Trendy

At the weekend the wife, an out-of-town friend and I nipped out to the lovely town of Royal Leamington Spa for a mooch around the Peace Festival.

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Leamington Peace Festival 2015

The Leamington Spa Peace Festival, for those who don’t know, is an annual rain causing event held in the Pump Room Gardens and features all manner of new age nonsense such as yogurt weaving, kaftan liberation, tofu swallowing and vagina floating.

The food sold there is mostly vegetarian to vegan on the omnivore spectrum. Free range falafel chocolate bars, organic gravel soaps, crunchy compost on a stick and fair trade mong bean ice creams abound. That kind of thing.

As well as hearing local folk bands and pan pipes, it’s also a good opportunity to see the latest trends of the anathematic capitalist hippies are pushing onto today’s youth. For example, stove pipe hats seem to be entering a renaissance, gong showering is breaking into the wavy world of healing and knotted dyed rags are this year’s rad hair fashion (again).

An aging hipster
An aging hipster

With hipsters now denying their own existence in a Schrodingeresque fashion (you’re either a cool cat in a box or not, depending on who is observing you), goths morphing into the less threatening emo collective and  neo-nerd-geeks becoming vogue thanks to Big Bang Theory the time is right for a new collective. One that is so trendy and beyond cool that it is off the spectrum entirely, but one whose emergence will be unobserved until it has spread to a point where it becomes commonplace.

Of course it’s not just teenagers and infantilised twenteenies trying to be trendy. While beards may no longer be the fashion and half-mast trousers and arse showing waistlines have gone the back into the wardrobe for several years, the smart Sunday shirt wearing, middle class middle age organic free range grass eating daddies of the world appear to be taking their midlife crisis to the high street. Quitting their well-paid, high stress jobs and opening cafés using the stylistic ideals of designer hipsters to influence their décor.

At least, that’s how it appears from my visit to the overly trendy café, Bread and Butter on Regent Street in Leamington Spa. In what appears to be a former butcher’s shop a couple of doors down from the fishmongers, Bread and Butter just oozes huge blobs of “I’ve been to that London and seen how the well to do spend their leisure time”. I was reluctant to go in but guests take precedence and so began an experience I am about to recount.

Stepping through the door, it is difficult to see what’s going on due to the low level lighting. Windows provide free light and white tiled walls help reflect it around the important areas mostly to the till area which is sat on a thick wooden counter.

Autumn leaves artistically strewn near garden furniture

Garden furniture, the crap type that rotund people will find difficult to sit on comfortably or safely, are the choice of the day, enhanced only by artistically and purposefully strewn autumnal leaves on the floor. These, it has been debated, appear to be swept up of an evening, sieved to remove dust and detritus before being replaced after the floor has been mopped, cleaned and dried. Wankery.

Menus come in the form of a sheet of A4, minimalistic in choice, as per instructions from Blumenthal and Ramsay, but in a way that is limiting to the consumer.  Old favourites ruined by the addition of wankery. A bacon club sandwich with wanky bread and avocado. Wanky salad, served with wank. Poncey toasties with cheese and a selection of teas that would ordinarily cost you about 30p to make yourself in a mug sold at the exorbitant price of £2 for a mingy scale model cup.

I had the “slow roasted” pork  bap which came garnished with stale musty tasting crackling. This was obviously a new definition of “slow roasted” as to me, slow roasting means that the meat is succulent and melt in the mouth. I’ve chewed shoes less tough. Supposedly reasonably priced at £6.70.

During my years of eating out and writing about my experiences in the food world I’ve always said that you can’t make a restaurant or café trendy and popular by charging a lot of money for a small portion of food. Sure, you’ll get some tossers who think “Hey! This is so trendy and cool I’m going to come here every day because £6 for a stale pork butty is the lifestyle I want to lead”. But these people, like the hipsters they gave birth to, are dying out.

