The Things We Do For Free

I’ve always thought of myself as a somewhat picky eater, but really, I’m only picky if there’s a choice. Example: if my choices are a Burger King, Applebee’s or local restaurant, I’ll always choose the local guy. If the choice is Italian, Greek or Indian, I’ll pick according to what I feel like eating. If none of the choices seem appealing, or the place looks dodgy, I’ll go without.

This morning I was having breakfast at the Fleabagge Inne, and it was… acceptable. Bacon was okay (better than the American “streaky” type), the fried eggs were likewise okay, if a tad rubbery, the baked beans come out of a can just like everywhere else, and the coffee was, well, British (poor). To my Stateside Readers, it was like breakfast at the Grandy’s chain, only with worse coffee — but I never eat at Grandy’s. So why was I eating such a canteen-style breakfast here in London? It’s not like you can’t find a decent Full English anywhere, of course; so why here?

At first, I thought I was eating it just because it was free, but on reflection, it wasn’t just that: it was also because it was convenient (just downstairs, as opposed to walking around looking for a place) and, as I realized while eating, it was actually no different from the many hundreds of breakfasts I’d had at boarding school as a boy. In other words, while I’ve become a fussy eater, I’ve had far worse breakfasts before. I don’t really mind compromising when it’s convenient — and I’m only here for a couple of days anyway before heading up to Scottishland, so what the hell.

And there’s nothing wrong with “free” either.

Right: I have an open day in my hands before meeting up with friends, so it’s off to the world’s best bookshop: Foyle’s, on Charing Cross Road.

They’ve modernized it, of course, [sigh] but somehow, I think I’ll manage. That’s not going to be free…

Bucket List Entry #7: Chelsea Football Club

I’ve been a fan of Chelsea since about 1972, so I can’t be accused of being a fan only after they became successful in recent years. Oh good grief, no: I remember all too well the Mediocre Years, when the Blues seemed simply content to be the perennial #5 in the league (after Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal etc). No, having suffered all that time, I’m enjoying their recent successes (European Champions League and English Premier League winners). Obviously, I’ve always wanted to watch The Lads play, and as such it’s very definitely on my Bucket List.

Today I’m going to Wembley Stadium as the guest of Longtime Brit Friend Mr. Sorenson to watch Chelsea play against hated north London rivals Arsenal in what is essentially a replay of this year’s F.A. Cup Final — which Chelsea lost (!) — so excuse me for being a little excited. I even have my old Chelsea hat, bought lo so many years ago.

Go The Blues!!!!

Update: We lost on penalties after a 1-1 tie at full-time. Ugh. But I captured a flag.

Actually, I don’t care about the result. A Bucket List Event with a good friend, with beer and good times: pure gold. Thanks, Sor.

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.

Dinner

…last night, before heading off for yet another piece of Friday Night Unpleasantness at the King’s Arms with The Englishman:

When I say I’m a “meat-and-potatoes” man, this is what I mean. A decent filet spiced with Salt Lick Rub (imported from the great state of Texas), and potatoes roasted in goose fat. It took 35 minutes in the Aga to create it.

In case you’re wondering, I had Free Market Towers to myself last night; Mrs. FM was off sailing, Mr. FM was doing Capitalist Things in (I think) the Far East somewhere, and the staff had the night off to recover from the Friday Floggings.

Food was courtesy of Waitrose. If I had one of these emporia near my house, I’d weigh 500lbs in a month.

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.

Back In The Saddle

Okay, we now have a new Internet connection installed here at Free Market Towers. I was warned not to thrash the British Telecom technicians who arrived to install it, which took some of the fun out of the whole thing. So I yelled at the oaf who does the laundry for screwing up one of my shirts, which made me feel much better*.

Anyway, apart from occasionally dropping the signal, all seems to be well with this latest magical apparatus; so now it remains simply to wade through a hundred or so emails that I couldn’t see before, and get in touch with friends and family to reassure them that I am still alive. Apparently, Daughter got a new puppy…

And there are some catch-up posts below, which I’d lined up in the queue whilst incommunicado. Enjoy.

By the way, I was told that I’m starting to sound more British — not the accent, just in my choice of words and the manner of speech.

Well, pip-pip till tomorrow.


*I do my own laundry here.