Make like Patti

I went to New York recently (she says casually like Cindy Crawford would, or a businesslady from the 1990s).  Okay it was April in fact, but it’s been a turgid few months since then, filled with regret and lassitude at no longer being in New York so it has taken me a while to write.  New York is ridiculous; having haunted my imagination since I was of Athena poster buying age, I wasn’t disappointed  by the steam from the drains, the yellow of the cabs or the sheen from the mirrored skyscrapers.  It all felt unreal and familiar.

 

Boozed up and jetlagged, I took notes from every day of my stay, but do you really care what I did?  Does anyone? That’s my business.  From childhood, I vaguely remember ‘slide shows’, where we would formally gather with other families at nieghbour’s houses to have a guided tour, with projected images, of what they did on holiday. You may remember Don Draper singing the praises of the home projector on Mad Men, but he clearly never visited the denizens of Hull, because all I recall of the slide show is the click and the whirr of the machine and Uncle Brian or Aunty Sue telling us the date and time that the picture was taken, where it was taken and normally who had been sick or was about to be sick at the time of execution.To be honest, if I ask you ‘how was your holiday?’  Just say ‘fine’ or ‘shit’ and leave it at that (actually if it was shit, I’ll probably want to know why.  I’m such a schadenfreude freunde). Looking at my travel journal (which I imagined as a full blown epic) I can tell where I got bored of writing about what we did, because it becomes a ‘did list’.  And it’s awful.  If you really want to know what I did, go and read ‘Just Kids’ and pretend that I’m Patti Smith.  That should do it.

 

So now, we’ve established that I’m not going to give you the blow by blow of my trip, what am I going to do?  I’m just going to write about two things that I noticed, that’s what.  

 

New Yorkers have to have the last word, which means, as a Brit, you can get stuck in some serious politeness showdowns.  Here’s an example from a restaurant that we went to.  It’s between a waiter (played by Don Draper), me (played by Patti Smith) and my husband (played by Betty White – why not?)

 

HUSBAND:  I see what you mean about slide shows and i totally agree.

ME:  Great

WAITER:  More water?

ME:  Yes, please.

WAITER:  You’re welcome

ME: That’s great, thanks

WAITER:  Not a problem

ME:  Great job, well done

WAITER:  My pleasure

ME:  Lovely.

WAITER:  Fantastic

ME:  Nice one.

WAITER (running away, shouting over shoulder)  ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

 

As a Brit, I like to patronise waiting staff, to make them feel cared for and listened to, but most importantly I like to seal off the conversation by having the last word.  Every rejoinder takes away from my benevolence!  Really, I should face facts; my platitudes are squat: a damn big tip is worth more than a feigned grin and attentiveness.

 

Unless our visit coincided with a Tresemme conference, the men of New York have hands down collectively the best male hair I have seen anywhere on ths planet!  It is spectacular: lustrous, bouncy and product free.  Curls the colour and density of wet sand, worn long, nestling on shirt collars and flopping over foreheads.  Full white clouds of cauliflower.  A crisp afro.  I had full blown middle aged man hair envy – something in the water, perhaps?

 

Yes: everyone shouts at each other a bit, sandwiches are massive and the skyline is amazing.  But should you visit  New York, I recommend that you check out the pompadours and try to out-polite a waiter.  

 

And pretend your Patti Smith.  But that’s just a general life lesson, isn’t it?

 

pho the love of God

I’m very excited today.  When I’m this giddy, it has to do with one of the following: food, eating, or the anticipation of food and eating.

 

Tonight, I’m giong up the road, away from the delectable cool of the Northern Quarter’s restaurants, away from the big beefy steakhouses of Deansgate, away from the lovely continental snippets on offer all over central Manchester.  I’m going in the opposite direction, towards a little hole in the wall, a bring your own charmpot that more  convinces me that I don’t need to pay the airfare to get a taste of Vietnam.

