Monday, 29 February 2016

An Encona encounter



What did I get? A bottle of Encona Barbados Creole pepper sauce
How did I get it? Competition win from Encona
 

I love a bit of spice, me. Since wrapping my lips around my first curry sauce I have enjoyed the numbing feel of chilli on my lips.
My earliest Encona encounter (I'm pleased with that one, I'm having that for the title) was as a student some 23 years ago. I would scour the Asian cornershops near my Manchester digs looking for exciting tastes that I hadn't experienced growing up in my very English corner of Staffordshire.
Encona products are quite common now but it was then that I first found some West Indian hot pepper sauce. I've had several bottles since and it certainly is very, VERY hot.

My only problem with Encona sauces to date has been the vinegary smell and taste. It's too sharp to enjoy too much poured over chips or the like and in more than small quantities can quite change the taste of a chilli dish or similar. I was delighted to have won this competition and Encona offered me a choice from their range. The colour of this looked appealing so why not, I thought? The yellow colour suggested something a bit more subtle.

It's still a bit vinegary, but not as much as the original stuff.  I first tried it on a decent bacon and black pudding butty one Saturday morning. Vinegar doesn't go with bacon but this small amount added a bit of an extra kick to the black pudding.
My favourite use of this sauce was in mashed potato. Stirred in with butter it loses the acidity and added a peaky bit of bite to the creamy spuds - I really recommend this use. I had that with a couple of pork chops, lovely
.
It's a better bet than the original Encona sauce added as an ingredient to sauces, soups, pie fillings or chilli. The less acidic taste doesn't alter the flavour too much but it still packs a great punch on the tongue.
This weekend I tried it with a bit of cheese and salami on toast, my ten tear old boys joined me. They loved it! 
 
The bottles are only £1 - £1.50, so not a big layout to try. I think we might just have a go at a few others.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Glenfiddich and its position in the water cycle



What did I get? A 70cl bottle of Glenfiddich 12 year old single malt with a personalised label

Ooh! Sounds nice. How did you get that? A competition win from Nicholson's pubs

I could have reviewed this years ago, but I only won this bottle this month so I have to stick to the rules. I often look at single malts in the supermarket and wish I could afford to start a collection, I imagine each bottle sat on the top of my sideboard at home. This time I literally have a bottle with my name on it given away by Nicholson's pubs to celebrate Burns Night.



I love a drop of whisky. Like the classical music post earlier I'm not going to pretend I'm an expert on whisky either but I have spent a couple of decades enjoying it and I am married to a half-Scottish lassie who encourages my buying of it.
You can't go wrong with Glenfiddich.  I've known for some years that it's my lassie's favoured Scotch. I'll be honest, there are some I favour more but that's because of the quality of Speyside distilling. I've yet to find a bad one.


 "Never have whisky without water, and never have water without whisky"




The word 'whisky' is an anglicised spelling of the Gaelic word 'Uisge' or 'Uisce' depending on whether it's Scots Gaelic or Irish Gaelic - you'll have to do a bit of your own searching to learn that the 'Gaels' came from Ireland  to Scotland.
Even though, etymologically, this is water I take my scotch with a tiny splash of more water from the tap. Enough to break the surface but not to dilute the taste too much.  I'll take a sip to get the flavour of the drink on its own but that's as far as it goes.
I'm not a big fan of ice but a single cube will do if nothing else is available (Scotland's cold enough, they don't need a cold drink up there) and will only add dry ginger or soda to a blended whisky and even then if it's a cheapie that needs cheering up. There's no place for cola, lemonade or orange in scotch in my book, however cheap the blend.  My grandma liked a dram in her tea and it's something I sometimes resort to on a really cold day at my local football club. It is not recommended to add it to Bovril.

So how do I review something I've known is lovely for decades?  I asked 'oor lass' and she described it as smooth, mellow and delicious. I agree - it's certainly smooth. It's not 'peaty' like some but does have a flavour that's fuller than many single malts without the bitter bite at the back of the tongue you get from a blended whisky. A personalised label makes this a wonderful gift for a milestone birthday or as a keepsake for the birth of a child. 

