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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Holy Cow!

I've noticed lately that this is becoming an increasingly unusual sight round these parts.Plenty of sheep and beef cattle but a herd of Fresian dairy cows contentedly grazing lush pasture?
Wheels has recently completed two weeks work experience on a local dairy farm.
Our attendance at the farm for interview was required prior to commencement of employment.
The farmer showed us around the state of the art facilities which included a cosy TV room,boot room,office with a lot of technical equipment and THE COW SHED.
The stench hits you like a brick wall as you enter this building and sends you reeling,nostrils curling,eyes a watering.I tried to ignore my discomfort,trying not to breathe too deeply, nodding with interest as Farmer Giles explained the routine of the working day and expectations of any work experience student.
Namely:

1. Effort
2. Don't be afraid of the cows

As we looked around  it was explained that there were two identical cowsheds each housing 500 cows.
A huge fan blasted air around the building with stalls for the cows in uniform rows along each side and down the centre of the structure.

Self:When do the cows go outside?
Farmer:Oh (disappointment evident in voice)everyone asks that question..

It transpires that the cows never go outside.They are all tagged and monitored by computer.Farmer Giles informed us that keeping them inside enabled more efficient care,bedding was always clean, food and fresh water constantly available.They were also safe from any outside environmental infections.
Keeping a close eye on the herd also made it easier to identify through behavioural changes and temperature variance when individual cows were ready for 'bulling'.
Throughout this conversation Wheels was on the periphery listening to bits but more engaged with the animals,than the intricacies of the farming policy.
Farmer Giles informed me that the cows were happy.
As we drove away with our Health and Safety document and a list of required clothing which included the necessary waterproofs and wellies(no investment needed on that front, mandatory uniform for a Northumbrian winter),I asked Wheels if he was looking forward to the forthcoming experience of work.
Wheels:Yes,I'm not afraid of the cows,but why did the Farmer think I would be bullying them?
Self: What????
Wheels:Didn't you hear him say the reason they kept the cows in the shed was so they could monitor any bullying?

Sigh.Protracted conversation on the mechanics of bulling accompanied shortly afterwards by one very red young face.

As the work week progressed several things became apparent:

a.It didn't take long for Wheels to  become immune to the fug which hung around his persona (even after showering) like an invisible but deadly mist.Despite constant sibling interaction on the lines of 'you stink'  the retort 'its organic'implied an affectionate tone almost like the aroma had
become a cherished old friend.

b.Tuesdays were a good day as Farmer Giles wife baked Lemon drizzle cake and invited the lads to have a cup of tea around the Aga.

c.Wheels was actually very suited to the job.One morning his task was to identify(by their number tag) and isolate 5 individual animals from 500 identical looking cows.It took him 3 hours,he was quite proud of himself.


d.Working long days in a manual environment was tiring.On one occasion when I collected him he was barely able to converse.I commented 'its hard working long hours isn't it? Now you know how I feel'
The response:'You're an adult you can cope with it....'

On the Thursday afternoon he was quite animated,excitedly describing being shown the action of inserting ones arm up the cows jacksy to establish condition.Farmer Giles had then invited him to perform the procedure himself , he had willingly obliged.
Wheels:Farmer Giles gave me ten out of ten because I was the first work experience student they'd ever had who'd agreed to do it!

Self:(lips pursed, wincing visibly)Well done....!

Secretly I wondered if this had been a 'long stand' moment.

The rest of the afternoon had been spent with 'Dirty Dave' mucking out and hosing down the stalls.Quite an anti climax after the high point of the morning.
Uneasily,given his interaction with youths in the course of his work, I enquired why Dirty Dave was 'dirty'.
Dirty Dave being a seasoned professional performed the arm-cow-jacksy procedure without the benefit of the shoulder length glove.Following which he plunged his hand into the deep reaches of his overall pocket,producing a half eaten Terry's Chocolate Orange,greedily breaking a piece off and eating, prior to offering around,
Self:Did you take a piece????????
Wheels:NO of course not..

As we left the farm for the final time,I couldn't help but wonder.If the cows were happy inside,never to feel the sun on their backs or fresh morning dew under their feet,why were they all straining to get their heads out into the daylight?

And why has no one ever thought about marketing 'free range milk' ?
No offence to the farmer,making a profit from dairy farming is clearly a challenge, but though a simplistic view I'm inclined to believe that Cows belong in fields..
And whilst we're on the subject, why do we have to have homogenised milk?Why are we obsessed with making every product look uniform.?It actually might not even be very healthy and personally I liked the top of the milk..
Rant over.