IMG_1026Although a greasy spoon café has its place, I’m not calling for that, I’m calling for some balance. Wankery has had its day back in the noughties when we found it ironic and amusing. Wankery today is just a road to disaster and mockery. Just as sticking the words “Organic” and “Free range” before every item on your menu is passé so is bringing the outside in, tiny portions and over pricing. The people you think you’re appealing to have grown out of this kind of approach and, much in the same way as faux-Victoriana and retro tea rooms have faded from popularity, so will wankery in décor. If it isn’t naturally worthy of brown leaves being tastefully placed on the floor, then don’t do it.

As we left and made our way back to the car, I observed corduroy trouser, gingham shirt wearing, late thirty something middle class graphic designer dad with his stay at home on an allowance yummy mummy  what lunches and writes crap fiction wife pushing  their child-with-a-neo-trad-name-like-Edna in its free range organically padded for their own safety comfort five wheeler monster stroller making their way into the café. Exactly the kind of clientele the café is trying to attract.

Would I go again? No I wouldn’t.

Local food

The following post appeared hidden on LJ in 2009 as it was part of my journalism degree portfolio.


Belper Farmer's Market

This weekend I undertook my second visit to Belper’s farmers market. It has been nearly a year since my last visit and it was good to see some familiar faces. Surprisingly the market has grown a little bit since my last visit with the inclusion of three new stalls. Furthermore, it seems that the popularity has grown lately rather than reduced as would have been expected in the current economic climate.

Indeed, Belper’s other local food gem, the award winning Fresh Basil delicatessen was just as busy as I remembered. A sign that all things are still ticking over nicely while other consumer areas are having to tighten their belts.

It would seem that though rising grain and feed prices are forcing independent producers to raise their food prices to record levels and the supermarkets with their “Pile it high sell it cheap” are distracting consumers with their consistently low prices the popularity of local food retailers is still burgeoning.

Tebay Services

But what concerns me is the insistence of some purveyors of local food to stock items that are clearly not locally produced. I’m talking about the Tyrell’s and the Bay Tree Preserves of the world here. To me it seems that some of these local food retailers are stocking brands that are becoming the behemoths of the independent retail world. During my on going tour of farm shops nationally I’ve noticed the same four or five brands recurring. Surely if I travel to the delightful farmer run Tebay services on the M6 I’d expect to see the delights of Cumbrian fare. Jams, chutneys and sauces produced by Cumbrian food producers. Indeed I would, but there, on the shelves are these “foodie” brands.

Perhaps it is instilled in our culture to stay loyal to particular brands. Perhaps these are farm shop brands we should now become familiar with much in the same way we do of Heinz or Pedigree Chum. Or perhaps it’s because we’re too corrupted by supermarket doctrine to shy away from familiar brands. I couldn’t say.

However this fascination with brands concerns me. Where do newcomers get a look in? It may be that finding a distributor is tricky for smaller scale producers. Moreover, it may be that the smaller scale producers find it difficult to produce their wares in the quantities that retailers demand. But isn’t that the ethos behind local food? Food produced locally by small scale independent food smiths. While I’m not expecting the local WI to be producing jams on a Hartley’s scale, I do expect to be able to sample artisan jams depending on the area I am in.

Artisian Jam yesterday

This phenomenon is not only restricted to the produce. Take farmers markets for example. This month I’ve been to five farmers markets in the region. One artisan meat producer had a stall at all five of these markets, at one market it was at least 90 miles from it’s home base.

Now I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. What I am saying is I am concerned. I worry that if this trend continues unabated we will be in a similar situation as we are with independent beers. The smaller breweries being bought by the brewing giants only to be closed in an apparent effort to reduce the competition. Ask any passing Tom, Dick or Harry to give a real ale name and they’ll probably tell you something by Shepherds Neame or Adnams. Where once these were struggling breweries, now they produce ales on such a vast scale that differences in quality and flavour are apparent. Are we in the same situation with real food? Is real food in danger of being clouded by the success of the few at the detriment to the many? Only time will tell.

