Category Archives: Food

Raging Bull the cheese

Raging Bull cheese

Full of character, just like the real Raging Bull

Last week I am informed by a well-connected friend that a local supermarket is selling a cheese called ‘Raging Bull’. I greet this news with a mixture of hilarity (I’d had three glasses of wine when she told me) and the feeling that someone has stolen my intellectual copyright.

For the year and a half I’ve been slogging away at this blog, my three-year-old child has been known as the Raging Bull. I can sum up the reason why in just one word: temper.

I decide immediately that I have to try this cheese. Is it worthy of such a name? The notes from the supermarket say: ‘ The brilliantly named ‘Raging Bull’ is a hard mountain cheese with the nuttiness of a Gruyere and the creamy buttery taste of Raclette.’ Well, that means nothing at all to me. I like cheese, but I’m hardly a world-class connoisseur.

I venture to Waitrose on Saturday afternoon, a time of the day when it’s hit by a combination of fraught mothers, hyper children and people who don’t know what they want to buy but are hoping it will occur to them if they walk up and down the ailes long enough. Put simply, it looks like it has been hit by a cyclone.

I tell the girl behind the deli counter – when she arrives 5 minutes later – that I want about £2 worth of cheese. She looks at me skeptically and I fear that £2 will buy me the tiniest sliver. Which it does.

I have a sniff at home – it’s pungent and strong. This is not a cheese for fans of weak, creamy French bries. This is fiery, Spanish cheese with a Latin character. Forget crumbly crackers, eat this with olives bursting with flavor. It has a nice, smooth finish too. I could get addicted to the stuff if it wasn’t such an expensive habit.

I come to the conclusion that it’s okay someone has decided to name a cheese after the Raging Bull. She’s one of a kind, as is the cheese. It reminds me of her strong-willed personality; it stands out. And because her diet largely consists of cheese, it’s entirely appropriate.

Raging Bull

The Raging Bull on a winter beach

Winter blues

Speaking of the Raging Bull, she charges into my room yesterday morning before I’m ready to engage in conversation. She asks slightly forlornly: ‘Is it winter every day?’

It’s the middle of February on this desolate chunk of land in the Atlantic. I don’t have the heart to tell her that it could be winter for a while yet.

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Coffee snobs

Harris and Hoole signage

Posh coffee sign

England 1996. I am freshly arrived in London and I know nothing much about it, apart from what I’ve read in books and learned through watching Masterpiece Theatre. One thing I quickly realize is that the English don’t truly like coffee. They regard it as inferior to tea, which they drink at every opportunity. For some people, it’s a bit like water.

So I don’t buy coffee from anywhere and I rarely think about it. Before arriving in London, I was working for a coffee chain in Los Angeles. I’ll admit, my diet consisted of a variety of frozen coffee drinks, made with powder, so this switch to no coffee is pretty extreme.

But I’m young and carefree. Who wants coffee when you can have beer or gin? I live my life in the pub anyway.

England 2012. I have two children, precious little spare time and regard copious drinking during the day as something guaranteed to give me a headache and make me incapable of feeding the kids, bathing them and putting them to bed, which requires the energy of an athlete on steroids.

So what do I? I drink coffee and lots of it. I spend my weekends generally lurching from one coffee to another, always looking for the next high or something to get me through an hour in the park on a drizzly and cold day.

In other words, I’m an expert. The English are becoming experts too. Gone are those dark days when the English used to drink milky tea with sugar and not much else. Now they regard themselves as coffee snobs. Coffee shops have sprung up everywhere. Getting good espresso has become some people’s idea of a pastime.

I happen to live in a part of London where I can walk to about 15 different coffee shops in about 10 minutes. From this, any Londoner can infer something immediately: this area is so gentrified you wouldn’t be able to afford a house unless you are:

  1. very rich
  2. a banker
  3. or you bought 50 years ago

Which is why we live in a tiny flat being devoured by mold.

A few months ago a cheap greeting card store went out of business. For a few weeks there was tantalizing advertising on its boarded-up exterior. ‘Harris and Hoole is coming’ it proclaimed. I had no idea what Harris and Hoole was, but I was intruiged.

Honestly, I should have guessed it would be yet another coffee shop. This one, though, is aiming a bit higher than its neighbor, Starbucks, who is literally next door.

