Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's tea recipe

The Today programme is discussing tea recipes; here is Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's somewhat absurd tea making process:

That's all changed. Now, to make my tea, I need two good-sized mugs. I boil the kettle. The hot water goes into one mug first, stays for a few seconds so the mug is heated, then goes into the second mug. The tea bag goes into the first, hot, mug, boiling water is poured in, to within a couple of millimetres of the top, and the two mugs, one containing brewing tea, and the other containing hot water, are left to stand. After about five minutes, the mug of brewed tea is placed in the sink, where some new hot water (freshly re-boiled) from the kettle, is sloshed into it, so it overflows by about half a mug. This is to stop the well-brewed tea being too strong. The full-to-overflowing mug is now tilted a little bit, so it spills out enough tea to allow room for some milk.

Remember the second mug, full of the hot (now not so hot, but still quite hot) water that was used to warm the first mug? That is now emptied. The tea bag is fished out from the first 'brewing' mug, and placed in the bottom of the empty 'warm' mug, where a small splash of milk is poured over it. The effect of the hot tea bag, and still-warm mug, is to take the chill off the milk - and impregnate it with a mild tea flavour. To encourage both these objectives, the mug is picked up and swirled, put down for a few seconds, picked up and swirled again, and left to stand for a short while longer. The tea-coloured, warm milk is now poured from tea-bag mug to brew mug, which is given a stir.

The resulting colour is observed. A little more milk may be necessary, in which case it will go via the still-warm tea bag mug, into the brew mug. When the colour is exactly right, I will stir in exactly one rounded teaspoonful of golden caster sugar. The tea, which at this point is still far too hot to drink, will now be left to stand for at least five minutes, before a sip is attempted.

After that laborious process I'm not sure what time there would be for any other morning rituals. The full article can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/may/15/foodanddrink.features

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Only chain stores of a certain size need apply

The one thing the team behind the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station have been very keen to stress – whether it ultimately turns out to be the case or not – is that they are not intending it to be just another luxury flat development. Yes, a studio flat may set you back £800,000 but, really, it’s a mixed development, they tell everyone they can find.

Following this theme then, they have just unveiled the first commercial tenants for the site and they are trying to reassure everyone it will not be just another identikit high street, at least not just yet anyway. Rob Tincknell, the chief executive of the Battersea Power Station Development Company, says he has been ‘approached by a number of big chains’ about leasing sections of the development but that they haveall been refused.

Instead, there will be Pedler – a sister branch to a restaurant in Peckham – the fourth Vagabond wine shop, a General Store (any relation to the hilariously hip and expensive General Store in Bellenden Road, Peckham?) and a new incarnation of Allens the Butchers, the lovely shop which once graced Mount Street in Mayfair for so many years before being forced to close by spiralling rents. (If you ever watched an episode of Poirot with David Suchet or Jeeves & Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and a scene required a butchers, it would be Allens that would feature.)

There will also be a fourth outlet of The CoffeeWorks Project and a fifth pub from the smart pub/restaurant chain Darwin & Wallace (for an idea of the sort of thing they might offer just look here). And there will be a Village Hall space run in partnership with the Battersea Arts Centre.

These all sound very good – I’m particularly pleased to learn Allens will have a high street presence once more though it will never match the sheer romance and beauty of its previous site where the butcher's block was curved by years of use and the window was full of hanging pig carcasses – but clearly chains aren’t banned. They just have to be chains of a certain size. It rather seems to me this trend was set by the refurbished St Pancras Station which, when it first opened to acclaim, eschewed major high street stores and set a model many now follow. It isn’t fairing badly at St Pancras, though, some may feel regrettably, there are two WHSmiths and two M&S stores there now.

Whereas for many years, people feared shopping area developments would tragically lead to a disappointing interpretation of Slough High Street, with every functional chainstore turning up for duty, now it seems developers are trying to ape more apparently edgy areas. It is more likely to be the hip streets of Shoreditch, Peckham and Brixton providing the inspiration these days. So, while we wait to see whether Battersea Power Station becomes yet another lonely enclave where the wealthy have placed their money to gather decent interest or a mixed residential community, the Battersea Power Station Company does deserve credit for trying to be thoughtful and imaginative in the commercial spaces at the site. They may still be small chains in glass-fronted stores but we're not bored of them yet. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Nanny George taxes our sugar

The sugar levy, the bouncing dead cat announcement by George Osborne in his latest budget, has had a curious gestation period. Despite being consistently called for by the health lobby for several years the government has been lukewarm at best towards the proposal. Here’s a quick rundown of the last couple of years:

In March 2014, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman made it clear David Cameron was opposed any plan to control the contents of food and drink.

‘What we are doing is working with the industry. You have already seen commitments from retailers and food manufacturers to reduce levels of salt, to remove calorie content and improve labelling, as well as public health campaigns by local authorities and the NHS.’

In May of the same year, despite the National Obesity Forum claiming a 'revolutionary' levy of 25 per cent slapped on fizzy drinks, chocolate and biscuits was needed to help the NHS - backed by Conservative life sciences minister George Freeman - Healthy Secretary Jeremy Hunt made it known no such charge would be applied as it would push up the cost of the weekly shop.

A Public Health England report, details of which leaked in October last year, said:

‘there is a role for a fiscal approach in reducing sugary drink consumption’.

But several papers reported that David Cameron had again blocked such a tax apparently after being ‘got at’ by interested parties in the food and drinks industry.