Knob

Recently I’ve been very tired. Tiredness is never a good sign for me. I’ve been sleeping very well. Like a log for example. Even down to the beetles crawling over me and the fungus growing in my crevices.

This weekend I had a jolly good time visiting zoefruitcake where we watched DVD’s (including Wickerman, Wild Things, Legend of Fong Sai Yuck, the squeem enducing Audition and the epic Exterminator) and ate yumtastic chinese food. We even had a visit to a local farm shop, Hill Top Farm, which, I am sorry to say, didn’t meet my expectations.

It seems there are two camps of farm shoppery. Those that truely believe in the “Local is good and should be affordable” and those that follow the “Our average customer is a trendy Guardian reader so we can hike our prices to ridiculous heights thus fleecing the customer and doing the Local is good thing more damage than a whole parade of supermarkets”. Sadly the latter is becoming more and more prevalent. The former, hard to find.

You can tell a trendy farmshop by the feel inside. If you feel like you’re in a trendy deli, then it’s likely you’re in a rip-off shop. Though I am open to persuasion that this is not the case. Its sad that there are some farm shops that see the need to hike their prices through the roof because of their clientele. Like wise it is sad to see farmshops just selling the same expensive independently produced posh shite that you can get up and down the country in any farm shop. To me, a successful farmshop should be no nonsense with a butchers, maybe selling some local jams and honeys, possibly some bread and some fruit and veg at low prices. Not artificially inflated “Oooh we can make loads selling chicken like this cos they’ll pay it unquestionably”. So yes, Hill Top Farm will have a muckybadger review in the near future. I will make sure I highlight the £6.50 for two non-free range chicken breasts in a suspicious sauce sold in vaccuum sealed packets as I will no doubt point out the crappy sausages (75% meat?! I expect at least 80%) and the E numbers in the ingredients.

So yeah, I’m tired. It doesn’t help that I’m in work until 8pm tonight. Nor does it help that I have an early start in the morning. Bed early for me I thinkz.

Cake

You know when you’re baking a cake (yes, baking. That’s what people did BT (Before Tescos)) and it fills your kitchen with the lovely aroma of cakey goodness but you can’t take it out of the oven yet because it’s not ready and otherwise it will be ruined?

Well that’s what my 4 minute film is like. Its cooking really nicely (in a metaphorical sense) and it looks first class. However there is still one piece of film to add before the final edition. I’m really really pleased with it. Moreover I’m in a quandary. Next year I have to choose, film & radio or writing & radio. There is no option for writing and film. I really want to do writing and film.

Radio is arse. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the radio module, but in the UK unless you’ve got experience in a live radio situation you’ve got as much chance of getting a job in radio as Rabbi Moses Goldsburgstien has of becoming Pope. In effect it is of no consequence. But I’m going to bring it up at my next personal tutorial.

Also today, I started my magazine cover. The assignment brief asks for us to design a full page cover of a magazine catering for young people (16-25…ageist bastards) and so I’m going to do Young Foodie which will cover Local food issues for young people….or something like that.

Last night the wife and I dined on finest Broad Close Farm Shop Pork and Apple Sausages. They were accompanied by mashed potato (made by the wife) and cabbage with an onion and mushroom jus (gravy). If I say so myself they were bloody good sausages! The gravy was also spot on. However the bacon we bought from Hazelhead Hall seems to be off. So I doubt we’ll be going there again.

I’ve been watching Juno too…..

Thaal

So, I don’t know, you’re pootling up the M1/A1 from the south heading towards Leeds; Maybe you’re just wandering like Kane; Perhaps you are skydiving over the South Yorkshire Countryside; You could be like Hiro from Heroes and teleported; Or maybe you just wake up naked, cold, lonely and confused after a large drinking session with your best friend Induviae Equus; either way, you find yourself in Darfield, South Yorkshire, hungry and feeling like a good curry. I know. It happens to me all the time.