You see, it’s not enough to be a good coffee shop – you’ve got to elevate it to an art form. When I walk into Harris and Hoole, I notice the cool-but-chic interior. It’s understated, in the way black pants are understated. Yes, it tries to exude class but not too much. Hence, there are strange chalkboard drawings on the wall, designed to make it look artistic, perhaps, or a bit bohemian. It reminds of a child’s art project.

When I go to order, I realize the drinks menu is minimalist. There’ll be no triple-shot, venti, gingerbread latte with whipped cream. Nope, you just get the basics.

So I order a latte. I am told my barista’s name and today’s recipe, also helpfully on the board. The recipe is this: espresso extraction time, 23 seconds; extraction temperature, 93 degrees Celsius; and the coffee is served at a coolish 60 degrees because it will bring out the natural sweetness. Who am I to question this quest for perfection?

Inside Harris and Hoole

The Raging Bull likes the juice

I get the coffee and it’s good, as you’d expect, but it’s also a little too cool for me. It says you can ask for it hot from your barista, but I imagine that your request will be met with a stare that says, ‘you are nothing more than a coffee heretic, why don’t you just go next door and order from the enemy because all you really want is dessert?’ So I will probably never say anything.

I am sure I will go back to Harris and Hoole. I might even grow to love it. But there’s just something vaguely irksome about a place that takes itself a tad too seriously. Lighten up. Great coffee is great, but must we really venerate it so much?

It’s like when I went to San Diego and tried to order vodka from a bar. You’d think a bar would have vodka. Uh, no. I was told – by a poker-faced master spirit distiller (bartender) – that vodka tasted, well, just a bit too plain for their liking and they didn’t serve it. I would have laughed if it wasn’t so damn preposterous.

Next thing you know, people will be trying to sell us upscale water. Oops, that’s already happened.

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Filed under British life, Food, Going out

When salads are bad

I got scared the other day. It didn’t have anything to do with losing my child in a clothes store, and half wondering if I’d have to contact the cashiers to put out an announcement over the intercom. It had to do with lunch. At my friend’s house in Los Angeles. Without any kids at all.

Trader Joe's kale and edamame salad

The culprit, in all its healthy-looking glory

Generally, I consider myself a healthy eater. I tend to prefer vegetables over heavier meals, and I haven’t eaten red meat since I was 16. This meat-free diet doesn’t come without its fair share of angst. Once when I was traveling in Amsterdam, I ordered a vegetable soup, assuming it would be a safe option. Turns out it came with meatballs.

The latest trend in the healthy-eating world seems to be eating food as raw as possible. The rougher the better. What could be more rough-and-ready than kale. I admit, I’m not a huge fan of kale. How far removed is this from cabbage? I’d rather something leafier and softer. Kale is the kind of thing you have to chop into a million pieces to make edible or, if you’re my husband, you would boil it until it’s slimy.

I’ve been in Los Angeles for a couple of days already, and stuffing myself with whatever I feel like: coffee, cocktails and greasy Mexican food have been consumed, not necessarily in that order. I’ve even been nibbling at kettle chips and Thai food. On my last afternoon in the city before heading back to San Diego, I am looking for the healthiest thing I can find. I stumble across Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame salad. I might as well say it now – I am a sucker for anything with a Japanese twist.

The salad has sweetened dried cranberries, grape tomatoes, slivered almonds, scallions and a lemon-herb dressing. I am being virtuous. My body is going to thank me for this. Yes, I will feel like I’ve just had colonic irrigation.

I’m probably into my third or fourth bite when my friend interrupts my health-food reverie by announcing in disbelief: ‘Oh my god, this salad has 38 grams of fat.’ I don’t believe her. I look at the label hidden beneath the plastic container. She is right. This little bit of green, from-the-earth roughage with salad dressing (550 calories) has more calories and fat than a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s (440 calories, 23 grams of fat).

So be warned: it might look healthy, but check the nutritional content before you buy. I’m not saying I’d rather have a cheeseburger, but I don’t want to feel like I’m somehow being duped into thinking I’m being healthy. I promptly went to the kitchen sink and washed off the dressing, which contained 200 calories and 23 grams of fat. I’d rather swallow bits of dry kale. I imagine it’s not unlike eating small bits of sandpaper, but more organic and earthy.

You know what, I’d rather just eat cake.

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