Monday, 28 November 2016

My Life With Kale

 Here's something I wrote that was published in Devon Life in July:

 My Life With Kale

HE doesn't say them often, but I love it when the better half utters those three little words guaranteed to warm a woman's heart: "Let's eat out."

I put on my best frock and off we go to one of Devon's wonderful pubs or restaurants. Invariably these days, there it is on the menu. Kale. It's everywhere you look, on every cookery programme, in all the top chefs' recipe books and practically every Sunday supplement extols its virtues . 

Not that I have anything against kale. I like kale. I was brought up on kale. It grew like a weed and was one of the things that we fed to the cows on our farm in the winter. Then my mother boiled it to death and fed it to us. If there was any left over, it went into bubble and squeak.

But now it's not so much a food as a fashion accessory. Kale is cool.

In restaurants it is tarted up and served with a flourish. No waiter has ever said to me: "Eat it up, it'll give you curly hair," like my mother used to say. Come to think of it, there was a variety of food she claimed would give you curly hair, from crusts on your bread to liver. I swallowed the line along with the kale, crusts and liver and have to report that left to its own devices my hair is straight as a pound of candles.

On one menu I spotted kale served as a salad with pancetta, parmesan and lemon juice. I gave that a miss. Raw kale, I thought, was a step too far until I was further into the whole gussied up kale experience. But then I really enjoyed a dish that included braised kale with bacon and cider so I thought I would look on the internet for kale inspiration. What an eye-opener that was.

There was potato, kale and fennel hash, sauted kale with broccoli and feta (kale AND broccoli? I feel healthier just reading that) and curried kale with coconut. Even as a reborn kale gourmet I thought currying it sounded a bit too far out - but I might give it a go one day. 

I wish my mother had known that boiling wasn’t the only option. You can steam it, cream it, butter it and braise it.

 I even came across a video: How to Make Wilted Kale with Bacon and Vinegar and watched a woman doing exactly what it said, wilting kale and adding bacon and vinegar. I learnt nothing and that was one minute and thirty-seven seconds of my life I am never going to get back. 

By now I was really into the whole kale experience. In fact, this column should be entitled How I Fell In Love With Kale All Over Again. I read all about its history and the different varieties, from curly kale to cavolo nero and Russian Red.  I learned that until the end of the Middle Ages kale was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe. During the Second World War, we Brits were urged to grow more kale by the Dig For Victory campaign.

I found out that is incredibly nutritious. It contains beta-carotene and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin—which are associated with eye health—as well as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. There are two grams of protein and 15 per cent of the minimum daily recommended amount of fibre in every average serving – although, in an oversight I cannot explain, no website mentioned it being conducive to curly hair.

Not everyone has bought into the kale experience. A lot of people I have talked to about kale (yes, my conversation is that exciting) have shuddered, recalling childhoods when they were forced to eat it because it was so good for them. They turned up their noses, saying the taste was too strong and the texture sometimes too woody. I, as a kale convert, tried to explain it was all in the cooking and they should be more adventurous.  I could tell not all of them were convinced.

A couple of comments on the internet alluded to the fact that the vegetable is now achingly trendy. As one person said, tongue in cheek: "Eighty per cent of the people who buy kale throw it in the bin as soon as they've taken a photo" and another "This kale and beetroot juice tastes like I'm going to alert everyone to the fact I'm drinking it." But I think they've missed the point.

Every Sunday I cook a family roast dinner. There's usually about half a dozen of us but occasionally a random nephew or niece will phone and ask it it's OK to come to dinner and bring along boyfriend, girlfriend, someone they met in a  pub… My table only seats six but with the addition of garden chairs we can squeeze in quite a few more.  

It has to be roast. The better half has a roast on Sunday every week of the year. And I mean every week. We can be in the middle of a heatwave and I am still in the kitchen, roasting while roasting. I'm pretty good at them, if I do say so myself, but I rarely deviate from the norm - a joint, roast potatoes and lots of vegetables. But this Sunday I'm going to try braised kale with bacon and cider in an effort to up my game. They'd better be impressed. If not, I'll tell them they must eat it up or they’ll never have curly hair.

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Monday, 3 October 2016

Grocery Guilt

Today I'm talking supermarkets. I hate supermarkets.  I hate the way they have made me feel guilty  because I fell for their Buy One Get One Free blandishments and neglected my village shop, which is now closed. Now it's too late, I realise I have bought into consumerism and sacrificed the local economy to big business led by people with small brains and big off-shore bank accounts.

But no matter how much I wish supermarkets would BOGOF, I love them too. I love the convenience of them, the way you can park outside and wheel your trolley straight to the car.  I'm amused by the way I can pop in for frozen peas and come out with a bumper pack of pens, a couple of pencil sharpeners and half a dozen notebooks   - and forget the peas. I like their wide choice from their own supermarket brands to "designer" brands.

Even so, I feel guilty. When I first moved into my village 30 years ago it had a post office, village stores, a butcher's shop and a hairdresser’s. Now it has a Spar shop attached to the filling station. If you want to post a letter there is a gigantic red eyesore of a postbox on the edge of the pavement next to a busy road - or  you can visit the "outreach" post office, open for just a few hours a week. On the plus side, there is now another hairdresser's. 

So, much as I hate them I'm still shopping in supermarkets, still falling for their marketing tricks and consequently buying more than I need. But if there's a meltdown in society in the near future, I'm prepared,  with a larder full of tins of BOGOF baked beans, half price spaghetti and few dozen ballpoint pens.