Like the other day, there I was minding my own, tootling along the A635 into Barnsley while trying to avoid road works and there it was. Set back from the road was a white building with a bold black and red logo announcing itself as THAAL. Darfield is hardly a place where you’d expect to see a fine restaurant so it kind of threw me. So, as it was the wedding anniversary today, I thought I’d treat Mrs Gnomepants to a slap up nosh in Thaal.

And a bloody good choice it was as well…Service – bloody excellent; Food – Out of this world; even the decor and the price were damn bloody good. Between us, 4 diet cokes, 4 popadums and a pickle tray, a garlic naan, a peshwari naan, thaal special rice, a murgh makhoni (chicken with fruit and nuts in a mild sauce) [for me] and a murgi tarkari (for Mrs G) came to about £35. The meal was splendid, the sauces perfect, the meat cut and cooked to perfection. Just the right amount of creaminess, just the right amount of spices. Flavours of garlic and fenugreek not too harsh and delightful melt in the mouth naans. A truly splendid repast.

So there you are, some how stuck in or passing through or near to Darfield without a clue what to do….get yourself to the Thaal restaurant (don’t use the number on the website though cos that’s for one in Brovvaton or Brotherton as anyone normal would call it) and dine in the finest Indian this side of the M1/A1/M18 triangle. You too can be a fat bastard like me.

Honley Show

It was crap.

I’m lying.

It was bloody fantastic!

The £7 ($14) per person to get in was just right. On entering we had to walk through the trade stands.

The first couple of stalls were just boring old countrywear stuff (like hats and coats) and a photographer and some people selling costume jewelry. But it wasnt long until we were busy trying out the chutneys at the Crusty Pie Company stall. I tried the Flaming hot Chutney which was surprisingly mild with a little tickle of chilli that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Nothing like the Gringley Gringo stuff but never the less a fantastic chutney. (It actually went rather well with the Pork and Apple stuffing Pie we bought from the same stall).

Further exploration took us towards the Root Organics stall who deliver to parts of west and south Yorkshire. They had demonstrative boxes showing the differences between their boxes. I entered their competition (I wont win) and I am going to try and convince Mrs Gnomepants that we need to get their large mixed box. During the discussion we wandered into the Fair Trade tent and saw how they do good work for the producers in far off places who get paid next to nothing by the evil mega-corporations. Slavery eh? You think it was abolished? Hahahahaha. Anyway. Drink this water.

Next off we had a wander round to the other stalls. Cheese Cheese Cheese, who believe it or not sell socks cheese had a vast selection of different cheeses (we bought the Lancashire with apple cinnamon and raisin and some creamy ordinary lancashire).

We walked past the Venison stand and headed out past the vintage cars and over to the animal tents. Saw prize pigs, prize cows, prize goats, prize sheeps, alpacas, dogs, rabbits and loads of other animals.

After a brief lesson by the chef at Mustard and Punch (seriously go to the website, their dishes are really yummy) in how to cook turbot with oysters and braised lettuce, a look at the Oakwell Hall stand and some bee keepers we adjourned for lunch. I had a hot pork sandwich with stuffing and apple. Y-U-M!!

More animals and a look round the posh “we live in the countryside” cars before heading home. Like I said yesterday, I was absolutely knackered but I really enjoyed it.
Anyway, some pictures for you to oggle:-



Second place entry for the “Art from Fruit competition”


The other entries


The Pineapple thing was 1st place


Venison Ahoy! Not that we had any like. The queues were far too long



I took photographs of other events, kind of as a reminder.


A man terrorised children and 33 year olds dressed as a bee. I really don’t like it when people dress up in costumes like that. I would never relax in a place like Disney.

First place in the Rare Lamb Chop competition


Entrants for the Standing Around and Looking Gormless Class



This is what Elvis does now. He impersonates sheep. You should hear his version of Baa-break Hotel.

