Archive for the 'Feed me' Category

Just *what* do you want?

If, in the future, we’re all going to be sat at our desks blogging, Tweeting, Flickring and whatnot, for the rest of eternity, we’ll probably need e-numbers to get through it.

Whether or not that was one of the reasons behind Skittles taking their home page all social media-like, we’ll never know. But they are one of the more high profile brands to experiment with the various tools online. Whether it’s worked or not is another matter.

To recap: anybody logging into their Twitter last Monday would have probably found a slew of tweets with the hashtag #skittles. These were then fed into the Skittles home page which was updating all mentions of the sweet on Twitter.

After a while people started cottoning onto this and includes tweets about paedophiles and the like to watch them get onto the home page. Social media types are a nice bunch, but we do have a somewhat borderline/evil sense of humour.

Regardless, Skittles were THE trend on Twitter that day, even if it’s difficult to say if this takeover was a good or a bad thing. In the short-term, it definitely worked. The brand was being talked about and I’d imagine there’s a high chance consumption of the rather icky sweet went up among users of the mircoblogging tool.

But there’s still one nagging question here – just what exactly were they hoping to achieve?

Yes, it was a bold move. Yes it was reasonably innovative for such a mainstream brand. Yes, it got them talked about for a short period of time. But, to be blunt, what for? And what now?

Currently their homepage brings up their Wikipedia entry. Which is nice but, um, what precisely are we meant to do with it? Sure, it’s more informative than a garish flash page, but if I wanted to find out about Skittles on Wikipedia I’d, well, go to Wikipedia.

At Econsultancy, Patricio Robles is similarly nonplussed:

“What exactly did Skittles reinforce by turning its homepage into a Twitterstream? That’s the $64,000 question the people in charge of the Skittles brand should be asking themselves because the truth is that buzz doesn’t build, reinvigorate or reinvent brands.

A coherent message does.

I think that’s something marketers need to keep in mind when they experiment with the ever-growing world of social media. If brands see social media as little more than a cheap tool for getting some short-term attention, they might as well stay home. Branding is a long-term game.”

And that is really the problem a lot of brands or companies have with the internet in a nutshell. Most media people have probably been in at least one meeting where somebody asks “Can we get this on the internet / blogs / Twitter?”

Even if it’s the kind of thing that fits well with any given social media site, the ‘what now’ question remains. Skittles have got some great short-term publicity and have shown a lot more social media savvy than a lot of other brands, but now that they’ve got Skittles out there in social media, what do they intend to do with it?

This may well be part of a slow strategy to get Skittles out there bit by bit. If it’s just doing it for the sake of, well, doing it then they’ve got their buzz and then, a few months down the line, everybody will have forgotten about it.

Building a social media presence, be it for your own work, a brand, a personality, a TV show, or whatever isn’t just a case of putting it out into the internet and leaving it.

Sometimes this does work, admitedly, but this usually means you’ve got a simple little thing that users love and start doing their own thing with.

But more often than not, the brand is thrown out in a great blaze of glory and is then sadly neglected when it’s this second step on continual engagement that can yield the greatest benefit in the long run.

And on a slight tangential note, if you want an excellent guide on how to pitch your brand across Twitter, Kai Turner’s post on Mashable is one of the best possible pieces you can read.

Why I love autumn

The days may be drawing in, and the temperature’s dropping, but rather than planning on hibernating for a few months, I really look forward to autumn. Why? Easy. It’s probably my favourite season for cooking.

Autumn (and winter, but winter’s not as pretty. And doesn’t have my birthday in it) is a great excuse to start making comfort food for those cold, darkening nights. It’s a great excuse to get working in the kitchen for an evening, getting a bunch of friends would and warm yourself up with good food and conversation.

Soups are the obvious point to start. Nothing’s better than a hearty broth with some crusty bread after a long day at work. Tomato and butterbean is one of my favourites, while it’s nice and simple to whip some salsify and shallots into a quick soup. Chick pea, spinach and pasta soup with a dash of nutmeg is a filling concoction that acts like a food comfort blanket.

