K-Cups In Britishland

 

No, this is not about some Brit tart with huge breasts — larger still than a “GGG” cup size — oh no, this is a serious post. Reader Chris C. sends me this news:

I remember you mentioned something about having a Keurig K-Cup brewer — I have one too. I also remember you mentioned something about not being able to find one in 220-240V for UK and other non-North American use.

I’ve actually found an option:

Stateside Coffee (Bidford)

They have the Keurig K140 which I think is the older version of the K145 commercial brewer that you can find in Office Depot right now. The price isn’t fantastic (£150), but given the dearth of options, it’s at least a workable one.

I don’t know about the K140/145, but I used to have the larger K150 which is an excellent coffeemaker.

(Daughter stole it from me and it’s still working, some five years since I bought it.)

So for all my Brit Readers who want to escape the Nespresso Matrix, here’s an option. As I see it, however, the only problem is the poor choice of K-cup coffee available Over There; even a cursory look through amazon.co.uk yields few options — although the Green Mountain coffee isn’t bad, it’s not Dunkin Donuts (which they may get, though, if you pester them for it. And the price isn’t too bad, about £1 per cup).

And for those of you Murkins who are looking for a more rugged version of the Keurig for your travels, Reader Chris suggests the CoffeeBoxx (which accepts K-cups):

Tactical coffeemaker? Kim likes, but the price is a little yowzer. Still (as any fule kno) you always pay more for mil-spec, so it may be worth it.

Many thanks, Chris.

I have the best Readers of any blog on the Internet. And now I think I’ll go and make me another cup of coffee, on my Keurig.

Then I’ll look at pics of Casey Batchelor on the Internet.

No More Instant

I suppose I should be grateful to Starbucks for one thing: they brought the concept of “brewed coffee” to the U.K., even if it was only their shitty burnt water. Now, of course, you have chains like Costa (excellent) and Caffé Nero (not-so-excellent), but I was struck by the fact quite forcefully when I ordered “filter” (i.e. not instant) coffee at a breakfast kiosk in Edinburgh’s Waverley Station last week, and it was quite acceptable. I was also reminded of that when at lunch at Fortnum’s a couple days back, I ordered an “Americano” (diluted espresso) and was served a lovely cup of coffee. In fact, you can order an Americano just about anywhere — which is a hellacious change over what used to be Instant Coffee Country.

It’s not Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme coffee, but it will certainly do.

And Costa is pretty much ubiquitous — I think there are more of them than Starbucks, which is a relief because their coffee is better and about a third the price of Starbucks’s overpriced shit. Just about every larger gas station has a Costa dispensing machine, which makes traveling less of a caffeine-deprived nightmare, and in the towns, there are generally several Costa outlets.

Sadly, there are no Keurig machines in Britishland that I can see — certainly, none in the houses / apartments where I’ve been staying. Mostly, it’s the Nespresso option which is fine, but Nespresso seems incapable of making coffee that isn’t hair-raisingly strong, which I can only overcome by making two large cups of coffee from a single pod. I miss my trusty Keurig, and my Krispy Kreme Regular.

But it all beats instant.

Scotch

I’m on my way Up North to Scottishland today and don’t have time to post something current. By pure coincidence, however, a Longtime Reader asked me to rerun my old treatise on Scotch whiskies, which seems appropriate; so here it is, from March 2006, and as you may imagine, not much has changed since then:

I drink Scotch in three ways:

1. Single malts (sipping). Neat, no ice, with a glass of water consumed on alternate sips. This has less to do with style than it does with my frigging gout. I refuse to dilute the lovely stuff in my mouth, but I don’t mind diluting it in the stomach. My favorite single malts are typically from the Speyside region, and I’ll drink pretty much any single malt from those distilleries, but my absolute favorite is The Macallan 25-year-old, with Glenmorangie 10-yr-old as my “everyday” choice. For a “change”, I’ll drink The Dalmore 15-yr-old, which like Glenmorangie is a Highland malt.

Also in the cabinet right now are all the aforementioned, plus Glenfiddich 18-yr-old and Talisker 10-yr-old, for those with different tastes to mine. When Mr. FM comes to visit, I usually lay in a few bottles of Laphroiag, his favorite.

2. Blended (thirst quenching, or at parties). J&B, ice and water — and only J&B. Forget even offering me anything else. No J&B, and Kim drinks something else altogether, like gin. I actually dilute my J&B quite substantially — that gout thing again — and this also allows me to drink for longer periods of time before intoxication sets in.