ON a lighter note,these events reminded me of a trip to Southern Ireland a few years ago,where there were cows a plenty all over the place,including on the roads,in gardens and on one occasion in a pub.And tractors driven by juveniles and general disregard for Health and Safety rules.On one occasion a couple of children flagged down our car and told us to wait at the side of the road as some cows were being driven this way.After 5 minutes or so had passed and no sign of any cows,Chef set off to investigate.Moments later he reappeared red faced and running at a speed that  would surely have facilitated overtaking Usain Bolt.

At his heels were this lot,as you can see he was so fast the shutter speed failed to capture his image.
 I've never seen him move so fast.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Wheres my farking Chorizo??


Lately, its come to my attention that the line between a good and badly run establishment can be very fine indeed.
You see,Pubchef indisputably produces really tasty grub,yet his own business hadn't taken off.This puzzled me somewhat.
Over the course of the last few weeks I've had an inkling of a uncomfortable feeling that I might not be able to take a step back as was my initial intention,once the new business is up and running.Established.
We've introduced a simple menu of pubby type dishes at the New Pub,tasty but not overcomplicated.Decent ingredients,cooked with no undue fuss or unnecessary adornment.
Northumberland sausages with Chorizo and bean stew have been a good seller.Rustic and filling.Good for the farmers.
Last week I noticed that the new batch of stew which Pub chef had just cooked looked a little different.Slightly lighter in colour,a pale orange rather then the deep spicy red achieved when the chorizo releases it spicy oils..I commented. Pub-chef  was indifferent.
Later that night, following a reasonably busy service the final order of the night was checked on.As the sausages were dished up I noticed a different aroma emanating from the steaming bowl,it smelt slightly sweaty,fatty even,not the expected spicy whiff.
I investigated.
Self:Is that streaky bacon in the stew??
Pub Chef:Yes,yes it is.
Self:Why??
Pubchef:Because there was no Chorizo left.

Now if there's one ingredient fundamental to a Chorizo and bean stew (other than the beans of course) its the farking chorizo.
What is the point in putting Chorizo and Bean stew on your menu and then dishing up an imposter,a bacon and bean stew which bears no resemblance to the advertised dish??
Now in actual fact the bacon and bean stew was very tasty,there was nothing wrong with it as far as a bacon and bean stew went,but as a Chorizo and bean stew it undoubtedly fell short of expectations.
Self:Why didn't you tell me it was a bacon and bean stew and I could have written it on the menu as such.Now we've misled all the diners who've been searching belligerently and in vain through their food for promised Chorizo nirvana.
No response.
Pubchef is selectively deaf.

Later in the week pub-chef knocked up a gratin potato type dish with an additional ingredient: good old Cheddar cheese.It looked and tasted very good.
Later Ems came to check the spelling of Dauphinoise.
Self:Why do you want to know that?
Ems:To put it on the menu.
Self:Eh?We dont have any Dauphinoise potatoes.
At this point Pubchef chipped in:

Yes we do I've made some

Self:No you haven't, that's not Dauphinoise potatoes.
PubChef:Yes it is, in a round about way..
Self:No its not,put on the bloody menu what it is, there's no Dauphinoise potatoes without Gruy√®re and cream.Cheddar and milk does not a Dauphinoise make...

Surely its obvious that raising customer expectations in this way is asking for trouble?Anyone ordering a Dauphinoise is interested in the creamy fatty Gruyeresque decadence and is surely going to be disappointed when the dish falls short in the required ingredients?

You see the difference between a good and bad place can be very simple indeed.

Its attention to detail.

Last Thursday Pub chef went off on holiday,a cruise around the Med,no doubt looking forward to a break from my constant bossing him around vigilance and helpful suggestions.
We've had a really busy week at both pubs.
Part time Chef who lives in the village is working full time whilst Pub Chef is away.He's a bit of a dude,plays in a band and is encouragingly receptive to my helpful suggestions.He dodges around the kitchen in trendy Converse trainers.I was looking forward to the two week break and cessation of hostilities.
In fact this week was heading towards our busiest ever at the new pub with only Sunday lunch to go.
I love Sunday lunch service,its the easiest of the week(albeit the busiest) it has that Friday feeling,you know the one you get when you work normal hours?
I was just loading up my car having pilfered a few extra puds from the apprentices fridge at the Inn,when Chef appeared, phone in hand  'you've got a problem'..
The stoves had cut out at the New Pub in the height of Sunday lunch prep,roasts still in the oven and veg yet to be cooked.
By the time I arrived at the pub half an hour later it was obvious Sunday lunch was not going to happen.
Ems had to ring all the bookings(over 40- trade building up),and explain that we'd had an unforeseen equipment failure.The promise of free drinks for re booked tables softened the blow.Somewhat.
Part time Chef rescued the part cooked pork joints from the oven and took them home to finish the cooking.The beef remained deliciously rare..
We cobbled together a limited menu of starters and roast sandwiches,fish and chips(hurrah for the fryer),just in case any walk ins decided to stay despite the lack of a Sunday roast.
Blue Peter stove.

