The Swine That Dines – #RootstoShoots

 

download

Now I’m no food writer or blogger but it would be remiss of me to not attempt to sum up the astonishing eating experience I had at the Swine That Dines vegetarian evening RootstoShoots.  I’m a meat eater but my partner isn’t, this has actually been very beneficial to me as my diet has improved, is more balanced and fits in much better to the  ethos that it’s better for us and the planet if we all eat a bit less meat.

Whilst there are some notable exceptions in Leeds, generally the level of vegetarian food available on most venues’ menus is sorely lacking in imagination or choice.  The culmination of this is perhaps no better illustrated than when it comes to Christmas menus which seem to default to some form of risotto.  Now who doesn’t like a good risotto but come on people is that the best you can do?  It comes as very much a welcome relief therefore to go somewhere knowing that from a vegetarian perspective you are going to potentially be able to eat everything on the menu.  This is especially true when you consider that The Swine That Dines very much specialises in nose to tail eating, or so I thought.  What I learnt is that they just specialise in very good cooking.

For those who don’t know The Swine That Dines is an offshoot of The Greedy Pig on North Street and opens up on weekend evenings, with the vegetarian menu (#rootstoshoots) being the first weekend of the month.  The setting is a small (about 14 covers) cafe and therefore does not come with the airs and graces of a fancy restaurant, however that is  just fine by me.  You can relax, bring your own wine and enjoy what’s on offer.  It had the feeling of being somewhere that you long to randomly discover while walking around an unknown neighbourhood of some continental city.  A place that you are going to rave about afterwards and long to return to, luckily for me I’ll be able to any time I want.

The evening works like a tasting menu, but you don’t have to order everything, indeed there was a guy in there just having a couple of dishes with a bottle of beer.  Obviously we went for everything on the menu which they explain they bring out two dishes at a time.  Each dish is of a starter size and I love this sort of British tapas approach enabling you to share a couple of plates at a time, relax and wait for the next ones.  I also loved the way the menu was written, just three or four ingredients with no hint really on how they would be prepared or served which for me added to the intrigue.  It was a welcome relief to not see the words foam, air, jus, pan fried (how the hell else do you fry something?) anywhere near the menu.  Our menu was this:

1.

Coco Beans, Goats Curd, Lemon, Rye

2.

Sweet Potato, Burnt Butter, Nori, Yuzu

3.

Carrots, Romesco, Ewes Cheese

4.

Fava, Quails Egg, Dukka, Pomegranate

5.

Buttermilk, Polenta, Wild Garlic, Aiolli

6.

Duck Egg, Smoked Potato, Buckwheat, Sorrel

7.

Oyster Mushrooms, Quinoa, Hazelnut, Porter

8.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Tomato Sambal, Peanut

Now if you are like me and you read that menu you have to be intrigued either thinking ooh what’s that or mmmm how are they going to pull those things together, what will it look like, taste like etc.  Either way you can’t wait for the first couple of plates to arrive.  When they did arrive and you tasted the humble ingredients beautifully presented I was simply mesmerised.  I don’t think I’ve ever tasted food as good or certainly not better.  Each plate was a dazzlingly array of taste and texture, flavours meeting, marrying and exploding in your mouth sending your senses into overload.  I found it quite incredible how someone could take a carrot or a potato, surely the humblest of humble ingredients and make you feel like you were eating the most luxurious food imaginable.

I cannot pick a stand out dish even though we spent a lot of time discussing it, they were all brilliant although there were a couple of stand out elements, the carrot, smoked potato, oyster mushrooms did it for me.  The only ingredient that didn’t appeal to me was the buckwheat, didn’t stop me almost resorting to licking the plate clean mind.

If you’ve seen the film Ratatouille then this for me was that film come to life, an astonishing chef cooking from the heart and creating dishes to die for.

Going out for food this good is for many people a very special occasion type of affair, one that you know is going to seriously cost.  Here though the evening out was such astonishingly good value that it puts the experience within reach of most people I’d suggest.  Each plate was £6 – that’s £48 for all 8 or £24 each !!!!  There cannot be anywhere else where you can get food this good for such good value.  I often eat out thinking blimey this is a lot of money for something I could basically cook myself.  Never has that feeling been further from my mind at The Swine That Dines.

So where are all the foodie, artful, Instagramed pictures of these marvellous plates.  Simple, no picture can possibly do the food justice.  Just go eat there and see for yourself, but leave space for me as I’ll be taking up residence I think.

