Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A different kind of shopper

For the first time in my life today I entered and walked around a Waitrose. I knew what to expect in terms of the food -- the walls of roquette (rocket), abundance of locally sourced fruit and veg (it’s amazing what you can grow in the English winter these days) and rare-breed sausages (each with its own name). But I had overlooked the clientele.

I mean, the place is famously pricey so it wasn’t surprising to find a car park full of Mercedes and SUVs and a shop floor teeming with well-out-of-season tans. It was the expressions of disgust-in-waiting that these people were wearing as they pushed harassed through the empty aisles, however, that caught me unawares (the same one they wear on the street in preparation for the lonely cyclist, who they would rather see mangled before them in pile of twisted flesh and metal than share their pavement when the 2.63m cycle lane along side comes to an unexpected end in the middle of a busy dual carriageway). The women looked like Cruella De Vil on imaginary missions to out-buy each other, while the markedly fewer blokes were the bulging-belly-beneath-hand-made-shirt types in search of meat and bargain clarets. There were a few sandal wearers in amongst it too, but you had to look twice to notice them.

The contrast with my local Tesco couldn’t have been more rude, with a distinct lack of doughy midrift, nothing in the way of sickly sweet alcoholic sweat, no babbling Poles with baskets of battery eggs perusing own-brand forty-ouncers of vodka and, most sadly of all, not a single smile in the aisles. I could draw some crass conclusion from my trip that money can’t buy you happiness. But that’s just not true. These people were just as bothered as they always were, like I am, yet have perhaps bought-out the ability to reflect on this and have a good old laugh at themselves.

Going to a new supermarket is always an exciting experience, but one which is short-lived as it dawns on you just how much your diet and cooking is defined by powers outside your control.

Seeing as fish is pretty hard to come by at this time of year, however, I thought I would take advantage of the Waitrose fish counter by picking up a fillet of smoked haddock for a Cullen skink (bizarrely, the only other item the “fishmonger” had on display apart from some overpriced and far too old tuna loin was three rows sardines standing upright like miniature obelisks, frozen solid with their tails snipped for ease of insertion). And then, in all the excitement of flicking through the supermarket’s exceedingly glossy magazine, I went and left the bastard haddi at the checkout.

Angry with myself for not being able to present my family with a hot bowl of thick fish soup to counter the chilly January air, I decided instead to substitute the fish for the scraggy leek in the fridge and to make the best fucking leek & tattie soup the world has ever seen.

So I fried some thick bacon chunks with cross-sections of leek until they were good and brown and transferred them to a plate while I set some chopped leek and half an onion sweating in the pan and peeled four maris pipers and half an ex-festive parsnip for sweetness. Next went in a pint or two of aromatic veg stock. It may have looked like manky tap-water ice when I hacked up and threw large chunks of it into the pan, but once it started to melt it underwent a magical transformation to cloves, star anise, apple, leek, onion, celery, bay, parsley ….

Half an hour later I blitzed the lot into a silky smooth soup, slipped in the plate of leek and bacon and adjusted the seasoning (read: threw in an ungodly quantity of Maldon). It was tasty and wholesome, and the leeks had taken on a strong hint of peanut. We dressed it ourselves at the table from a bag of roquette and a small bottle of truffle oil, ate it mostly with our hands with hunks of crusty white bread, Nige-style. It would have been the greatest leek and tattie soup had I fucked-in some double cream too.

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