The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 11

This week: short things, fake bands and two things which end up buried. Must crack on, busy weekend, got a lady to spoil.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Gift Of Salt

Joe is always trying to give me stuff. He is a generous and sweet-natured soul, and I cherish our relationship—even though it feels like I’m taking advantage. Over the years, he’s given me a beautiful tech-useful messenger bag, a set of quite useful kitchen knives, several bottles of seriously good bourbon. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve them—or him, for that matter.

On our last visit up to the Midlands to see him and TLC’s mum, he wanted to give me some salt. Bog standard, bulk-buy free-flow salt. The sort that comes in 750g containers the shape of which, if cast in steel, you could load into a howitzer and fire at the enemy.

Of course, I turned him down. Partly out of embarrassment at always being the taker, but come on, seriously. Why should I, a man of culinary taste and refined manners, allow horrible basic salt within a country mile of the hallowed ground that is my kitchen?

I have plenty of good salt. I love my salt. I am by birth an Essex boy, so there’s usually a box of Maldon’s finest on the counter. A current favourite is Sal de Portugal, a flaky soft salt in a sweet ceramic pinch pot. That, along with most of my saline solutions, comes from the savvy cook’s best kept secret—TK Maxx. If you need Himalayan pink salt, there are groaning shelf-fulls of the stuff. Then there’s the fancy blends and mixes the collector in me can’t resist. Old Bay seasoning, Montreal Steak blend, the stuff I make from dried mushrooms blended with Maldon and just a touch of MSG (which is something for a whole other blog post).

Salt is vital. You need a gram of it a day to live. It’s the first word in the title of Samin Nosrat’s bible of kitchen essentials. One of the worst crimes you can commit in Masterchef or Great British Menu is to under-season your food. One of the reasons restaurant food tastes so good? Much more salt than you’d consider feasible. OK, far too much butter and cream too, but good food needs a heavy hand with the salt pig.

Once upon a long ago, salt was so important that ownership of a decent stash was a sign of wealth and status. At the lord’s table, your place in the pecking order was predicated by where you were sitting in relation to the salt bowl, which was normally in the middle. If you were below the salt, you were on the same level of importance as livestock. Which brings back a childhood memory of an old Steeleye Span album my parents used to play regularly.

The salt at the lord’s table had value which was reflected in the work required to get it in that bowl. Similarly, my Maldon and Sal de Portugal costs much more than Joe’s howitzer-shell of salinity. But much of that cost nowadays comes down to processing and, let’s be frank, marketing. We expect to pay more for fancy salt in fancy packaging. Fundamentally, though, they are chemically identical to the stuff I throw in the dish-washer and water-softener. It’s all sodium chloride.

I was, as I hope some of you have realised already, not just being a snob when I refused Joe’s offer. I was an idiot. Why on earth should I use fancy finishing salts for every seasoning job in the kitchen? It’s wasteful and expensive.

If I want to build a dough for salt-crust baking a celeriac, some lamb or a whole sea bass, the free-flow stuff is fine. I could use piles of it to prop up delicate, wobbly items like oysters for a blast under the grill. Or for salting pasta water, ffs. In a worst case scenario, it would come in handy to de-ice the slippery bit by the front door. Whatever happened, I would be better off with the salt than without it.

Therefore, two minutes after turning down Joe’s offer, I came to my senses, humbly apologised and asked if it was still on the table. Fortunately, Joe was more of a gentleman than I had been. I accepted his gift with thanks. Then I made a promise not be such a moron in future.

The lesson to take from all this? Firstly and most importantly, get over yourself. Don’t assume you’re better than the gift. Chances are, it’s offered with love. You should never turn your back on that.

All ingredients have a purpose. It’s down to you, as a cook, to find what that may be. Stress-test your assumptions and prejudices. Don’t sneer at the basics. Play. Explore. Enjoy. Your food and your cookery will be all the better for it.


The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 10

There’s a vicious scrape on the back of my right hand. We bought a new aluminium growhouse for seeds and seedlings, which arrived last week. It’s very smart but of course, I have to put it together. Big boy Meccano. Fiddly but fun. Less so when you run the sharp edge of one of the struts across your paw while getting it out of its box. Not the best of starts.

Still, the gouge is healing nicely—recovery would be quicker if it wasn’t in a place where I can’t help but fiddle with it. And the growhouse is only half built. It’ll be worth it in the end. The best projects need a small injection of work, swearing and a smear of blood-sacrifice to the gods of construction.