 

 

Advertisements

Postcard from Madrid

IMAG5489

Madrid, one of Europe’s grand old cities, and what better place to spend a few days exploring and feeling the first real bit of warmth of the year.  Like many Spanish cities I found Madrid great for walking and exploring, there was no grand plan just some vague ideas and this approach works for me as you tend to come across things as you mooch, you have the time to take the temperature of the city and get a feel for it with the hassle of thinking I need to get someone by a certain time or to see a particular thing.  Much as great cities have fantastic places to see, it’s people that make places so getting a feel for them and the beat of the city is equally important as far as I am concerned.

Also, like when I was in Barcelona last year, it seems to be very easy to get away from the cram of tourists who follow a very predictable trail.  Walk a couple of streets away in any direction and you are in a different Madrid, one that’s much more to my liking.  I stayed right bang in the centre, in a great little flat that was my first experience of using air B & B and I couldn’t have wished for better.  If meant that I could step out of the door and be right in the heart of things but could stroll half an hour in any direction to explore some of the different areas.

I’d been to Madrid before a few years ago and I wondered how it would feel in light of the serious impact that the recession has had on Spain.  For me the city remains as warm and welcoming and as clean and safe as you could possibly hope for.  This time in the city I seemed to spend a lot of time in the markets, each area that I visited had one and they really were astonishing places and could really teach my home city a thing or two as it ponders how to ‘regenerate’ the city market.  For me the most astonishing was Sunday afternoon in San Fernando market in the Lavapies area.  I stumbled across this by poking my head through an entrance and the first signs were not promising, stalls with the shutters down, the odd one or two with a couple of people sat at.  However music could be heard so we ventured in and lo and behold the world changed.  In the middle of this covered market a hundred or so people were in full swing dancing away to latin music pumping out as DJ’s played the tunes, surround the central area, a labyrinth of packed stalls selling tapas, beer and wine kept the crowd fed and watered.  It was mesmerising and the atmosphere was so good it just made you feel alive.  We found a fantastic little wine place, drank what was recommended and just soaked it up.  I want to spend every Sunday doing that, it was perfect.

I was chatting to someone from Lavapies about the market and he said that a few years ago it was dying, just a couple of stalls remained but slowly the community has brought it back to life with events and activities and placing it back into the heart of the community which has brought new stall holders and businesses in.  A fantastic success story.  Round the corner I also stumbled across a great little bike shop and bought the local cap, I found out that they have only made 100 and the money is going to help run the community cycling club.  They seemed amazed that some guy from Leeds wanted to buy one of their caps.

Little adventures and experiences like this happened across the few days we were there as we wandered about.  Yes we saw the main squares, Guernica, the parks, Churches, Palaces etc but it was the neighbourhood bars, markets and vibe of the city that I enjoyed the most.  Can’t wait to go back.

 

Sketching

Screenshot 2015-02-07 at 12.20.12

 

The ubiquitousness of phones in pockets means that the places where we are get documented in a way that’s never happened before, quick snap, up on instagram move on.  The instantaneous nature of this raises question on what are you actually seeing and documenting, although for those of us with no artistic ability whatsoever perhaps we are aiming to capture the drawing of that moment in our minds eye.  I was down in London earlier this week and caught up with my good mate @phildean1963 and of course we headed to the pub for a few beers and a bite to eat.

Phil has started a new project this year where he is trying to sketch pubs and restaurants that he goes in so as we sipped our pints and chatted Phil got to work and without hardly making any effort, glided and swept his pen across the notebook and in 10 mins had sketched the pub we were in (The Peasant – above).  I was quite mesmerised watching him do this and seeing the sketch take shape, where he started on the page, which bit of the pub he drew first and how it all came together.  It captured things in a way that is so far removed from the phone shot and looking at it again now it brings back memories in a way that my photograph of the pub simply doesn’t.  Now I don’t suffer from jealousy but I tell you I hugely admire people with talent and I’d love to be able to do this.  My dad loved to sketch and paint watercolour and one of my kids is taking a real interest in art and will often doodle and draw when we are out and about.  Appears it missed a generation with me though which is a real shame.

I’ve seen a few of Phil’s drawings before and what he really likes is to put a bit of detail in which he didn’t really have time to do when we were out.  Yesterday though he was at it again.  Talented guy and an all round good egg to boot.