3. As an after-dinner liqueur. Here I prefer the smoky, peatier singles like Laphroiag or Talisker, because I’m only going to drink one, and I can take my time in the drinking of it.

I’m not a Scotch snob, by the way, even though the above may make me sound like one. My tastes and favorites have come after some fairly extensive errrr trial and experimentation, and like in many areas of my life, I see no reason to change something with which I’m comfortable, and which has come about after considerable experience. I’ve tried most of the major single malts available internationally, and a couple available only in Scotland, but I’ve come to settle on the above because, well, I love their taste.

The wonderful thing about Scotch in general, and single malts in particular, is that it doesn’t matter how you drink it: that distinctive taste will always shine through. (However, I pretty much draw the line at drinking single malt with, say, Diet Coke, because that’s just barbaric — and once you mix any Scotch with Coke, the subtle differences between brands and types pretty much disappear, making the choice of a single malt under those circumstances just pretentious. But hey, if that’s how you want to drink that 40-yr-old Talisker…)

Just be aware that adding water to a single malt doesn’t just dilute the taste, it may change it completely. I find that this is especially true of some Highland malts. Some people happen upon such a taste, and thereafter prefer to drink their favorite single that way. Your call.

Still on the subject of taste, some say that coastal distilleries’ malts are different from those made by inland distilleries because of the salty sea air. I can’t taste it, myself, but I’m not a seasoned Scotch drinker, really.

Finally, it’s a common mistake to assume that the older the malt, the better the whisky. Some malts taste better in their “rawer” state — the malt becomes more bland as it ages — whereas others need the time to “mature” into smoothness. It’s all about your taste and preferences.

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Afterthought: It occurred to me that not everyone might be familiar with the Scotch thing, incredible as that may seem. So, for the benefit of anyone who might be interested in pursuing Scotch as a career (as so many have), here are a few pointers.

Single malts are the exclusive product of one distillery, made from barley. They will be bottled and sold as such, or else sold to other distillers to be blended with other malt- and grain whiskies (in closely-guarded secret and “proprietary” recipes) to produce “blended” Scotches such as J&B, Haig, White Horse, Bell’s, Cutty Sark and so on.

Blended malts are malts from different distilleries, sometimes called “vatted” malt. (The wonderfully-named “Sheep Dip” is a blended malt. Also, if the brand contains the words “Pride of”, or “Poit”, chances are it’s a blended malt.)

Proprietary (blended) Scotches are also broken into blended grain (grains from other distilleries) and blended Scotch (malts and grains from different distilleries). The actual number of distilleries used can be large. J&B, for example, uses the product from forty distilleries (and almost none from Islay, which is why it’s one of the smoothest Scotches on the market). Johnny Walker Red contains malts from 35 distilleries, and grains from 5 others.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the malt proportion (30%+) in the blend, the more expensive the Scotch. The most expensive (sometimes called premium) blends are at least 40% malt (eg. Johnny Walker Black, Chivas Regal). The “premium” can also be a factor not of the malt/grain mix, but of the number of malts used — the lower the number of malts in a brand, the more expensive it will be.

Single-grain Scotch whisky is rare (Black Barrel and Loch Lomond being the most famous).

(For all the info on Scotch whisky brands you’re ever likely to need, go here.)

The age of a single malt is denoted by the time it spent maturing in its cask: once bottled, it ceases to age altogether. If you see “single cask” on a single malt’s label, it means it came from one cask exclusively and was not mixed with whisky from other casks within the same distillery. Usually, this variant is hideously expensive, for not much more flavor — we’re well up the curve of diminishing returns, here.

Now for some pointers on the distilleries and their brands. The list is by no means complete (there are dozens of distilleries in Scotland — here’s a map), but I have actually tried all the ones I’ve listed.

The malts differ by region (sometimes by even smaller geographic differences) because of the different waters used, and in the distilling processes. I’ve made a few generalizations, however, just to give people an idea.

One last note: when you see a “The” before a single malt’s name, it’s not generally an affectation. Sometimes, the name is an area, not just an actual distillery (eg. Glenlivet), and “The” is usually added to denote either that it’s a single malt, or that it comes from the distillery of that name.

Speyside whiskies have a smoother taste, lighter flavor and softer aroma than most other Scotches. They are distilled, as the name suggests, in distilleries which are found along the River Spey on the northeast side of Scotland. Some of those distilleries (there are at least twenty major ones) are: Knockando, Glenlivet, Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfarclas and Macallan.