Raymond Chandler did say that there are no bad whiskeys, only some that are better than others.  He wasn't talking about Scotch; the letter 'e' is added to Amercian whiskeys such as bourbon, and I guess this is through the Irish influence as Irish whiskey is spelled the same, whereas your Canadian shows their Scottish influence by using 'whisky'. I agree with Raymond though, it's horses for courses. If you drink enough then even the worst whisky can still bring a smile to the face (although you'll need the dry ginger for this if it's really bad). 

If you've been taken by this review and have decided to treat yourself to some Glenfiddich, or even if you're settled with a Scotch of an alternative variety,  I've created a Scottish playlist to listen along to while you're drinking . Slainte!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The valley that changed the world

Today's freebie? A look at Cromford Mills
How did I get that freebie? We kinda just went.

 The Derwent Valley in Derbyshire is a beautiful, scenic area that's always worthy of a trip out. It was here, in 1771, that Sir Richard Arkwright first used water power to operate his machinery and revolutionise the way cotton was processed. His manufactory was the start of a worldwide revolution to large scale processing, the results of which we now see all over the world.  Incredible to think that this mill was built in the same decade that James Cook was surveying the coast of the island that we now know as Australia.

The first employees were mostly women and children as young as seven. They had one week's holiday a year but weren't allowed to leave the village.


Entry to the mill complex is free. It'll cost you nowt to take the photos I took today. There is a free introduction and film at the museum and the rest of the tour of the museum requires payment. Still worthwhile, but that's not what this blog is about. There's still lots of information on boards dotted around and easy to get the atmosphere of this World Heritage site.

The buildings house a variety of workshops, shops and cafes. We enjoyed looking in the antique shop, showing the kids what different things did although they were mostly interested in giggling at the cheeky seaside postcard collection. There's a charity bric-a-brac shop which has a good collection of books. Books are a bit of a thing in our house, and we're lucky that all 3 kids enjoy them as much as we do.

A short walk from the mills is the old canal which took the processed cotton away on its journey back around the world. The world has always been mad. We took raw cotton from the other side of the world, brought it to Britain to process into cloth and thread, then sent it back to where it came from. The process made a few people VERY rich indeed, caused untold suffering and death to many poor folk and completely changed the way we live as people went from the equally difficult life on the land to the growing towns that had the work. As a result education, religion, culture and so many other elements of society were transformed by this Industrial Revolution.

Another short walk back to the peaceful little village with its pond, 18th Century hotel, tea shops, chippy and bookshop. We'll be certain to come back in the summer armed with a picnic.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Beethoven's 7th wasn't for the likes of us



What's the freebie? Beethoven : Symphony No. 7. Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

Where'd you get that, then? Free download with the Classic FM newsletter



I 've enjoyed classical music for a long time. I first felt stirrings in my late teens when I was at my most receptive to all new experiences and spent hours visiting art galleries, watching weird animations on Channel 4 and annoying my work colleagues by turning the radio to Radio 3 all the time. Some of it may have been pretentious effect and trying to shake off the perceived blandness of growing up in a white, protestant, working class former mining village. Most of it was genuine admiration and love for creativity and the beauty of recreating a feeling into another medium.
I recall my mom telling me that they never had classical music in their house when they were growing up in the fifties as, according to my grandma, "that isn't for the likes of us". Grandma's sisters all went into service and with a coal miner for a father and with a coal delivery lorry driver for a husband (my grandad) she was quite content with her place in the world. Music for Grandma when she was growing up would have been split between hymns from the Methodist hymn book and maybe the odd bit of big band music. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't all chapel and no fun. Grandma and Grandad were a laugh a minute and never stood in the way of mom going out with dad to dances and watching rock and roll bands around the West Midlands. I grew up with Grandma singing Elvis songs and she had a framed picture of him on her wall until her death just a few years ago.
The enjoyment of music is in my genes and I've sacred music in my collection that was written nearly a thousand years ago up to metal albums from this year. I've a lot of classical music in my collection and probably know a bit more than most of my close friends, but no way am I an expert. I'm the type of chap who can tell you what I think of a piece, how it makes me feel, possibly some facts about when it was written and why. What I can't tell you is anything about composition or whether this particular recording is better than the one by such and such. I'm not Inspector Morse.

Tell you what, I'm not going to read anything about this piece. I don't know if it has an alternative name that might give a clue to its inspiration such as 'Emperor', 'Eroica' or 'Pastoral'. I'll listen, take notes of the pictures in my mind and enjoy the music for music's sake.