 

Granted, V-Nam on the Oldham Road doesn’t look like much.  It’s slap bang in the middle of a row of what used to be shops when this part of town was cheefully considered a community, but is now replaced by a few high rises and busy stretch of dual carriageway and a place that no-one calls home.  The restaurant itself is really a cafe and they haven’t wasted any effort on making you think otherwise; it’s adornement-free, unless you count un-used plug sockets and undistinguishable marks on the wall.  The music is always, gratifyingly R n B (think Boyz to Men, not Beyonce) and the whole thing is perfect if you don’t want to be bothered by staff or have your water topped up every two minutes.  But, the food, ah the food!

 

I watched a programme on making pho, which is the national dish of Vietnam, a kind of soupy herby, sweet and sour broth with noodles.  In it, Rick Stein had a minor aneurysm perfecting his stock, which involved roasting and boiling bones and herbs for hours.  He fussed over the balance of fresh spices, the ratio of noodle to meat.  He was happy with the results and gave it, beaming, to a vietnamese woman who took one slurp and declared it ‘too salty’.  Stein was crestfallen, but held it together.  At least he had come close to slaying the pho dragon.

 

But the programme convinced me that to make pho, specifically the soup mix, is not something that you can do for two people.  You need to make mass quantities to make it worth your while.  Which conveniently means that I can go to V-Nam to sample it, where they must make a bath load everyday and leave it simmering on a low heat for me to bathe in.  So here’s what I’ll have.

 

I’ll have hands down the best salt and pepper squid that man has ever tried.  Forget about your calamari or your fritto misto; V-Nam serves its squid in big boisterous wedges, battered and seasoned and chilli-d to perfection.  Then I’ll have the prawn pho, a cauldron of soup dotted with bouncy pink shrimp, the size of a 50p coin.  Most seafood places in Manchester urge you to remortgage your house to eat shellfish, but at V-Nam, they produce wonders for under a tenner.  I will add to my soup some noodles, fresh coriander and mint, lime and chilli. Easy on the beansprouts (a personal thing).  I will slurp until soup runs freely down my chin.

Then I will sit back and muse on Stein’s efforts, and maybe even feel a little sorry for him.  I’ll enjoy it, too: it’s perhaps the only time I’ll ever be able to feel pity for a man who travels the world eating and cooking kick-ass food. 

If food be the music of love

There’s not many things that I miss about London; friends obviously, the occasional supericilious pigeon and the yellow light of a vacant taxi at 2 a.m on a blustery morning after a good night out.  Like Proust (pretentious, much?), my memories revolve around food: I can still fondly recall a steak pie the size of a toilet bowl at a restaurant in Stoke, enjoyed at the age of 7.  And I’m always attempting to recreate what I call ‘1980s Spanish hotel soup’, which was thin and bisto-y, but which I yearn for because it reminds me of the excitement of going on holiday as a kid.  

 

My London food memory comes from a vegetarian restaurant/shop tucked away in Neals Yard.  The staff were always sleepy eyed and moved as if suspended in lightly set aspic, but they served the most incredible cheese breads.  They were stiff with a black olive crust, but once mascerated, chewy and moist and oily inside.  I ate them every time I visited the West end; it became part of my experience, the feeling of owning part of London, of being part of its machinery, essential, loved and looked after.  And they only cost a pound!

 

I spent a long time missing these little beasts of beauty until inspiration struck.   I needed to turn to the great God of my living room: Google.  Lo and behold there are a million recipes for Brazillian cheesebreads online and if pushed, I would say that mine are as good as the real thing.  This is what you need:

Cup and a half of tapioca flour

Third of a cup of milk

Half of a cup of olive oil

1 egg

As much grated cheese as you can handle (at least a cup’s worth)

Blend all these ingredients, pour it into a buttered muffin tray.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees.  Take out and rest.  Hop from foot to foot with impatience until they are cool enough to devour.

 

Then devour.

 

And never say that I don’t give you anything.