Dear readers, I can only apologise for the particularly sporadic nature of my blogging of late.
The past two weeks have been preoccupied with getting married and honeymooning. And the few months leading up to that were preoccupied with, well, organising the ‘getting married’ part …as well as my Reader’s Digest column, Fish on Friday, Great British Chefs, a toe dipped into semiotics (fascinating!), catering work, more freelance writing, a “research” trip to India and all the other wonderful things my days seem to so quickly fill up with…
My work-related food adventures have, unsurprisingly, been interspersed with non-work-related food adventures too : brining lambs’ tongues, learning to construct a wedding cake, scallop and bacon sandwiches at Billingsgate, Maggie Beer’s verjuice demonstration, procuring a smoked eel under the Haggerston archway, being a judge for the Olive It competition, and a particularly memorable chicken and sweetcorn soup which I never wrote down the recipe for…
It’s always the way. I mean g to write everything up, but I’ve let things slip. Something I’ll endeavour to put right over the next couple of weeks. As is often the way though, the trickiest part is working out where to start.
So I shall begin with something simple. Miso soup. There are two reasons I’m starting with this. Firstly, because after honeymooning at a hotel which allowed me (or, should I say, ‘challenged me’…) to eat as much ice cream as I wanted between 7am-7pm, a simple lunch felt like a good idea today. And secondly, because in the lead up to the wedding, I’ve been travelling from London to my parents’ home near Market Harborough with increased frequency, which has revived a favourite bugbear: East Midlands Trains.
When I first started making the journey with some regularity eight years ago, it was expensive. But when I outgrew my Young Person’s Railcard, it became extortionate. It’s difficult to describe £69 for 55 minutes any other way. Especially when those 55 minutes are usually spent with my head in another commuter’s armpit round the train toilets – where every whirr of the electric bathroom door wafts new waves of pungent air into the rammed corridor. A seat on an East Midlands trains is a rarity. Aggravating in many ways. But particularly when the trains are made up of eight empty first class carriages (£86.50/seat) and two paupers’ carriages where tickets for a seat really don’t get you a seat at all.
There used to be something that sweetened the journey though. Tea. Many years ago, some cunning East Midlands execs realised that the 4p cost of a disposable cardboard cup, the 1.5p cost of a teabag, and the nominal cost of hot water was enough to placate the vast majority of British commuters. It certainly worked with me. You could put me on the smelliest, most packed train of sniffing and hawking commuters, stuck outside Bedford because of a leaf on the line … and I swear that you’d still be able to see an eerie calm wash over me if you put a cup of tea in my hands. Sadly, about four years ago, greed got the better of East Midlands, and they clawed back that 5p per ticket, and stopped ‘complimentary’ tea.
If you thought that was enough to prevent me from at least attempting to get my ‘complimentary’ tea though, you’d be wrong. Hell, with 55 minutes to kill and no seat, in a pitiful act of rebellion I make it my business to always board an East Midlands train with a stash of teabags, and revel in creating a minor insurgency in the buffet cart trying to wangle a cup of hot water. Pathetic, I know, but a cup of tea is £2! Not only that, but on last asking, a cup of hot water is now also £2 – (and no, I can’t “get a 2p discount” if I leave the teabag).
At this point, a more sane person would give up. But no, not I. Instead, I decided to go bigger than tea, and on my last journey, I used hot water to make an entire lunch. On being refused hot water by East Midlands Trains, I smuggled a stowaway cup of hot water onto the train from a station platform cafe. Watching the East Midlands countryside whirring past, I enjoyed a miso soup lunch…made all the more delightful by the angry glare from the coffee trolley lady who had, earlier, tried to charge me for the hot water.
Now that I am all grown up and a married woman, I think I’d better stop point-scoring. But I refuse to give in and buy a £2 cup of hot water. Instead, I think I’ll just invest in a thermos.
Stowaway Miso Soup
1 small carrot, cut into thin batons (4p)
1 spring onion, sliced (6p)
1 tsp miso paste (10p)
1 tsp dried seaweed (4p)
1 tsp sesame seeds (4p)
1 cup of hot water (price dependent on humanity of rail line, or ownership of a thermos).
1. Put all of the above ingredients, except for the hot water, into a tupperware, sealed plastic cup or empty thermos.
2. Procure hot water by whatever means possible.
3. When ready to enjoy your lunch, make sure it’s within clear view of somebody who has tried to charge you £2 for a cup of hot water. Pour free hot water over the miso, spring onion, carrot, seaweed and sesame seeds. Stir and enjoy.
– When possible, save the small fish-shaped bottles of soy from sushi boxes, and bring them along to your train picnic too.
– If you’re the type of person who has dashi powder in their store cupboard, then add a pinch of that to the tupperware box, for extra deliciousness.
– I can highly recommend the Hikari instant miso soups for ease and cheapness (available at Longdan/the Japan Centre etc., around 40p/serving). Each serving consists of two little sachets – one containing miso paste, and the other containing dehydrated garnishes – seaweed, tofu, spring onions, bonito etc. Keep a stash of these in your handbag for emergency, train-based situations.