Friday, 19 September 2014

Where Have Our Table Manners Gone?

The other day, the hubs and I decided to pop out to our local pub for something to eat together. It wasn't a particularly romantic occasion - we just fancied getting out of the house. And we were hungry. Our expectations weren't high. 

We bought ourselves a drink, ordered our lunch and took a table for two across from the bar. 

Two children - about two or three years old - were playing chase, about 2 metres away from us, around and underneath the other tables. Unfortunately for the servers, this was right in the way of where they deliver the food from the kitchen to the restaurant. They stepped over the giggling children, juggling with sizzling hot platters and stacked burgers. The two women with the kids said nothing, one even giving one of the staff a sideways glare for finally asking the children (very nicely) to move out of the way. 

And I thought to myself: "Crikey. My mum would have taken us outside and given us a right telling off if we'd done that. What happened?" 

When I go to restaurants, I look around and I see more of this. Customers raising their voices, getting angry with their server. Requesting outright that dishes be completely reconstructed to cater for their dietary requirements. Children playing in restaurants like it's the local park, while the parents eat quietly alone, at a table strewn with pasta, crushed breadsticks and rice. 

And it's not just me. The industry has seen a sharp rise in this so-called 'inconsiderate behaviour' over the last few years. 

One restaurant in New York compared tapes of their restaurant from 2004 and 2014 and discovered that 2014 diners took much longer to eat after wasting their time on mobile phones, having group photos taken and asking to be reseated. There are doubts as to the authenticity of this (are people really taking four minutes to take pictures of food for social media?) but I suppose what they're doing is capturing memories. 

Rudeness to the staff is another thing. One LA chef and restaurant owner proposed that "everyone should work in the service industry for at least one year. Then they’ll think twice about the next time they scream at the barista or the person behind the counter." I'm not sure forcing people to work in the restaurant industry - like a sort of foodie version of National Service - would work, but having worked for years in that industry it does make me more aware of my behaviour and the behaviour of my group when I do go out. I know that, once I've seated you all, if you're all having a laugh and still haven't decided what you want to eat after 25 minutes, that could be annoying. The chef here recognised that only a minority of customers were to blame, but complained that some thought they knew the food better than the chef and were caught swearing at the servers. I'm sad to say, I have seen that happen as well. 

And finally, research conducted by dating site found that people severely reduce their chance of Date Number Two if they eat noisily, update social media or take photographs of their dinners on a first date.

So what happened? Social media is, as I know only too well, very tempting. But how about taking a shot on your phone in 3-4 seconds and then putting it away, adding filters, cropping and uploading it to Instagram later? A few months ago, we decided to treat the girls to a meal out. We sat, waiting for the food to arrive, and I quickly decided to check my email. I looked up from my phone and saw my husband scrolling through his Facebook and the children staring blankly into space. We have a new rule: phones on silent and away while we go out to eat together. Now, we TALK while we wait for our meals to arrive. 

Eating at restaurants should be fun - but let's make it fun for everyone - no swearing, no shouting. Only limited mobile phone use - take a quick pic of your dinner if it's appropriate - but then put it away. And I'd suggest not doing it at all on a date, anniversary or special meal. Put your phones away. Smile at the staff. Enjoy the food, and look into the eyes of your dining companion as they talk to you over their rib-eye and chips. THAT'S how memories are made. 

What do you reckon? Are our table manners getting worse? Is social media to blame? 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Children's Favourite Chicken and Prawn Fried Rice

Bit of a wordy title, I know. 

But this is what we cook when the girls are hungry and I don't have much fresh food in the fridge. Like the day before the weekly shop for example. You just look about for some rice, a clove of garlic and some frozen peas and eggs - the rest you adapt with what you have available. 

I am usually lucky in that I have some prawns in the freezer somewhere and in the fridge some shredded chicken from a recent roast to chop up and chuck in, although you can throw in any leftover meat or veggies that you have. 

It's nicer than a Chinese from our takeaway and you can add in whatever your kids like - no soggy mushrooms if they don't like them or crunchy water chestnuts (my six year old thinks they're actually raw potatoes). You can also chuck in a handful of cashew nuts if you like, letting them brown a little in the oil before adding the garlic.

I love it because my children really enjoy it, and think it's a special treat dinner - and I get to take care of some leftovers at the same time. Booyah! 