Island/Islay whiskies come from the islands on the west- and north coasts of Scotland. Typically, they are much heavier, more aromatic, peatier-flavored whiskies, and some of the distilleries are very well-known: Laphroiag (la-froy-yag, from Islay), Talisker (Skye), Ardbeg (Islay), Highland Park (Orkney) and Bowmore (Islay).

Highland whiskies come from the north of Scotland (sometimes split into northern and southern Highlands). They tend to be darker than the Speyside malts, but not as peaty as the Island ones. Brands include such names as Dalwhinnie, Glen Ord, Dalmore, and Glenmorangie.

Lowland whiskies come from points around the Edinburgh – Glasgow axis, and there are really only two major ones: Rosebank and Glenkinchie (which is the main ingredient of Dimple Haig). I’ve tried Rosebank and didn’t really like it that much, but others (not put off by the “Lowland” appellation) swear by it.

Some factoids:

  • Glenmorangie is the #1-selling single malt in Scotland.
  • Glenlivet is the #1-selling single malt in the world.
  • Glenfarclas is the strongest “production” single malt sold.
  • The Famous Grouse is the most popular Scotch in Scotland (it’s blended, not a single).
  • Johnny Walker Red (also a blend) is the most popular Scotch in the world.
  • Johnny Walker Black (also a blend) is the most popular “premium” Scotch in the world.
  • Chivas Regal (also a premium blend) is the most overrated Scotch in the world (okay, that’s just my opinion — OMD).

Feel free to add your comments and opinions in the regular place. Remember that taste in anything is highly personal, so no flame wars, please.

Now: on to Edinburgh.

Filling The Old Pie-Hole

One of my childhood comfort foods was the venerable (to Brits) steak ‘n kidney pie (my Murkin Readers can pause here for regurgitation purposes). Basically no larger than a fistful, it’s as advertised: pieces of steak and kidney smothered in gravy, all encapsulated in flaky pastry. As a starving boarding school pupil, it saved me from death on many an occasion when purchased from the school “tuck” shop during First Break (recess).

Most takeout places in Britishland serve these things hot, and they are pretty much a staple snack dish, along with chicken pies, pork pies, Cornish pasties (too much veg., not enough meat) and variants such as steak ‘n potato and steak ‘n onion.

However, if you’re looking for something to eat at home, i.e. something that can be bought at a supermarket, then pickings are slim; for reasons which escape me, the supermarket pies are almost all dreadful regardless of store name — Tesco, Sainsbury and even Waitrose have nothing to brag about when it comes to pies.

I thought all was lost until only a few days ago, when I discovered this magnificent item in the fridge at Sainsbury, of all places:

(“Pukka” is a derivative of an Indian word which means “the real thing” — and is it ever.)

Pukka makes other pies, but I don’t know which or how many, because I only had eyes for this type. I bought one, and took it home without any high expectations — but oh joy, was I ever wrong!

Large pieces of tender meat (no gristle), lovely savory gravy and crispy pastry, warmed in the Aga for only a few minutes: if I’d bought half a dozen I’d have eaten them all in one sitting. The Cook at FM Towers also likes them, and tells me that their other offerings are likewise splendid, so there you have it.

This has been a Public Service Announcement from Kim, and will help anyone traveling to Britishland hereafter. No need to thank me, it’s all part of the service.

Comfort Food

I’ve put on weight in the month or so that I’ve been Over Here, mostly because I’ve been enjoying the foods of my childhood (South Africa, a onetime British colony, had a partial-Brit cuisine). Yup: we’re talking sausage rolls, steak ‘n kidney pies, porridge, fish ‘n chips, Full English breakfasts and of course, the occasional chocolate bar (Fry’s Turkish Delight) not readily available in Murka.

Then there’s been Wadworth 6x beer, which was not a childhood comfort food, but is definitely my adult one.

And speaking of comfort food, I’ve rediscovered the excellence of Southern Comfort as an evening aperitif. Southern Comfort was my bedside tipple of choice back when I was a professional musician (Cliff Notes: rock musician, in my early twenties, during the 1970s — of course I had a favorite bedside tipple). The best thing about Southern Comfort (Suthies, as we used to call it) is that I don’t need ice — in fact, I prefer it at room temperature which, as any fule kno, is cooler in Britishland than  in Texas.

Of course, I was shocked to discover that during my long layoff from Suthies that the manufacturer had gone and changed the label from its elegant antebellum design to something more “modern” that is, well, terrible.