The sheep in the pens even get comfy chairs.


This isnt a sheep. This is a pig. It is a black pig. The bucket won in this round. Pig 0-Bucket 1

Entrants for the walking round in pink looking at tractors Competition


It was a farming show. Hence the tractors though technically this is a bulldozer.


Don’t forget the Penistone Farmers market!


The Root Organics Stall. The man in the red top has small child in a pink hat and an old lady’s head coming out of his belly . I think they are conjoined triplets.


PIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Even the carpark had spectacular views of the Yorkshire dales


My dinner consisted of PIE, cheese and bread

Laced with not very hot or flaming chutney.

Hurrah!

I’ve been tinkering with Muckybadgers. CMS is such a drag! Still after about a week of picking and poking I’ve kind of got it sussed now I think.

This weekend promises to be quite an active one. Nostell Priory has a steam rally this weekend so I might don my harris tweed cloth cap and take the whippet along to have a gawp at some of the beasts of steam that will be there. Providing I can forage for the £12 entry fee down the back of the couch that is.

Saturday will also see a Farmers Market in Ossett which is just outside Wakefield on the other side of the M1. The wife, her sister, Meredith and I will no doubt be going along to sample the delights of Yorkshire’s finest local foods.

Sunday, we are heading down the A1 to Retford or most specifically, Blyth. There to reunite with Emma (formerly Emma-in-Brighton), Sarah (formerly Sarah-in-Brighton) and Philip (formerly Philip-in-Brighton) who are the Wife’s old university house mates.

Monday and Tuesday are as yet unoccupied….wooo 4 days off work!

Ian St James

Went for a meal at the Navigation in Calder Grove last night. If ever Gordon Ramsey needed to visit a place its that place. Because having some sweary ex-footballer chef on the premises might actually improve it.

To be fair, we had been there before and had a lovely meal. We had a lovely carvery and delicious puddings. However last night was shockingly bad. Our food was late. Two dishes were unpleasantly salty. The steak on my Surf and Turf was dry and over cooked (I always ask for my steak to be done medium, last night it came to me like a piece of shoe leather) the surf bit (6 pieces of gyppo scampi) didn’t come with tartar sauce. My desert of Lemon Brulee was more like lemon ice cream in a flat dish with some burnt blobs of sugar. And, considering the last time we went it was full to the brim, the place was empty last night. Probably an indicator that a place is bad.

So 2/10 from me for that.

The beer they sell is piss too. Think I’ll go to Pizza Hut next time someone suggests we go to the Navigation in Calder Grove, Wakefield.

Garden

It took 4 hours to do a 4 ft stretch of our garden this morning.

Not, you understand, because it was over grown. But due to the constant interruptions from our neighbours. First GTHD then Mrs Owen then when she had gone GTHD came back. Just as we thought “Ooh we can do a bit more” out came Mrs Owen again. This pattern continued most of the morning and by 2pm it was too late to do much more. Regardless, we did manage to create 3 refuse sacks of clippings and stuff which we took to the tip on our way to Marr Grange Bacon and Ham Specialist Farm Shop.

Farmer Crapley Farmer Copley’s has fallen out of our favour. Friday night’s tea was ruined by the 5 day old sausages that had gone off. Usually the sausages last a good week or so. In fact I’ve had sausages from Copleys in the past up to 8 days after their purchase date. Of course we only realised they were off when the wife had cooked them into an omlette which also contained a good amount of vegetables. Friday morning I noticed that the brocolli had also gone off and so had one or two yams. So coupled with Farmer Copley’s exorbitant prices and the off food we have decided to not go back.

This leaves the remaining farmshops as

Marr Grange
Worsborough Venison Farm
Canon Hall Farm Shop
Brick yard Farm shop

Still a fair few and there are some markets locally too. So maybe we should take this development as an excuse to explore the area a bit more.

So tomorrow we intend to go here

Hopefully they will be open. It’s been ages since I last had venison.