Sunday, March 18, 2007

This and that on food

"England. How exciting! How will you deal with the horrible food?"

This has got to be the question we were asked most before moving here, even by the woman at the reception desk in the Virgin Atlantic lounge before our flight to England.

(Oh, right. I never did blog about our first class flight to England, in which we sat in little pods with fully flat beds and private TV screens and on which I was even given pajamas to sleep in (which, regrettably, I did not steal). Well, it was lovely and amazing and unlike anything we'll ever do, but it was still 1) the overnight flight, which comes with serious disadvantages if you value sleep, and 2) an airplane. No set of pajamas, no matter how amazing, could have made it not an airplane.) (Oh, and since this post is supposed to be about food, I'll say that the food was ... airplane food.)

Anyway, my answer to the critics of British food: People, puh-leez. Meat + potatoes. And even throw in curry, and of course the truckloads of sausage. Hell-LO!

Two weeks ago, I almost wrote a blog post about my new favorite food on Earth, a Stilton and bacon burger on ciabatta bread that we had at this little place we stumbled upon while out for a walk. We were two of six people in the restaurant. It's a pretty new place, and it was previously a pretty dumpy pub. Anyway, that burger. Oh my. I believe it could even replace the now-defunct Nannyburger. (I guess it's still defunct. Any DC'ers been to the "new" Nanny's in Cleveland Park yet?) We wondered whether this would become our de facto place when we want to go out for a relaxing dinner.

On Friday, after coming home from a long day in London, I declared that I just wanted a nice glass of wine and That Burger for dinner. So, we made the 4-minute walk to the Box Tree. We sat down and the manager came over with the wine list and menus. Before I could get out, "I don't even think we need menus," he says, "and here's our new homemade sausage and mash menu."

Me: "I think I love you."

Here was the rundown:
Sausage:
Beef and horseradish
Pork and herb
Lamb, redcurrant, and rosemary
Cajun chicken
Pork, honey, and mustard

Mash:
Plain butter and cream
spring onion and coriander
roasted garlic
wholegrain mustard
Stilton

Sauce:
onion
port
wild mushroom
creamy mustard

I went for the lamb sausages, because we'd eaten a lot of pork sausage that week (more on that in a bit). They only had two left, so I got to choose a different kind -- I picked chicken -- for my other two. (Are you catching this? That's FOUR sausages to an order.) I had it with Stilton mash and onion sauce. Of course it was fabulous. And, even better, John got That Burger, so I got to have a few bites of that as well.

But wait, there's more. JT's a creme brulee guy, so the Bailey's and white chocolate creme broulee piqued his interest. It turned out to be a divine white chocolate creme brulee floating on top of a shot of Bailey's. Heavenly, absolutely heavenly. I went for the chocolate nemesis. "What's that like?" I asked. "It's a chocolate mousse kind of cake thing." Right. Totally a dense, flourless chocolate cake served with real cream. So yes, I think that, even after just two visits, we may declare this "our" place.

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One of the things I love here is that darn near every store -- even your average CVS equivalent -- has premade, prepackaged sandwiches. The combinations range from the odd (goat cheese and beetroot or prawn mayo, for example) to some of my favorites (tuna and sweetcorn or egg salad (simply "egg mayo" here) and bacon).
While in London on Saturday, I came across a sushi place that had a long case full of individually wrapped pieces of sushi! I bought a couple of pieces and then asked if I could take a picture. No dice. Some creative googling, though, revealed a picture someone took with his cell phone. It was even decent-tasting sushi. Too bad I had already had lunch -- an egg mayo and bacon sandwich, of course.

Oh, and another word on sandwiches. A popular sandwich here is a bacon sandwich. Bacon + bread. Anything else optional. Nothing wrong with that.

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Last weekend, the place to which we did not drive was Feast East, the food and drink festival for East Anglia. (East Anglia is sort of our "state," and Cambridgeshire is our "county.") Eighty booths of local growers and producers. Like a craft show, but with food.

We ate sausage, cheese, jam, sausage, cheese, and more jam. The theme this year was pork, with hourly cooking demonstrations using pork. The weirdest thing I ate was a pickled quail's egg, and it was indeed weird. Mostly tasted like egg, though. The event allowed us to solve a mystery: Why There Is No Grape Jam in England. They don't make it here because grapes don't grow in England. "Just try some British wine and you'll see why there's no grape jam here." (Indeed, we tried some local wine -- and it was pretty terrible.) Now, none of this explains why they can't import grape jam, but whatever. We talked to some lovely jam makers who told us that when they visit the U.S., they eat grape jam every day.

We came home with a case of beer, two kinds of pork sausage, some dried herbs, three kinds of cheese, and smoked olive oil. Yum!

The same outfit that organized the show also organizes National Watercress Week, British Tomato Week, British Sandwich Week, and British Cheese Week. I would recommend skipping British Wine Week, though -- a week earlier is the Cambridge Beer Festival. Now we're talkin'.

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