According to The Sun on October 22, 2015:

‘Sources say the PM sees it as a "blunt weapon” that would hit struggling families.
'But it emerged that last year Mr Cameron hosted lobbyists from Mars, Coca-Cola, Nestle and the major supermarkets.
‘Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, called it a "stitch-up". She claimed “You have to think he has been got at by an industry that does not want him to ‘tax its products’”.'

Then, in January this year The Times suddenly reported the tax was ‘back on the table’ only for it to be shelved again in February as food and drinks firms were apparently going to be given ‘one last chance to slash calories and portion sizes voluntarily’.

So, it rather begs the question why it has fallen to George Osborne - the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not the Health Secretary - to announce this latest u-turn in national health policy.

While the most obvious purposes of the plans may indeed be to tackle public health concerns and, more immediately, to distract from the grim growth forecasts revealed in today's Budget, could there be any other thoughts on Mr Osborne's mind?

I suppose it can't have had anything to do with wanting to reassert his potential leadership credentials after Boris Johnson stole a march unveiling his own 10p charge on all added-sugar soft drinks sold at City Hall's cafe in January this year. In a pointed speech, which didn't pay too much heed to any of the usual 'nanny state' klaxons, Mr Johnson said:

'I hope this initiative will allow us to raise awareness of the problem and encourage people to think about their diets'.

It is noticeable that duty on the adult vices of alcohol, despite the health problems it causes, remained frozen in Osborne's budget, but when it comes to the health of the country's children, Nanny George steps in. In caring terms, much to the delight of the health lobby and especially Jamie Oliver, George Osborne said:

'I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children's generation: I'm sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.'

Your turn Boris.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

If only there was some green space in London

'What if there was one place right in the middle of it all where we could all just slow down for moment, look up and see our London like we haven't seen it before'

The above is the question posed at the end of the new promotional video for the Thames Garden Bridge. And, indeed, watching the video, which, produced with Oliver Stone-style freneticism, portrays London as an unremittingly fast-paced urban brick and concrete jungle, one could certainly do with some spacious views of the Thames and a bit of leafy peace and quiet.

But, as some have noted, the video entirely ignores one of London's great assets, its beautiful and plentiful green spaces. The joys of Hyde Park, Regent's Park, St James's Park, Battersea Park, Crystal Palace Park, Hampstead Heath, Kelsey Park, Alexandra Recreation Ground, and every other green space in the capital are completely ignored. Likewise, all the walks and gardens along the Thames and the many picturesque bridges which command spacious views of the river.

Even Middle Temple Gardens and the surrounding Inns of Court, close to where the bridge is supposed to 'land' on the north bank and replete with some of the most remarkable buildings and green spaces in the capital, are overlooked. Is this because one of the express aims of the Bridge is to bring 'regeneration' to the North Bank and it wouldn't do to mention what jewels we already have - and what might be damaged - there?

Instead, the film suggests that only the Garden Bridge will provide relief from the chaos; and only the Garden Bridge will afford views of the river, glimpses of which are offered, as a final promise

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The smearing of Sadiq Khan


If one were to believe the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, if Sadiq Khan was to become Mayor of London, the capital would be under genuinely more threat from terrorism than if Zac Goldsmith wins the race for City Hall.

This threat would not emerge because Khan is going to drastically cut police numbers, or that, as a Muslim, Khan would suddenly allow extremists of the Abu Hamza variety to take to the street once more and peddle their dangerous views to vulnerable young men and women. No, it’s because London, according to Mr Fallon, needs a ‘candidate who can unite our city, not a Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists, proving himself unfit to perform that role’. His attack has prompted today's Evening Standard headline to scream: 'Minister; Khan is unfit to be mayor'. People don't even need to read the paper for it to have an impact.

Michael Fallon is basically claiming Sadiq Khan is a terrorist sympathiser, on the basis that his former brother-in-law Makbool Javaid almost 20 years ago had taken part in events with the extremist group Al-Mulajiroun and whose name appeared on a fatwa in 1998 calling for a ‘full scale war of jihad’. Quite why Sadiq Khan should be responsible for his ex-brother-in-law’s long since abandoned views is not clear, especially as they haven't met for 12 years. Moreover, that Mr Javaid is now a partner in the legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton – not obviously a harbinger of jihad - that he now repudiates those views and regrets his 'naivety' is buried. 

Khan has also faced criticism for appearing at rallies where extremists were in attendance including one in 2006, the Global Peace and Unity conference where, apparently, the black flag of jihad could be seen. That former attorney general Dominic Grieve and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg were also there has provoked less attention.

It is no surprise it is Fallon launching this attack on Khan; it was, after all, Fallon who said Ed Miliband would stab his country in the back like he had his brother during the general election campaign. But he goes much further than Zac Goldsmith has. The Tory candidate has accused Sadiq Khan of being a 'radical' - a loaded word in itself - and claimed a Labour mayor would inflict Jeremy Corbyn's experiments upon London. But, ultimately these can be considered part of the rough and tumble of a mayoral contest.

Fallon's words, however, have a deeply worrying undercurrent; that Sadiq Khan is Muslim inevitably makes them a smear. Whether they are true claims or not is irrelevant, mud sticks. That Sadiq Khan has long been a voice of moderation and been active at trying to tackle radicalisation counts for little it seems.

Having met and interviewed all the major mayoral candidates, all have appeared decent people, with a rich variety of ideas. Londoners do have a genuine choice at this election. Candidates are united that the housing crisis facing London must be at the top of the next mayor's agenda but each has a different approach. There are genuine gulfs of opinion between the two front runners, Zac and Sadiq. They disagree on affordable housing definitions and targets and transport fares. The public should be able to see these differences and vote accordingly and not have the debate muddied with ugly smear tactics.