But by far and away my favourite is the squash family. Pumpkins, butternut squashes and vegetable spaghetti all make excellent, flavoursome soups that act as a real warmer. Soups take so little effort as well and you generally only need your chosen veg, onions, stock and whatever herbs or spices you’re throwing into the mix.

But the squash family isn’t just soup-er – they make a great side dish, or full meal for vegetarians. I particularly like halving them, scooping out the seeds and sticking a garlic clove in the hole, brushing with olive oil, throw a bit of rosemary on top, then leave to roast for a bit. Take out when soft, mash together with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper, scoop back into the skins, coat with honey and a drop of gooseberry oil and putting back in to bake for another half an hour. Meat eaters can add bacon or lamb to the stuffing. Whatever, the result is comforting and exceedingly filling.

In fact, roasting squash is so simple, it’s hard to go wrong. Even a roast squash lasagne takes minimum of effort for maximum taste. I know hardened carnivores who’ve kept coming back for the squash version as opposed to a meat lasagne.

You can even take that classic spring/summer dish – the risotto – and make it much more comforting by swopping your mushrooms and peas for roast pumpkin.

For meat eaters, now’s the time to truly indulge in those bold and brassy stews and roasts for a cold weekend. Don’t forgot the essential autumn/winter veg accompaniment – the mash. Make your potatoes as buttery as you like, or simply swop for the delicious taste of mashed swede (with plenty of pepper). And no Sunday roast is complete without a few browned parsnips sitting alongside.

Be sure to make room for dessert though, and autumn isn’t just about veg. It’s a time when fruit gets a lot more serious. Apples, in particular, are brilliant at this time of year and there’s nothing more comforting than the sight of a warm apple cobbler coming out of the oven. If you’re lucky enough to have any rhubarb still left over from the end of the summer, stick it together with the apples in a crumble.

Apple pie is always a safe bet, or alternatively you could stew them with some sugar and sultanas. And while we’re on apples, although we’re not talking puddings here, try using cider instead of white wine in some dishes. Bollocks to the summery commercial ciders – what you want now is a proper country scrumpy.

Poached pears with figs are another treat, while if you get the chance to head to the countryside, make sure you take a bag and fill it with blackberries. These are one of my favourite fruits and it’s hard to resist not to eat them before you get home to stick into a crumble, or blend and pour over icecream. And, frankly, there’s nothing more autumnal than a good bramble jelly.

I’ve already stepped up my efforts in the kitchen over the past couple of weeks and, as the winds turn colder, I’ll be more inclined to spend some some reacquainting myself with some old cooking favourites.

I genuinely couldn’t care what the weather’s doing outside. If it’s cold and wet, I’ll cook. If we get some glorious autumn sunshine at the weekends, I’ll put in something that can slowly bake while I head out and kick through the leaves.

October, November – it’s good to have you back.

So, I was going to write stuff, yeah…

And I’ve got a whole of host posts in my draft folder to prove it.

But then:

1. I got very busy with work.

2. I’ve been feeling a bit run down and not great.

3. I finally had the root canal done. This morning. Thank God for neurofen.

4. Tonight was provisionally pencilled in to do household chores, relaxing and blogging. But then a friend of mine mentioned her new flat didn’t have a working cooker.

If there’s one piece of pain I truly feel after spending three months with a barely functioning Baby Belling, it’s being without cooking space.

Which meant tonight turned into an lovely impromptu dinner party, where the star of the show were Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Guinness and Walnut Dark Chocolate Brownies.

God, I can sill taste them now.

For main course were peppers stuffed with courgette and lemon and coriander couscous, which are ridiculously simple to make. Chop off the top of your pepper and core. Brush down your peppers with olive oil and coriander and stick them in a pre-heated 200 Celcius oven for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small bit of water (I’m not great with measurements or terms. Some, a bit and lots are about as far as I go) in a saucepan throw in just over 100g of couscous, with a bit of butter and chopped coriander.  Squeeze in juice from a lemon and a dash of olive oil, stir, cover and let it simmer until the cous cous has absorbed the fluid.

