The time has finally arrived for Lauren and I to make the long journey home to my Motherland, my birthplace and a magical place that over the last 23 years I have build up in my mind as a place where all of my fondest memories live and skip around holding hands with chocolate bars and packets of walkers crisps. Yes I’m speaking of England, and yes in my dreams packaged treats have arms and legs, so what! Its my dreams so step off or I’ll let my army of small highland toffee attack you with axes and bagpipes… back to reality and that is what happened the second I landed back in England.
We arrived at Heathrow on a Tuesday morning at 11.45, now this bit of information actually holds no relevance at all so please forget it as quickly as you read it… we had an amazing flight on Emirates, shit loads of leg room, massive screen to watch an impressive array of movies and some pretty tasty food I must say. The food included pulled Texas beef with black bean, quinoa salad with chickpea and a very delicious breakfast with a chicken sausage and frittata, but as you would expect no pork in sight, but as I always say “when in Rome” or more accurately “when on a Muslim airline” but without a doubt it was the best service, flight and food we have experienced, so Allah be praised!
My cousin picked us up with his beautiful daughter Rebecca and proceeded to drive around in circles until he felt we had seen Heathrow airport in full, we had so he swiftly drove us 40 minutes away to a small village called Chipperfield where we were staying in a quintessential English pub. Now what is a quintessential English pub and when did I start using such big words? These are the burning questions on everyone’s mind… I shall answer this in a two-part answer firstly to answer the later question, get fucked! Now lets talk about what I think makes an English pub…
• Upon arrival in said pub if you don’t have to duck down to enter it either isn’t a real English pub or you aren’t over 6ft tall
• If every single room in the building other than your bedroom doesn’t have a fireplace, then your not in an English pub
• Glance at the menu and if you cant see at least one ale pie then leg it, as you ain’t in the real deal
• If more than two staff members are English then leave as you are in the wrong country
• Finally make sure that nothing and I mean nothing at all is new, and then I feel comfortable with the fact you are standing in an authentic English Pub.
‘The Two brewers’ was all the above and more, it had Marmite portions on the breakfast buffet which was a highlight of the week for me, they had Aspall cider on tap and they served baked wheels of Camembert (which appeased Laurens veracious appetite for fromage). It was located in a quaint village which offered a nice walk around a small wooded area and… actually that is all it offered, but regardless of it lack of anything, it was brilliant to be back on home soil (or clay like mud as it was).
My memories of childhood chocolate treats were a little shattered as this country much like the entire world had become Americanised, but I still managed to get some Irn Bru, a toffee crisp and some mini cheddars (branston pickle flavour) which definitely hit the spot and most likely will bring on diabetes in some form, but well worth it.
Now what about pork you say? Good point, what would travelling be without seeing what different countries do with the magical creature we call Pig. Well this is the place for you my non-Islamic brothers, they effing love the stuff here,. They sell bacon rolls in just about every shop; newsagents sell them, café’s sell them, small stands/vans on the road sell them, I’m pretty sure they deliver them like papers straight to your door in the morning. I kid you not, they eat them like apples over here. There are bacon roll bowls on the kitchen bench and they are served with coffee instead of those ridiculously small biscuits… And this is just bacon. What they also do with pork will blow you mind, that is unless you’ve already seen a pork pie, in which case it may not even excite you. If this is the case stop reading now and never revisit this site ever… Good. All we left are the true pork pie loving people of this world who love the soft yet crunchy pastry made with lard and the salty jelly surrounding the blend of pork shoulder, pork belly and bacon cooked with mace and seasoned with the history of a nation that was built on such products.
Don’t get me wrong, you can get pork pies in Australia, but unless my good friend Gavin the Jordie pastry chef extraordinaire makes it then it will be pretty average. If you are in Perth go to the ‘Moon and Sixpence’ pub in the city and order the ploughman’s, as Gav has the pork pie well sorted as well as many other English treats… but I digress, what I love about here is that every second shop sells pork pies and as a whole they are delicious with the pastry being the major difference between a decent pie and a “fuck off that pie was the balls” kind of pie.
Other than delicious pork products I was uber excited to be back home so I could see my family, we were staying in Chipperfield purely because my Uncle and Auntie live in the town that is 5 minutes down the road, also their kids (my cousin’s) and their families all live close. We were given the royal treatment and taken out many times in the one week, really getting to sample a cross section of British food from awarded British pub food which was beyond what I expected to get from a pub in the middle of nowhere, to a nice night in with my cousins eating England’s national meal (curry) then finishing the week with Chinese (English style, which is a lot of battered meat with sweet sauce) with my other cousin and her lovely family and finally the tradition that is the Sunday roast with the family.
We choose to have our Sunday roast at a French Brassiere (Raymond Blanc’s restaurant) because they do a cracking roast with big fuck off Yorkshire puddings and bread and butter pudding for dessert (or pudding as it is over here) and lets face it, Waterloo was a long time ago so lets give those cheese eating surrender monkeys another go… well it was a triumph, the company which included two beautiful little cousins and their parents as well as my uncle and Lauren made the day very special, and I think horseradish is the best condiment for company.
We are now in Birmingham visiting some good friends Dom and Alec plus their awesome boys Francis and Jack that have just moved back from Perth where they were for a few year’s, one of our favourite bits of this trip has been catching up with friends old and new. We love getting to be part of a family for a week, cooking, drinking and having a laugh with the kid’s, we are so lucky to such great friends all over the world. And contrary to public opinion we are having a lovely time in Birmingham, so be it we go for runs in the morning around the canal wrapped up like crazy homeless people, but that just adds to the charm. We are very excited to be getting a Balti Curry from number 3 on the UK’s top takeaway joints… Balti curry was actually invented here in Birmingham by the local Pakistani community (that I believe is larger than the one in Pakistan). So needless to say we cannot wait for culinary curry cuisine served by the peeps that created and perfected the Balti curry.
I off course have been exploring local supermarkets and cooking up regular feasts for all that are lovely enough to put up with us. The supermarkets here do seem to have a larger range of many things that I love, for instance you can get rabbit, duck, venison and black pudding from Sainsbury’s, this pleases me greatly. I cooked a banging braised beef with Stilton penne last night and here is the recipe.
BRAISED BEEF with STILTON and PENNE
500g gravy beef (shin meat), left whole and sealed in a pan
2 sticks celery
1 fennel bulb
• Cut all above veg into small dice and fry off in pan of meat juices after the meat has been sealed
• Add 1 tablespoon cumin seeds and fry
• Add 1 cup of red wine, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 2 bays leaves and a handful of fresh thyme (be generous)
• In a large oven dish with sides, place meat down first then pour veg and wine mixture over top. Add 1 tin of chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of beef stock
• Cover with lid or with tin foil and bake @ 120c for 5-6 hours until the meat just falls apart when pushed with a spoon
At this point you could serve straight onto some mash, but I spooned all the meat into a beef braise and added some cooked green beans cut into small lengths, whacked in a handful of stilton, some spinach, chives and a whole lot of cooked penne and chucked it into bowls with a fork sticking out… then stood back and marvelled at what I had created like a proud father.
Next off we travel down to Gloucester to spend some time with Kev and Sue. We have never actually meet these lovely people but as they are my sister and husbands friends I just know that the week will be filled with laughter, wine, food and most likely more wine followed by a little more laughter… god I love travelling and more accurately I love eating and drinking with amazing people.