 

Screenshot 2015-02-07 at 12.18.48

December Photo Fun Week 4 – 2014 – Mix

B52rsPqCUAEDTZp

A somewhat quieter week this week for the Mix theme set by the kids, which was of course totally understandable with it being Christmas week.  Nevertheless there was still a nice collection (or mix) of photos sent in depicting various interpretations of the theme, drinks, food, play, bikes, people, presents etc.  I particularly liked the photo above which has all sorts of mix within it, old and new, different styles of architecture, graffiti, rubbish and tidiness.  It in many ways encapsulates the jumbled chaos of much of our towns and cities where different styles and periods mix in different states of harmony.  I find it fascinating to wander around looking and alternating between wonder and bafflement often in the same street.  I suspect that it has always been thus though as society changes and different interpretations on how we want to live and work get built upon the ruins of the outdated / defeated.  Where I grew up there is easy evidence of iron age hill forts, then Roman ruins right through to industrialisation engineering features and onwards to glass edifices and everything in between.

That was my take on the mix week but as always I’d love to here what interpretations you liked.  As always huge thanks to all who took part.  We have one final week which will run through into January but because the week starts in December then we will cover the whole week.  Click on the gallery below to open it up so you can scroll through the pictures.

December Photo Fun – Week 3 – 2014 – Create

B5Imy_yIcAAmD6G

The kids picked Create for the week 3 theme which I loved the idea of as after all the whole idea of our photofun projects is to create something from an idea.  When the themes are put out on twitter you just never know whether or not they will take hold, often you get a flurry right away and then nothing whereas this week it was the reverse a slow start that gathered momentum throughout the week.

I’ve never, perhaps until recently, particularly thought of myself as a creative person as I tend to think of creative people as those beautifully talented people around us who draw, paint, write, photograph etc in a way that makes us think or brings happiness into our lives.  A few years ago I was made redundant, and for anyone who has been through that it can be a tricky process to say the least.  I was fortunate in that the place where I was getting made redundant from paid for support for us to do some assessment of our skills etc.  Now I’m usually very reticent of that sort of thing but seeing as I was facing a big challenge I went into it with eyes open.  The person that I worked with for a few weeks after talking to me looking at my career etc said that I should describe myself in one way and that was as a creative thinker.  It sounds a bit bombastic but it was perhaps the first time when I’ve looked at the way I approach things and on reflection it felt right.  It’s not something that I feel comfortable saying about myself but it is perhaps a strong part of who I am I think.  Still can’t draw for toffee mind.

I thought about this while this theme was going on and how much creativity there all around us, perhaps particularly at this time of year, but also how we don’t celebrate creativity enough and encourage it within our children, it’s not just about drawing but it’s about how we see the world.  Rigidity of thought is not going to provide the solution that we require to improve the world we live in, creativity is.  Be that in maths or science, art or technology the ability to have a blank sheet of paper (either physically or metaphorically) in front of us and create something that did not exist before is perhaps the human races most unique trait.

All of that is I think captured in this beautiful gallery of people (and animals) creating things, food, art, pictures, sounds, a home, toys, all the things that nourish us.  Huge thanks to all who took part as always, apologies to anyone who I’ve missed out.  Click on the gallery to open it and scroll through the pictures and do let us know which ones you liked, there are some lovely interpretations.  Two more weeks to go so either follow me @ianstreet67 on twitter or follow the twitter hashtag #decemberphotofun for the remaining themes.  Be great to have you on board.

The Zone of Interest – Martin Amis

download

Last nights boysbookclub was a vintage edition, a book that completely split opinion with scores ranging from 2 to 9 meaning that discussion was heated and varied throughout.  We were, as we always are, looked after by the lovely staff of the Crosskeys and enjoyed sumptuous food (the venison and black pudding scotch egg was a thing of wonder) and wine while sinking our teeth into Amis’ latest book.  It’s actually a really good experience to be able to thoroughly disagree with someone and argue the point back and forth but to do so from a position of respect for the other person which only deepens the bond on friendship between us.  I left feeling thoroughly enriched.

If you can’t make it to the book club then you are need to submit a written review and while I have a very different view of the book than this, below is the fantastic review from Phil (@phildean1963) who scored the book 9 out of 10.

Before I read this book, the first question I asked is does the world need another holocaust book? The death camp Holocaust story has been told powerfully many, many times in film, book, stage and for me there has to be a very good reason to put the reader through it again. But after I’d read it, I had to re-appraise my view.

Firstly I have to say I found the The Zone of Interest one of the most brutal, empty, morally void, ambivalent and unflinching books we’ve ever read. At times this book was unreadable—in a good, bad way.