Dice a small amount of courgette and chop a couple of medium size garlic cloves. Take your peppers out of the oven and spoon in the couscous. When the pepper is half full, put a layer of courgette and garlic across and spoon more couscous on top.

Put back in the oven for another 7-10 minutes (or until the betters start turning seriously black at the edges). Take out and serve with salad.

Now you can see why I’ve not managed to write anything coherent tonight.

Devonly good nosh

If you’re the type of chap, or lady, who reads newspapers you’ll be aware of something called the credit crunch. If you’ve not come across this catchy piece of alliteration before, essentially it means there’s less cash floating around so we all have to recycle our socks, make do with stickyback plastic rather than gaffer tape, use cardboard boxes for shoes, give up at least one child for adoption (or else risk them getting repossessed) and take our holidays in Blighty.

I’ve just booked my first holiday abroad for around ten years. I clearly don’t read newspapers enough.

But while I’m busying myself saving money by attempting to make a guide book out of string, let me throw the recommendation of Devon for a holiday at you. It’s rather picturesque, the locals aren’t as backwards as some would make out, and generally it’s all a bit pleasant.

And having grown up there – and returned for a brief period of time – it’s safe to say there’s a great variety of restaurants around the county. And if there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s social media food. Really good food.

Should you find yourself in God’s own county, here’s a few recommendations – all sampled, and returned to, lovingly, over the years.

 

Harry’s

86 Longbrook Street, Exeter

As a teenager in Devon’s capital city, Harry’s was viewed as the height of sophistication. It was where you took a girl if you wanted to impress her without going overboard on price or poshness, and if things didn’t go well, at least you knew you’d always have a good meal. It was also close to a few pubs that never checked ID, which was an added bonus.

Fast forward to today, and my tastes may have changed since those teenage years but Harry’s still remains a favourite. It won’t break the bank, the portions are generous, the service is friendly and the food is first class.

The menu benefits from a wide range of familiar meals from around the world that sound simple on paper but are a world away from standard pub grub. The burgers – which include Ostrich – and most meat dishes come from local producers and are completely traceable, while there’s a comfort food for every fussy eater.

The pizzas tingle with flavour, the Mexican dishes are a cut above your standard tequila-joint and the salads are enough to tempt away any hardened steak-lover. For dessert, there’s Harry’s Heart Attack, which my friend Jemma refers to as Harry’s Heart Breaker – essentially a dish that’s ideal to leave your girlfriend with after you’ve split up with her over the main course. Chocolate brownies, marshmallows, chocolate and vanilla ice-cream, flakes, fudge and hot chocolate sauce all together in one huge glass. Four of us couldn’t finish one.

Harry’s also has celebrity connections. During his time at Exeter University, Will Young worked as a waiter in the restaurant and we were once lucky enough to be serviced by the singer, although in a strictly gastronomic sense only.

 

The Cricket Inn

Beesands, Kingsbridge

The first sign that we’d stumbled upon something quite special was when my mother – a notoriously fussy eater – announced that she could eat practically everything on the menu. And faced with a blackboard of fresh, locally caught fish dishes that made your tastebuds salivate just reading the description, it was difficult to argue.

The family had picked a gloriously Sunny Devon day – the type that makes you never want to leave the county – to explore the coastal paths around Start Port, one of the most southerly points in Devon. The plan was to wonder up to a nearby hotel, grab a spot of lunch and wander back, except the hotel was closed, so we decided to take advantage of the fantastic weather to walk until we reached food. The Cricket Inn was food.

The bar menu, listed on their website, was tempting enough. But it was the specials board with fish pancakes, fisherman’s pie, salmon, bream, bass, scallops and mackerel that was just too good to resist. Even my father – no great lover of seafood, unless it’s beer-battered cod and chips – conceeded it would be a shame to pass on the temptations of the menu and ordered what he proclaimed to be some of the best mackerel he’d ever tasted in his life.

Sat on the seafront tables, the fisherman’s pie was no less beguiling, with a creamy sauce that melted in your mouth and a real sea-freshness in the taste, while the seafood pancake – with prawns, cod, scallops and crab in a creamy sauce – got a rave review from my mother.