We found this little electric hot plate which was an absolute godsend and produced a hot soup and a couple of warm salads.
The kitchen had a war time feel,a keep the home fires burning in the face of adversity spirit,we were feeling quite proud of ourselves there was even a frisson of excitement when a table of six ordered.We even had a short sing song.
We managed to serve over 30 covers,we were buzzing....

Now you may be wondering what the problem was with the stoves.
If there's one thing fundamental to a fully functioning  kitchen other than a Chef and a stove,its fuel to run the stove.
Surprisingly,in country areas there is often no mains gas supply.Indeed,*some* kitchens operate with the assistance of bottled/tanked gas.
Of course in any well run establishment measures would be in place to ensure the status of the tank/bottles were monitored weekly to ensure an adequate supply was in place at all times.
Some would say it was the responsibility of the Chef to ensure that all equipment within his kitchen was serviceable and fully functioning.
In fact Pub-chef had commented to me only a couple of weeks earlier how embarrassing it would be for those cooking,should gas supplies to the kitchen run short...

That's one big fat detail to fail to notice.The words 'hoisted' and 'petard' spring to mind..
I might be in the corner for the foreseeable future

Serendipitously,a text arrived to my phone from Pub chef at 11.30am, just half an hour before Sunday service was due to start:
'Just enjoying a G & T on the deck,overlooking the bay at Cannes'

You don't think?? Nah he wouldn't....Would he??

Chef was not amused.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Public service announcement:Visit Northumberland.

Kielder Water is the biggest man made lake in Europe,construction began in the 70's and finished in 1982. It was widely accepted that the valley would take ten years to fill but in practise it took only two.Perhaps the planners were still suffering after affects of the heat stroke incurred during the long hot summer of 76..
Constructed initially to satisfy expected increased demand for water in a booming UK economy(a novel idea-got that one wrong too),its now also a major tourist venue attracting over a quarter of a million visitors each year enjoying the wide range of outdoor activities on offer.
Interestingly, Kielder is also the least light polluted place in Britain[citation needed, I've heard Chef mention this  but couldn't find corroboration on the interwebs,but I can confirm its very dark up here..]so if you fancy a bit of stargazing there's no better place,also there is an observatory so it must be a good spot.
Ooh and LOOK at this,it also has the freshest air in England,well it did in 2003.
Last Monday on the hottest day of the year so far,we flung our bye cycles  in the back of the pick up(it has its uses after all) and headed up to Kielder with the Chap for some fresh air and exercise.

Looking out over Kielder Water.Looks a bit gloomy but it was steaming hot.I find it quite an eerie place,strange to imagine that a whole village lies under this lake complete with station and church.
Plashetts station ,now submerged.
A few years ago the water levels dropped and some of the tips of the buildings were exposed.
Water levels adequate today
We followed the curve of the dam,some stunning views,great tracks for cyclists.



Looking down from the dam,this is the point where the river emerges.
The Chap was flaggin a bit by now,it was exceptionally humid.We wondered why he kept stopping and lying down on every available drain cover.Eventually we realised it was a valiant attempt to cool down in the pleasing updraught.Hes not daft,well it blew Marilyns skirt up didnt it?

Chef ended up carrying him under his arm..  he looked distressed.
Despite the quarter of a million visitors we didnt see a soul throughout our visit,well not until we arrived back at the car park.
There were a couple of seniors sitting in their Porsche doing the Times crossword, whilst tucking into some cream cakes.
Just as we got to the car Lady Senior emerged from the Porsche to dispose of her Marks and Sparks meringue box in the car park bin.
Unexpectedly The Chap went for her,luckily I managed to restrain him just in the nick of time.
I dont suppose I've told you about the Chaps' behavioural problems.
Hes just a pussycat really..