Also, I look double-hard now.

In this chapter—ruminations on snacks and leftovers and more than the usual amount of whinging about getting old.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 9

I am the worst haggler in the world. The traders in the Moroccan souks would have a field day with me. A lamb amongst lions. So when I was forced by the threat of a big rate hike to call my broadband supplier and negotiate a better deal, panic was my default setting. Hate phones. Hate haggling. What could go right?

People, with the upcoming bill-bump coming in April, now is the time to give your supplier a ring. If Virgin were anything to go by, they want you to call. Hell, while I was on hold they were already offering discounts. Twenty minutes of idle chat and no pressure cut my bills by 25% for the year. I’d feel proud if I didn’t honestly believe I had nothing to do with it but pick up the phone.

There’s probably a lesson here about embracing your fear and doing it anyway, but it would be crass and trite of me to do anything so obvious. I’ll take the smug points for making a positive contribution to the household budget, though.

This week: tots! Getting your tweak off! And let’s all enjoy the life and times of Big Larry.

Featured image via Dominic Wade.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 8

There’s something about this time of year which makes you want to just—get past it. If the only events to look forward to are Valentine’s Day and an excuse to have pancakes for tea, we could be excused for hibernating until National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day*. But there are quiet pleasures to be had. We planted a load of bulbs in our front border in the autumn, and now they’re poking their questing noses above ground sniffing for fresh air. Days are slowly lengthening, there are buds on the trees. I bought a few packets of seeds at the weekend for early planting. Cucumbers, radishes, might even see about some tomatoes. I can feel the motor of the world starting to run again.

In this chapter, which promises to be much less angry than last week—the crossroads, the dance, and the house which is a computer. Oh, and tea, because there’s always time for tea.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Featured image is part of the collection of concept art for Disney’s Robin Hood, by Ken Anderson. More here.

* 1st March.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 7

I had an invite this week to a potential college reunion, which has led to all sorts of conflicted ruminations. There are some friends from the course I’d like to see again, and others who I’ve unwittingly collaborated with professionally. The strangest thing is, folks are popping up on the inevitable WhatsApp group whose names and faces I honestly don’t recognise. That’s what 35 years will do for you, I guess. Images of Gross Pointe Blank are swimming around my head. Can you—should you—ever go back?

Food for thought while we consider the business of the day. In this chapter: Bond! Miyazaki! Buzz Aldrin! And an Outro which may (at the time of writing) not feature a major musical figure who’s died!

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 6

Valentine’s Day is looming, which for the sensible romantic means one thing–finding the best supermarket meal deal (preferably complete with wine) so you and your beloved can settle in for a quiet evening, shunning the scrum of amateurs who feel they have to be performative about a date night. If you’re a Co-op member there are some cracking choices for sixteen quid, I hear.

But before I don the silk undies and grip a rose between my teeth, there is the matter of this week’s Swipe to offload. For you, because I love you, enjoy some unusual architecture, The Books That Belong On The Shelf With No Name and some thoughts on happiness.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 5

And we blink, and it’s February. This time last week I was starting to twitch about the Reading Writers launch at Tutu’s in Palmer Park. Very happy to report it went off without a hitch. Stories were read. Wine was imbibed. Cakes and sandwiches just kept on coming. Fine times were had.

Now we have business to address. Saturday rolls around and there are links to be shared. This week—fonts! Bots made of spam! A big chunk of fiction! And several more! You know the deal by now.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

(featured image via @69Scars on Twitter).

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 4

Very excited. Today I’ll be spending the afternoon at Tutu’s Ethiopian Table in Palmer Park, Reading with my writing group pals, celebrating the launch of our latest anthology. The Three Bs takes as a theme the three industries which made Reading famous—beer, bulbs and biscuits. (There’s a Fourth B which also gets a mention). We’re very proud of the book, hence the meetup. There will be readings, cake and good times abundant. Late notice, I know, but if you can make it down to the park between 2 and 4 you’d be very welcome.

You can check The Three Bs out as an ebook or paperback here:

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

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The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 3

Plenty of long-reads in this week’s edition. It’s cold out. Stay with me, warm and cosy, snuggled up with a dense chunk of fun stuff to amble through.

Today: Minecraft! Milli Vanilli! Balkan Cosmology! And a magnificent sandwich! What more could you ask for?

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 3