet showers and cold toes to go with the early flowering jonquils. The timing is perfect, though, because this weekend I just happen to be dogsitting in a house with excellent heating and lots of light. The dog and I go out into the freezing wind to walk twice a day but not for long. She’s just as happy as I am to get back into the warmth.
I’m cooking warming foods, although the induction hotplates are a challenge. The last time I stayed here, I couldn’t get them working at all. I ate dips and salad instead. The cooktop has human safety in mind, but it’s a bit too cautious for my liking. Surface buttons must be pressed in the correct order, with just the right amount of finger force, and woe betide anyone who moves a pan while something’s cooking. That turns the whole thing off. Last night I did everything right (I thought) and still a red flashing “F” came up on the cooktop. “Why are you failing me??” I asked. (No-one likes an F.) Turned out I had the pan on the wrong hotplate.
In an ideal world, I’d shop at the farmers market every week and buy the gorgeousness you can see in this picture. But in the Actual world what usually happens is that I buy less crunchy, less tasty things from the local supermarket because it’s easier. The supermarket knows what I buy. This slightly freaky fact was revealed yesterday when I received an email offering me secret deals, bonus loyalty points for buying things that I buy anyway. “They are so secret, even the store managers don’t know about them,” said the email. Well, good. I don’t think the store managers need to know that my latest addiction is Truckle Brothers smokey cheddar. It would be super weird to walk into the shop and find a manager offering you your preferred cheese with a smile. That’s taking customer service too far.
I’ve noticed lately that said supermarket has started putting jaunty little catchphrases on its own brand products to entice you to buy them. Brussels sprouts, it tells me, are “firm and crunchy”, while parsley is “fragrant and bold”. Would you like a fact with your pears? Here’s one: “Did you know the nickname for pears was ‘butter fruit’?” No, I did not. Sunflower seeds, I’m told, will “put a pep in your step” (still waiting). Medjool dates are “perfect for snacking” (a little too perfect, in my experience, leading to a little too much snacking).
It’s not just the own brand produce that comes with taglines. The peanut butter I buy is, apparently, “for the peanut butter connoisseur”. Well, thank you very much for the compliment. The frozen broad beans are “the farm in your freezer”, which disturbs me. I’m thinking hooves, bovine smells et cetera. The walnuts are “perfect in an irresistible walnut tart”. I searched the rest of the packet for the recipe but there wasn’t one. How can they tease us like that? Why have I never had walnut tart? If I make one, will I be able to resist it?
The packet of Yorkshire Tea tells the blunt truth, as only a Yorkshireperson can: “proper black tea”. No argument from me there. It is the best. On the other hand, the packet of coffee (Melbourne roaster, strong blend) leans a little towards excess. It claims to be deep and rich (okay, yes) with a smooth, brown sugar after-taste (possibly). The aroma is supposed to be floral and chocolatey. Sorry, but I don’t think it can be both. But we’re not finished yet. This deep-and-rich-and-smooth-and-brown-sugary-and-floral chocolatey drink is also supposed to taste like dried raisins, cocoa and malt. Mostly it tastes like coffee.
The coffee hyperbole reminds me of a useful tactic that the Big Cheese at work shared with me. This is one situation where excessive description could come in handy. If you’re on a date and you find yourself lost for words, use the wine label to pay compliments to your dinner companion: “You’re lush textured, full bodied and elegant, and you’ll age gracefully.”
I don’t know what the catchphrase is on this packet of seaweed because I don’t read Korean, but it should say: “For that extra umami kick your soup needs.” I made a quick and easy soup this week that was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Half a packet of seaweed later and it had the perfect sweet/salty taste I was looking for. Here’s how to make it:
Sauté one chopped red onion and half a butternut pumpkin (cut into chunks). Add a litre of stock and a tin of brown lentils (drained and rinsed) and simmer till the pumpkin is almost done. Throw in half a packet of seaweed, put the lid back on and turn the soup off until the seaweed has expanded (only takes a few minutes). Serve and slurp.
The tagline for this soup could be: “Warms your insides when it’s cold outside,” or something like that. But I think my favourite product tagline is one I saw in Hong Kong a few years ago: “Yak milk regains my vitality.” I can’t vouch for its veracity. You’ll have to find that out for yourself.
Okay, let’s get out of the kitchen. I read an article about the Central Park squirrel census and was tickled by the observations of squirrel behaviour, so I thought I’d share some here. This would be a fun project to be involved in:
1B “Would come up and fight pigeons.”
5C “Searching for something … but couldn’t find it.”
6B “Seemed very comfortable in his skin.”
7F “Staring into space.”
19A “Looked both ways before crossing sidewalk.”
21F “Seems to enjoy classical music.”
32A “Extremely scampery.”
33G “Sort of lunged at me with his torso.”
36G “Found because of how loud it was eating.”