Quite how you get to The Cricket Inn is another question, given the surrounding roads barely fitted a Citroen ZX down them, and road-signs are few and far between. Just find a place to dump the car, and walk to build up the necessary appetite that will do justice to such perfect seafood.

 

al-Farid

3 Cathedral Yard, Exeter

Apologies, if I may, for starting with a spot of name dropping. At an event launch I blagged my way into was sent to cover during my days as a journalist, the audience got to take part in a general food Q&A with Michellin-starred chef Michael Caines, after his treated us to a mouth-watering cookery demonstration.

During the discussion Michael (if I’m name dropping, I may as well use first-name terms here) expressed his disappointment that Exeter’s new multi-million pound shopping development, Princesshay, was packed with chain restaurants.

Casting around, he has a point. Ubiquitous stomach-roulette chain Nandos has an obligatory presence, Wagamama’s is inevitably there, while Strada, Cafe Rouge and La Tasca are a decent class of chain restaurant, but ones I can visit wherever I am in the UK. Perhaps the police may wish to consider it as a theory for the failed bombing of the Giraffe chain – militant foodies resort to extreme action in middle-class shopping centre.

Princesshay is impressive and smart enough to warrant several seriously good mid-to-high end restaurants, but it’s to a much older part of Exeter – the Cathedral Green – that anybody after a good meal should turn to. 

Assuming you’re not planning on stopping by Caines’s own Abode restaurant at the Royal Clarence Hotel (which, in fairness, does a very reasonable and mouthwatering lunch menu), then al-Farid on the other side of the green is a treasure worth exploring. There’s the option of a more formal dining setting upstairs, but to get the true flavour of this Moroccan, perching on one of the many poofs or sofas while picking at their meze menu is the way forward.

Many of the meat dishes were scoffed without a second thought, while I very nearly decided to eat nothing but their humus and flatbread had the other dishes not looked so tempting. The cous cous and tabuoleh was spot on, while the stuffed filo rolls were so tasty, we ordered several more rounds before our bellies could take no more, and the waiter bagged up the remainder for lunch the next day.

The plan was to hit a club after the meal, but none of us could move and after a very slow amble towards a bar, two drinks were enough to send almost all of us off to sleep while all around us got down to a loud and vibrant jazz band.

 

The Duke of York

Iddesleigh, nr. Winkeigh

A confession: as a child, later a teenager, predictably I was embarrassed by my parents, regardless of whether the embarrassment was merited or not. I have now, however, learnt to live with and appreciate my father’s hobby of Morris Dancing. This was, also predictably, not the case when I was younger.

There are memories – still scarred into my conciousness – of being dressed up in Morris kit as a young child in the centre of Exeter whilst classmates stood looking in open disbelief. It was not something a ten-year-old easily lives down; it was kept quiet at my next school.

But there were not-so-hidden upsides, mainly the pubs. My father has probably visited the majority of country pubs in the county with a younger version of myself in tow. At first, there was reluctance, but once I realised Morris Men usually got free food after dancing, my protests became as much of a show as the Upton-Upon-Severn stick dance.

The Duke of York was one pub I would never dream about protesting, pseudo or otherwise, about visiting. Iddesleigh may be a tiny village a way of the beaten track, but the fact the pub is packed most lunchtimes and evenings is a testament to its qualities.

It is what you would call a proper pub. It retains a homely glow all throughout the cosy, if a tad cramped, bar, which comes complete with a low beam and a dartboard that nobody can ever get to. The service is unfailingly friendly and if you close your eyes, you can quite easily picture yourself in a BBC period drama, alas minus the corsets.

When the Morris Men danced, the landlord, Jamie, would bring out a steaming vat of one of the most delicious curries I’ve ever tasted in my life. We’ve returned many a time, with no bells or hankies attached to my father, for Sunday lunch. It is a lunch worth savouring.

As a pub expert, dad has had his fair share of Sunday roasts and this one ranks near the very top. Their vegetarian options vary, but are always inventive and highly edible. I would mention the desserts, but I may start salivating and I don’t want to dribble on my Mac.