      

In fact, when searching for Southern Comfort on the liquor store shelves, I missed it completely because I was looking for the bottle on the left when in fact the disgusting new one was right in front of me. Worse yet, the pathetic little new cap means that you can no longer use the long gold cap of old as a shot-glass. If I can somehow find an old bottle in decent condition, I’m going to use it as a decanter.

And of course they’ve added a whole slew of new variants — “ginger”, “lemon” and so on, none of which I have any intention of trying.

I hate change.

I know: Southern Comfort is less of a whiskey than it is a liqueur. I don’t care about the designation, I only care about the taste, which is lovely. Also, it enables me to more or less keep up with the drinking rate of Mr. Free Market and The Englishman, which would cause even accomplished booze hounds like Dylan Thomas or Peter O’Toole to fall over.

And it’s an excellent accompaniment to a late-night bacon buttie — yet another comfort food of my childhood:

I’m gonna need three airline seats to carry my fat ass back to Dallas…

Oh, Now They’re Good For You

Longtime Readers will recall that I don’t actually believe any medical studies anymore, because it seems that their advice changes weekly, and almost always contradicts their previous advice. After all the frenzied warnings about saturated fats, therefore, I find this article to be just the latest in a long line of articles telling us that this, finally, cross-my-heart pinkie-swear, is the definitive list of things to eat and to avoid.

Only this time, I’m going to half-believe them — and I hasten to add, my belief applies only to me — because I tend to listen to my body (not all the time, but mostly) when I start to crave certain types of food for no reason. When I realized that I had a blood pressure problem, I started taking Diovan just like the doctor told me to, because high blood pressure is a known killer of men. At the same time, however, I started to notice that I was hungry for certain foods in which I’d hitherto never much shown much interest — and surprise, surprise, almost all of them are on the list in the above article:

Oily fish – Don’t let the high calorie content of the likes of salmon and mackerel fool you, they are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
Avocado – These fruits are rich in oleic acid, a fat that reduces blood pressure
Full-fat yoghurt – Containing probiotic bacteria which supports your digestive health, be sure to buy natural, full-fat yoghurt with no added sugar
Nuts – A handful of almonds a day can lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and assist with blood sugar control
Butter – Rich in Vitamins A and D as well as fatty acids, butter can increase good cholesterol. Opt for unprocessed, organic varieties.

I’ve always eaten butter and never margarine, because margarine tastes like shit and I could not bring myself to believe that the body has a system to process something that is 100% manufactured. But other than butter, I’ve found myself eating more and more of the others — and by that I mean eating them regularly, not in large quantities.

Whereas before I’d never eaten avocado, after my trip to Chile (where they use it like butter) I came home and now eat an avo at least once a week.

Cashew nuts were on sale at Sam’s Club for a ridiculously low price some time ago: I bought a 5-lb container of the stuff, and now eat a large handful almost every day of the week. (I have a bag next to my writing chair right now, as a matter of fact.)

I mentioned a while ago that I am hopelessly addicted to Noosa yogurt, and I’ve been trying desperately to find an alternative Over Here, without success. I do eat another brand (Noosa isn’t available here, apparently), and while the “Scottish raspberry” stuff is tasty, I don’t crave it like I do the Australian-formula yogurt.

My love of fish — albeit in fish ‘n chips format — is too well documented to bear repeating here. Suffice it to say that I most often find myself not eating much of the batter, but all of the fish. Thanks to my gastric band, I can only eat but a couple of chips anyway.

And I’ve always preferred red meat to processed meat; since I came Over Here, I haven’t eaten hamburger or anything like it even once. Mr. Free Market is a dab hand with the Weber — he doesn’t let the staff near it — and red meat is therefore de rigueur as a meal choice, as is Mrs. FM’s baked salmon by way of her Aga oven.

I leave it to others to judge the value of a Full English Breakfast such as I consumed on Sunday morning:

Okay, maybe the chipolata sausages are processed meat, but I don’t care because they were delicious, and both they and the bacon were baked, not fried. And the fried bread was made with beef fat, not vegetable oil. I could have eaten six slices… but thank goodness for the gastric band. (Thanks to the latter, by the way, it takes me close to half an hour to eat a plate of food like this one, and most of the time I can’t finish it anyway.)

I know, the eggs were scrambled and not fried, but they tasted wonderful. And eggs, unlike the doomsayers wailed, are really good for you — which you’d know if you’d already read the linked article above.

As I said, this is how I feel about food, for me. Your own situation may cause your opinion to vary, and it probably should. So if you want to wolf down an American-style adaptation of the Full English, be my guest.

But that will probably kill ya.