Well,I wouldnt really call them behavioural, more phobic.He has two phobias,the first is gentleman( or women) sporting facial hair,specifically moustaches.The second is TARTAN.If he happens to glimpse either of these two abominations the metamorphosis from cute friendly doggy to baying Hound of the Baskerville guardian of the Gates of Hell is a sight to behold.
Now Lady Senior being blissfully unaware of the Chaps' disposition had no qualms whatsoever in striding directly past wearing the nattiest pair of tartan trews ever.
In the commotion and in an attempt to salvage some plausible excuse for the Chaps' disgraceful behaviour I shouted:

'Im really sorry, its because he doesn't like your trousers..'

Which actually was intended as a statement of fact and in no way as a  personal insult or affront or indeed any opinion on the validity of the tartan trews(though personally I wouldnt have been seen dead in them).
Though admittedly,I could well have chosen my words more carefully.
Lady Senior looked angry.
Chef motioned the slice off your head by the neck with your hand action(shut it),then the head gesture to the car.
We beat a hasty retreat before further damage ensued.
Though had Lord Senior fancied giving chase to defend his Ladys' honour, I wouldn't have fancied our chances in the pick up...

Lunch
Not far from the reservoir is this lovely pub.We stopped for refreshment.


Its just as nice inside as it it out,cosy and traditional,unspoilt and in a stunning location.
As we approached the bar,the Chef came out from the kitchen and served our drinks.
We chose our lunch from a blackboard in the bar.
For me:A Ploughmans with local cheese.
Having noticed sirloin of beef on the menu Chef cheekily asked if he could have an off menu beef sandwich.
I pulled him up on this, reminding him of one of his favourite mantras:
'If they want to write the menu themselves, why dont they stay at home and cook it themselves'
Apparantly on this occasion it was permissable as 'the beef will have been left over from Sunday lunch and they'll be wanting rid of it'
We retired to an outside table to enjoy our drinks.
Ginger beer pour Moi,Fosters for Chef and a mineral water for  the Chap.
Self:Im really looking forward to my lunch
Chef:Whys that?
Self:Didnt you notice how clean and tidy the Chef was?Im going to be confident about eating his food.
Chef:Ah yes, definitely not a skiprat.

We both commented on how good menu the menu read and how we were spoilt for choice.
The food arrived.Cue Family fortunes wrong answer fail horns.

Ploughmans

Theres nothing actually wrong with this but the last time I saw a tomato cut like this was on my mothers buffet table in 1977.She used to painstakingly cut the tomatoes into crowns like this then scoop out the pulp,mix it with grated cheddar and chopped onions and refill the shell.
Stufffed tomatoes.
There was always way too much filling to fit back in.During the 70s everything had to emulate a Vol au Vent.You had no chance of getting onto a buffet table unless you were stuffed.Particulaly heinous were the hard boiled eggs with the yolk scooped out and then mixed with sardines in tomato sauce then forced back into the void,left on the buffet to develop a crusty skin.Otherwise known as bombs,for some reason they always ended up on the carpet...
Beef sandwich
The bread was compacted so flat that I wondered if our ex apprentice had found his way up here.

Theres a lesson to be learnt here,if youre not that great at cooking,BUY GOOD ingredients,then do as little as possible with them.The good local cheeses which I felt by passing my stomach and going straight to my thighs and the decent beef made this an ok lunch.
Perhaps Chefs' time would be better spent learning to make some home made chutney and simply cutting the tomatoes in half.

Chef said it was a nice menu but in practice poorly executed.

As we sat at the table I noticed an iron cross in view of the garden.

I sent Chef over for a closer look.A memorial for two German pilots who lost their lives here when their  bomber crashed during the war.

Chef summed with things up with typical brevity.
'The locals must be friendly'



We might go back next Monday.

Have you ever visited Northumberland?

Its not all about Lahndan you know..

POSTSCRIPT

Last weeks disappointing lunch reminded me of this place which we visited last year.Thought we'd pay it another visit yesterday to see if the Ploughman's was still as good.
There must be half a pound of cheese on there.
It was.Simply presented,a menu of twelve mainly local cheeses to choose from.Pickles,Branston(no reason why not) and a decent bit of bread.No time wasted on silly presentation which adds nothing to the dish.
If only they'd ditch the butter portions.

Home baked ham and cheese sandwich.
Ploughmans with 2 local cheeses.
Ham & cheese sandwich.
2 Packets of Tyrell's crisps.
1 pint Fosters
1 Appletiser.
Total Bill: £15.60

UNBELIEVABLE VALUE.

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