 

21 Cathedral Yard

Go on, guess the address in Exeter.

One of the welcome additions to Exeter’s cultural scene over the past decade has been the establishment of the annual Exeter food festival, largely instigated by Michael Caines. Around this event comes a week or so of restaurant offers to tempt the travelling foodie into an extended Devon break. And the oiks like me who gaze longingly into the expensive restaurants but may need to amputate a limb and donate to medical science before I could afford meals on a regular basis.

You may have guessed by now that 21 Cathedral Yard isn’t cheap, although during the day it functions as a much more affordable cafe. Evenings are a much more expensive proposition, especially for an underpaid journalist and his low-earning friends.

But if there’s enough loose change rattling around your sofa, Andrew Shortman’s minimally-decorated restaurant is worth a visit. Exeter Cathedral makes a stunning backdrop and the service is some of the friendliest – and most patient – I’ve come across. The food is a bit better than not bad either.

The menu’s changed slightly since my visit, but the layered vegetables and goats cheese sticks in the memory, while the fish looked as if it had been lifted straight from the cover of a glossy Sunday broadsheet food supplement and, according to reports, tasted even better.

But the real praise was reserved for the duck breast. Months after the meal, just a passing mention of the bird was enough to send all who ate it into near-orgasmic raptures. Tender to the point of melting on your tongue, came one description, while another was just limited to a small moan of delight.

If Harry’s was the place to go to impress a potential date, then on the basis of this meal, 21 Cathedral Yard should be a foregone conclusion for a marathon 8-hour sex romp, probably involving cream, strawberries and champagne, that only exists in Hollywood melodrama.

Who needs Viagra when you have duck breast with cassis berry sauce?

The world may not have stopped for tea. I did.

Saturday, and I headed to Fortnum and Mason for a global teaparty, of sorts. The idea started from the Facebook Group A Cup of Tea Solves Everything, where one of two of the members suggested it might be quite nice to get together to drink tea in London.

This duly expand the original remit, when several more members said they couldn’t make it but would raise a cuppa at 4pm, the time of the tea-meet. This then expanded further to the idea of a global rolling tea party, where everybody on the group had a cup of tea at 4pm, local time.

I then blogged about it (and I suspect a couple of other people did too) and before I knew it, there were links and comments and searches coming left right and centre about the idea of a global rolling tea party. Something that started as a small idea on Facebook and grown beyond what could ever be imagined.

The Fortnum’s meet-up may not have been well-populated, but judging from the comments on Facebook, plenty of others had a cuppa at 4pm. It was, though, a very pleasant afternoon on my part (when is drinking tea not a pleasant way to spend an afternoon) and a range of topics were discussed, one of which was the Global Tea Party Mark II.

The idea was reasonably simple – if a little bit of chatter had spread around the world just from a simple Facebook suggestion and a few blogs, why not have a worldwide rolling tea party to raise money for charity. Macmillan Cancer have the world’s largest coffee morning, so why not have a worldwide tea party?

Ok, so there’s still a lot to be thought of – which charity, publicity, logistics, etc – but it’s such a, well, nice idea that it may well happen.

And if it does… well, that’s just from one small idea in one even smaller corner of the internet.

Sometimes a small idea is all you need.

[Just before anybody thinks I’m getting all posh and London on you, the meetup was organised for Fortnums, a place I’d normally be too terrified and poor to go into. But it’s all rather nice, and very pleasant and enjoyable. The kind of place you’d take your mum if she came to visit. That is to say, I now have another idea of the list of places to take my mother if she comes to visit me. She likes a good cuppa even more than me.]

Tea goes Web 2.0

This is one of the reasons why I love the internet. A while ago, somebody on the A Cup of Tea Solves Everything Facebook group proposed members meet up for afternoon tea in London. Somebody else then proposed a rolling global tea party for those who couldn’t get to London, and indeed didn’t even live in the UK.

So, I blogged about it because it seemed like a rather lovely idea and, frankly, any excuse for a good cuppa. Since then, I seem to have weekly inbound links coming in from a variety of blogs around the world, all highlighting the worldwide tea party.