Amis is clearly a writer of real stature, a ‘proper’ author who uses words to massive effect (often ones I have to look up in a dictionary, so he must be proper). He’s that good. He perfectly captures the stark contrast between the captors and the captives – each suffering in their own way. I was reminded many times of Maus, a very different take on the holocaust but no less powerful.

I like at 1st how we didn’t know when the story was set. The picture gradually revealed itself, which usually frustrates but I enjoyed this reveal. Initially it could have been any time in history or the present day, which I’m sure was an intentional dramatic ploy.

The multi-voice narrative was bold, powerful and immersive. Confidently painting the darkest picture imaginable. Unusually, this was easy to navigate displaying the author’s prowess. The impeccable research and exquisite German cultural detail sat alongside horribly accurate concentration camp atrocity. I felt the book laid bare the German psyche: the reasons, the impact, the retribution, the horrific fallout and consequences of their actions. Amis casts an unswerving eye on Germany as a whole and whether involved directly in the mass murder or not, everyone is guilty by implication.

The notes at the end of the book were most enlightening: the immersion and desire to understand what happened and the philosophical arguments that to somehow understand why it actually happened actually validated the actions. These discussions actually helped me to make some sense of the book.

There was of course a mini drama being played out against the harrowing backdrop: Hannah, Thompson and Doll’s complicated relationships seemed at first petty and pathetic, annoying details set against the enormity of industrialised death. It seemed horrifically banal. But in the final chapters, the bitter love story developed into an insightful filter by which we could observe and understand how Germany came to be like this and the dreadful outcome. The relationship was unexpectedly but satisfyingly resolved in the end, in a typically and brutal fashion, the long, icy fingers of the past creeping into the present.

This book made for a truly unenjoyable read: not in the sense that it was hard to read or that it was laborious prose, but because to turn each page was to unearth inhumanity. In the end I didn’t want to turn the pages but I felt compelled to. At times I felt hollowed out by it. There was no triumph of the human spirit to be had here. The atrocities were laid bare, responsibilities clearly handed out and the complicated aftermath only just beginning. Amis revels in the moral ambiguity of his characters, challenging the reader at every turn. At the heart of it were meticulously drawn characters – not sketches – but Leonardo-esque in their detail and accuracy.

I actually love reading history books about the Second World War: Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and The Second World War are immense and immersive accounts of man’s inhumanity to man (both credited by Amis I noticed in this book). But for me personally, the veneer of factual history literature protects me from the grab you by the balls detail of a novel, where the writer has unfettered access to our imagination—the imagined more powerful than the actual, for once.

And yet his book digs deeper. Gets under the skin of the Third Reich, using the collective German psyche as a prism for their actions; gradually, imperceptibly becoming truly horrific. The book maps out the moral maze Germany faced: everyone implicated from locals turning a blind eye to grey snow and the stench to corporates like Bayer, who still exist today in our everyday lives, quietly making products like Alka Seltzer.

It’s not often I wheel out words like elegant, intense, powerful, truthful. But this book is all of these. I’m not sure it’s ‘fearless and original’ as the blurb describes (back to my earlier point about does the world need another book about the holocaust) but In The Zone of Interestdemands the attention of the reader until the very last page and I’ve scored it high because the book held me in its vice-like grip to the very end.

Impossible to pick up, impossible to put down.

Barcelona and the Boys Book Club

10543029_740505762696494_152958460_n

This year’s annual boys book club weekend away saw us continue the search for a bit of autumnal warmth by heading to Barcelona.  Our trips follow the routine that I wrote about in last years Palma post and Barcelona would be no exception, no grand plan just wander around taking the temperature of the city and it’s culture as we meander, perhaps with a bit of architecture or art thrown in for good measure.  We would of course be reviewing this months book, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and discussing some of our own work as we had set ourselves the theme of Reliance and were tasked with coming up with something creative around that theme.  We also had a couple of new members this year who had not been away with us before so that was also going to be interesting to see how the dynamic might be affected.