Kids' Favourite Chicken and Prawn Fried Rice
Serves 2-3
half a cup of white Basmati rice (I usually measure in measuring cups when cooking rice, to avoid waste)
2 tsp cooking oil (olive, coconut, vegetable oil, etc)
1 clove of garlic
two handfuls of frozen peas/petits pois
one handful frozen, cooked prawns, run under old running water to defrost
handful of leftover roasted chicken, torn into pieces or chopped
2 eggs
slosh of light soy sauce (check the label if you're gluten-free)
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (if you have it) - check the label to ensure it's gluten free if needed
1-2 tsp sesame oil

Put the rice on to cook in boiling water until tender. Drain well. 
While the rice is cooking heat the oil in a large frying pan or work and grate in the garlic clove. Straight away, add the frozen peas and the prawns. Stir-fry, over a medium heat - not too fierce - for a few minutes until hot. 

Add the cooked chicken, stirring for 3-4 minutes and then beat the eggs and tip them in. Stir, so that the eggs cook evenly amongst the chicken and prawns and then tip in the drained rice. Stir to mix and then add the soy sauce, the Shaoxing rice wine and trickle in the sesame oil. Stir well, making sure everything's piping hot throughout. Serve in bowls, straight away. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Review of The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne

THIS was the book that those of us following the autoimmune protocol diet have been waiting for for months. True, Sarah published The Paleo Approach first - a very detailed book all about the origins of autoimmune disease, how what you eat can affect it, and which foods are potential triggers for autoimmune symptoms and why.

But THIS book was the one with all the recipes, which is what those on very restrictive diets crave. I bought mine, late one night, on my Kindle because I just couldn't wait any longer to get it delivered (I get impulsive like that, especially after 10pm). And my goodness was I pleasantly surprised.

The Paleo Approach Cookbook (affiliate link)

I thought there would just be recipes, and that The Paleo Approach would have been left to cover all the science/food trigger explanations, but I was really pleased to see the basics outlined here again too. There are lists on which foods you should eliminate in the first stages of the diet, with tips on which foods you might be able to reintroduce fine later on. There are also suggestions on tweaking recipes for FODMAPs. Sarah even sets out menu plans (separate ones for you guys watching your FODMAPs) and gives a lot of tips on batch cooking, storage of foods and how to do paleo on a budget. It's really so much more than 'just' a cookbook. 

All the recipes in the book are suitable for the first stages of the diet. I chose a few recipes to cook, and found them easy to follow, straightforward and written as if Sarah's standing next to you in the kitchen as you read. I like that. 

The first job was to make the fresh fig jam, which Sarah serves with her bacon and bison liver pâté, but I chose to serve alongside my own pork and bacon pâté that was waiting for me in the fridge. It was incredibly simple, and I used nice and ripe, sweet figs - but when I cooled the jam and served it the next day, I found it added a slight sweetness to the pâté - it wasn't as intensely rich as I thought it might be, in a dark, jammy way - it was actually quite light and took away the 'liver' flavour from the pâtè a little bit.

Pâté and Fresh Fig Jam

Next, came the sardine salad. For the record, up until this point, I struggled to eat sardines, always preferring the less oily, sweeter mackerel instead. My husband spoons them out from the tin and I have to look away. I diligently chopped up salad bits, made the dressing and placed the salad on the table, for lunch. It was very green, with lumps of sardine in a lemony, crunchy dressing. "Sardines are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat," chirps Sarah from inside my Kindle, adding that they're "an outstanding source of the heart-healthy nutrient Coenzyme Q10." Well. We dug in. I honestly have never enjoyed a fishy salad as much as this one. Sardines are awesome. I've stocked up my shopping list. The lemon, tarragon and parsley all cut the oiliness of the fish - and because you have finely chopped celery in there too, it disguises the soft crunch you get from the bones. It's one of those dishes you eat and it really does feel that it's doing your body so much good. Brilliant. 

Sardine Salad
I moved on to dinner, which was the sweet Italian sausage. Sarah advises on using pork, but I could only get turkey - but I must say the little burgers I made using the mixture were gorgeous. We ate them with some sweet potato chips and pan-fried courgette (zucchini) slices. These would be my first choice to eat cold, on the go or at a picnic. 

Sweet Italian (Turkey) Sausage

I still have a lot more recipes to work my way through (there are over 150 recipes in the book) - but I can see that there are a lot of dishes here I'll be adding to the weekly rota. You can tell that this book has taken a huge amount of work to complete. It's thoughtful, realistic (with money-saving tips too) and a fantastic resource. I'll be recommending this to anyone wanting to start with AIP or paleo as it will give you such a head-start. 


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