I tend to swap between Sainsbury's and Tesco. As I read on the internet this week: "Sainsbury's is for people now aspiring beyond Tesco but not yet quite ready for Waitrose." So I'm hovering between common and lower middle class - but I'm eyeing up the upper classes. I've pulled myself up by my bootstraps to kale standard but I'm not quite ready  for heirloom potatoes. One day….

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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

How Did Everyone Get To Be So Angry?

HOW did everyone get to be so angry? I know people whose default setting is permanent peevishness but it’s gone beyond that. Look on social media and you will find video upon video of people losing it. They are trolling on Twitter, being incensed on Instagram and snapping on Snapchat.

The sound of teeth gnashing and the sight of veins popping assaults my senses daily. I am metaphorically covered head to toe in spit spewing from the mouths of the splenetic.

Turn on your TV  and you will see angry people shouting at angry people while Jeremy Kyle rubs his hands in glee. Reality shows should be renamed I'm Psychopathically Angry Get Me Out of Here, Irate In Chelsea and The Outraged Housewives of Angry County.

The young are fuming at the baby boomers because they can afford a house, the baby boomers are angry at the young because they see them as entitled little shits who haven't worked a proper day in their lives.

Look in your local newspaper and you will read about people incandescent with rage because there is a van parked with one wheel on the pavement or their packet of 50 turkey twizzlers had one missing.

Anger knows no religion, social class, political persuasion or gender. Various Christians, Jews and Muslims are angry at people who don't share their views. The poor are angry at the rich for not sharing enough, the rich are angry at the poor for taking too much. Political parties are angrily tearing themselves apart. The jobless are angry they are unemployed and the employed are angry they are being exploited. Men are angry at women and women are angry at men. Reasoned debate has been replaced by clashing horns, the winner the person who can shout the loudest.

Of course, not all anger is bad. There is positive anger when we rage at the injustices of the world and vow to do something about it.

But you have to pick your battles. Walk a mile in the other man's moccasins. And ask yourself, a year from now is anyone going to give a damn? And chill. Just chill.

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Friday, 5 August 2016

Website Comments

IF you read a lot of newspaper website comments you will soon suspect the world is full of ranting fuckwits with very little brain.

After years working as a reporter I already suspected the madness of the human race, I am now utterly convinced that most people in the world are barking - or at least the ones who can be arsed to write comments are.

In many posts a speck of punctuation is as rare as elephant’s feathers. Nothing has a capital letter. Nothing. No proper noun, no first letter of a sentence, no first person pronoun. i dont no why it upsets me so much but it does

No one reads the actual story but they read into it their own prejudices and deduce what they think the writer is saying.

At one point, quite a few years ago now, the website comments on the newspaper I worked for had to be moderated and the sub-editing team took it in turns to read them all. All. Every single one had to be read before it was posted. At the end of a shift you felt like your soul had been sucked from you and replaced by dust.

It was depressing how paranoid some of the readers were. I am not much of website commenter, having lot of paint to watch dry. But if  I had left a comment and it hadn’t appeared, my immediate reaction would be that there had been a technical blip or I had done something wrong. Not our readers. Oh no.


Who is this army of judgemental people with so much time on their hands that they can be bothered to fill in a  comment form to write something inane or just plain nasty? Who sits down to write horrible things about people they have never met? It's the only time I feel sorry for celebrities who come in for blistering attacks because of the way they look.

I came across this post from The Poke in 2014 where they had replaced headlines on stories with actual comments from the Daily Mail. Read it here.

I rest my case.

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Man Cave

Ah. It's Sunday. The day the better half reads the Sunday papers and goes off on random rants about various articles.

I've got off lightly today. His only rant has been on the subject of "man caves", a term which really annoys him.

"If you mean an effing shed, call it an effing shed. Oo, I've put my collection of 1980s Playboy magazines in my man cave.

"NO! You're a pervert with a shed!"

Got to love him!

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Wednesday, 20 July 2016


To my friends across the world:

This is what it is like in the UK when the sun shines for longer than a couple of hours!  The weather has been glorious for TWO whole days - hot and sunny. All our news bulletins, national and local, have featured the weather and all our newspapers carry pictures of people enjoying themselves on the beach. The rest of the world must think we're nuts!

Got up this morning and it's clouding over. Normality returns...

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Being Polite

THE story about a young man who spotted his granny's Google search, complete with please and thank you is the best I've read today! (See it in full here.)

It epitomises a generation that was always taught to say "please" and "thank you" and it also says something about innate British politeness. I can't pretend that there aren't plenty of rude and thoughtless British people, unfortunately, but for many of us, politeness is a way of life.

It's the kind of politeness that makes you say sorry to the person who bumped into you. It's when you're asked in the hairdresser's whether your haircut is to you liking and you reply, "Lovely, thank you," while hating it with a passion, or complaining bitterly about the food throughout a meal in a restaurant but when the waiter asks if everything is OK you say, "It's fine thank you." It's saying thank you to the traffic warden while he's handing you a parking ticket.

There are phrases we use which on the face of it sound polite but have a hidden meaning, like, "with all due respect" which means "no respect at all".

Then there are the simple requests that have to be voiced in a convoluted way. You can't just say to a colleague, "Give me that report," but you'll say, "I wonder, could you possibly get that report for me? If you don't mind."

Another polite pastime of the British is queuing. Queues are sacrosanct. Don't jump a queue unless you want a polite British person to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Would you mind awfully getting to the back of the queue? I'm sorry to ask but we've been waiting here longer than you." There, you've been told!

If you are confused here is a handy glossary of British terms and their translation.

One of my favourite quotes about politeness is actually by an American, the writer Robert A Heinlein, who said:  “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” 

Thank you for reading this post and I hope you liked it. But no worries if you didn't, it's perfectly fine.

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