Now as the date – June 28th – approaches, I’m getting even more hits on my original blog post as people look to find out more information.

What I find rather lovely about all this, is all started from one person’s suggestion on an active Facebook community and now seems to have gone far larger than anybody could have predicted. One person’s already taking about it raise money for the victims of the Burma cyclone.

Even a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. And it’s why I love social media and Web 2.0 tools. Nothing was done to promote it, it’s just taken a life of its own.

So, if you’ve come her for info on the global tea party, the Facebook group and the two original threads are the best places to find out more.

And after all that, I need a cup of tea.

We interrupt this blog for a quick broadcast by your local garden centre

My mother would have been so proud. A few weeks ago, I strimmed my back garden (no, that’s not a euphemism). According to housemates, it hadn’t been touched for about a year and, during that time, may have been home to an ecosystem of ultra-tiny people.

But no longer.

After stepping out into the back garden and finding the grass and other miscellaneous green objects coming up to my knees, the strimmer was removed from hibernation and about three-quarters of the garden was culled before I ran out of strimmer wire. I may have committed genocide in the process, I’m not sure. I’m now committed to a summer-long programme of strim ‘n’ mow. Frankly, I’m paying more attention to my back garden (I said quiet at the back) than I am to my gym programme.

Anyway, my mother. Both parents have always been green-fingered – my dad has a significant vegetable plot while my mother can name just about every flower ever discovered. Their garden in Devon is the model of sustainability and colour. To be honest, if there was ever a nuclear apocalypse I’m moving back to the countryside, as I won’t die of starvation.

Well, that and the fact I’d have no real use in a post-nuclear apocalyptic society. “What can you do?” “I’m good with Web 2.0 stuff and I can string a sentence together.” “We have no internet now and sentences are not necessary. You will be eaten so we can survive.”

You can see why I’d move back to Devon. I don’t want to get eaten.

Anyway, my parents. They’ve always tried to gently push me towards horticulture but I’ve so far resisted. It’s taken my back garden turning into the amazon rainforest to get me to this stage.

Once I put the strimmer down (and if you want a way to inwardly reassert your masculinity, I can recommend it) I surveyed my wreckage kingdom work and thought to myself: “If, in the unlikely even I ever earn enough to buy a house in London, I’d like to do a bit of work on this. Make it…. habitable.”

And lo, in front of my eyes, there was a bit more patio (or patio without grass growing out the middle), the whole garden was landscaped and there were beds with flowers that my mother would probably know the name of, and on the other side a few herbs and some lettuces and other vegetables that I don’t know how to grow and would, in all probability, kill before they had a chance to grow.

Actually, I’ve talked about growing a lettuce before so it’s not the strangest idea that’s come out of my head in the past twelve months. That would be the idea of Celebrity Dogs on Ice developed by myself and my old housemate.

But this time… this time, I may actually go through with it. I’d quite like a nice garden, and I’d like to try and be a bit more self-sustaining, even if that’s only growing lettuces for the occasional egg sarnie, and corriander, and maybe a bit of rosemary.

But there’s one small snag to my plan for garden domination. Or rather six snags.

For as long as I’ve been living in this house, we’ve shared it with a fox. As foxes go, it won’t win any competitions, but we didn’t bother it and it didn’t bother us, which suited everybody. But, as with so many of these comfortable domestic arrangements, the issue of sex eventually caused friction.

Yes, the fox got itself a boyfriend or girlfriend and now our garden is home to four fox cubs. They’re four very cute fox cubs, but I’m not entirely over the moon at sharing my garden and the potential lettuce patch with four cute fox cubs and their mum and dad.

Thus far my options, as far as internet research goes, appear to be limited. The three most popular options appear to be shooting it, calling in the local hunt (which I’m sure would go down well in a terraced street) and pissing in your own garden to repel the fox. My neighbours already think I’m strange. I don’t want to give them further ammunition.

So, we’re currently in a stand off. The fox family on one side and me and my nonexistent lettuce patch on the other. At the moment there’s no clear winner.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com