Much as I’m not a fan of getting up early in the morning, the forced early start does enable you to make the most of a weekend away as we were sat with a cold beer in our hands in a lovely little plaza by lunchtime with the day before us.  We’d actually stumbled upon a historic weekend to be in Barcelona as all 881 mayors of the various towns and villages of Catalonia were in town to discuss whether they should collectively sign a memorandum calling for the right to be able to hold a referendum on independence.  As a result there were TV crews around, demonstrators and a general feeling of excitement that something was afoot heightened by incredibly loud firecrackers being let off.  Yellow badges were being handed out that it was explained to us were not necessarily signifying that the Catalans wanted independence but that they wanted the right to a referendum to decide their own fate  Echoes of course of what we have recently gone through with Scotland and what might happen with Europe.  Much as I fully support the principle of national self determination I can’t help feel that globalisation is causing communities and nations to encircle the wagons somewhat and wrap those wagons in a national flag which has potentially dangerous undercurrents.

One thing that has definitely changed, even in the short few years we’ve been doing this, is technology.  Photos can be quickly snapped on phones (in the early days a couple of the lads used to rock up with some serious proper camera gear) and of course city maps, places of interest, where to eat / drink etc can be summoned up instantly.  There are many advantages to this but at the same time it can add a bit of tension for those who want to experience things in the moment and not second hand through the glow of a screen or someone else’s recommendation.  The same is also true of the books, do you read it with no prior knowledge or do you use the easily available information to find out more ?  In our book club it is very much frowned upon to do research around the book / author but for some this is a very difficult temptation to resist

Friday’s wanderings saw us drift down through the Gothic quarter mazing our way away from the crowds down through Bareloneta to the beach before thinking about eating (we did a lot of both thinking about it and doing it over the weekend).  A few people had said to me before the trip that you’ll get stung in Barcelona, really expensive.  This was of course true if you couldn’t be bothered to walk a couple of streets away from the honey traps.  If you could then you could (and we did) eat and drink like kings for staggeringly reasonable prices – much cheaper and better quality than Leeds that’s for sure.  Walking away from the seafront area saw us adopt the method for the weekend, a simple neighbourhood bar with a few tables outside and a tapas board delivered fantastic quality and value both from a drink and food perspective every time.  As in every other Spanish city the vast majority of places to eat and drink are small, independents which makes such a refreshing change from the branded sameness of much of the UK these days

We lazily headed back towards the centre of town keeping our eyes open for somewhere good to eat in the evening and popping our heads into anything that looked interesting, which included me joining some lively looking locals for a game of street table tennis.  Before heading out for the evening we had a very quick turnaround at the hotel before regrouping at a local pinchos bar to discuss our own work.  This is always an interesting and eye opening part of the weekend and we started doing it partly as an experiment but also we spend a lot of time critiquing ‘professional’ writers so what does it feel like to have a go yourself and open yourself up to a bit of peer reviewing.  This year we had some great interpretations on the theme, from a Haiku to poetry and short stories, some funny others reflective and some genuinely moving.  I think it really adds something to the weekend and it also proved to me that no matter what we do for our day jobs there is some hidden talent and creativity amongst the group.  Hopefully with the author’s permission I’ll post a couple of the pieces on here.  After more wandering, eating and drinking we turned in after covering a good ten miles during the day, which we would do again on the Saturday.

After clearing our heads – how nice it is to be able to do this sat in a nice plaza with a fresh coffee and orange juice – we decided to have a wander up to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  Historically of course cathedrals did often take hundreds of years to complete but it feels slightly surreal that this is still the case today – I think 2026 is the anticipated finishing date to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death, but I have my doubts.  It’s a very difficult building to describe but it is undoubtedly one of the most staggering pieces or architecture (or works of art?) that I’ve come across.  Of course there is plenty more of Gaudi’s work dotted about the city that you will come across from the astonishing to the mundane as he designed some of the paving you will be walking on and, as I’ve written about previously, I think you can tell a lot about a city from it’s paving.

After another stunningly good value pavement lunch we wandered down to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had a real mixed bag of a collection in it, a great exhibition called Nitrate by Xavier Ribas contrasted sharply to me against a couple of floors of impenetrable offerings and several surreal items including songs by the Housemartins and the Smiths ?  We all needed something to drink after wandering round the museum before we gathered ourselves for the evening meal and a debate on The Moonstone.  Despite a valiant attempt by one member to point out the relevance of the book it’s fair to say it was universally not enjoyed and I doubt very much if it will enter the reckoning for our book of the year awards in December.

Although we had the odd focal point what I enjoyed most about the weekend was the aimless wandering, the randomness of the conversation and getting to know the other members more.  As we wandered about you would find yourself drifting in and out of different conversations as you walked next to a different person or sat next to someone different at the next bar, these moments are for me what makes the boys book club such a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience.

The photos on this post are a mixture of mine, Phil’s and Andrew’s taken over the weekend.