Movement 1 is joyous. It smiles and skips along jauntily. This movement represents success, happiness and contentment. Probably a lad waking up and looking forward to the day ahead. He ablutes, dresses and sets off to face his day.

Movement 2 is slower. It's very mournful after the first movement. This is someone receiving bad news, unexpected bad news. Four minutes in and the tome becomes slightly more positive. Wipe away the tears, clench thy fists and up and at 'em. As God is my witness, I'll never be mournful again!
Movement 3 is confident and striding. All may not be right with the world but we can face it, we'll find away. The 2 - 3 minute period reminds me of the lad on a Grifter, flying through country lanes and
ascending a hill. The following minutes are him surveying his world below before gritting his teeth and flying down the other side of the hill. Whoa there boy, slow down! He does so, and then thinks about life ahead and how it's mostly going to be great but with sad moments. The world awaits, let's find a sensible way to get through it and achieve an acceptable work/life balance.

Movement 4 is also uplifting although more dramatic. Maybe something a bit more serious, it's fast paced wit h twiddly bits like someone working hard, concentrating and getting up a sweat but in a job they love. A cobbler. Or is it? Half way through comes a questioning piece. Oh no! Is it the boss? What's wrong? A to and from conversation follows that builds and I think at one point a tool is thrown. Oh dear, I think our hero has resigned from his job...or has he? Maybe he's decided he now knows enough to set up on his own. Yes, let's go with that.

So there you go. I think I've pretty much nailed what Beethoven was thinking about when composing this. It's about the joy of life but how that joy can only be achieved by having a pragmatic outlook and working hard to achieve what you want, not expecting it on a plate.
I'm not going to bother looking it up and seeing how close I am. If you are a scholar of music then do please comment below and confirm I'm right.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Aferim! - an everyday story of Wallachian folk



What did I get for nowt? Aferim! DVD
How did I do that then? Competition win from Eye for Film


I don't mind a bit of culture, me. I prefer switching off with a good comedy but there's something rewarding in fixing on a film that demands attention and concentration. I saved this freebie for such a moment and that moment arrived last Sunday. Our Nellie had the ironing board out and Vera on the telly so I popped in the earphones and slipped Aferim! into the laptop.
Aferim! is a Romanian (subtitled) film of 2015 that was entered the winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, which sounds like a big deal. I'm not a film buff.
Set in Wallachia (now part of Romania) in 1835 the film (black and white, that's how arty this is)  concerns Constantin, a constable, and his son as they set out to locate and capture a runaway gypsy slave who has stolen from the local boyar  - a type of lord.
Constandin is a pompous and idiotic man, probably barely educated but clever and experienced enough to rise to a position of enforcement in his community. An ex-soldier, he constantly passes on his 'wisdom' and outlook on life to his doting son. He reminds me very much of Don Quixote with his Sancho Panza following behind, spouting his philosophy as a series of facts.
On their journey looking for the slave they give us an interesting outlook on 19th century Wallachia and its harsh serfdom. Priests seem central to peasant life and enjoy a life that doesn't appear rich but certainly comfortable. Races and creeds are pigeon-holed throughout, particularly Jews and gypsies who don't fare well in Wallachian priests' opinions. The rich, the poor, the Turks, the French and even us English all get a mention - we're fair, apparently. Whether he meant in colour or judicially I'm not sure.
Slaves and gypsies have a god-awful life in this film. A hand to mouth existence and the first to get it in the neck when things go wrong. They point Constantin and son in the right direction to catch the slave who is eventually unearthed at a cottage being hidden by a weaver and he and a gypsy child are captured and the journey back begins. The constable, his son, the slave and the child share stories and conversations until their paths part. Eventually they reach the boyar - this chap
with his impressive headwear. Now we know why everyone is so poor, this chap has everything including peacocks in his house and that hat.
Life was cruel then, I wonder how far we have come?  Such cruelty is not generally accepted anywhere as a matter of life but hatred still exists and greater cruelty sadly still makes the news. I'd rather be in 21st century England than 19th Wallachia.
What can we learn from this film? Life was hard and everyone did what they needed to do to survive whether it be fishing all day, tracking fugitives for reward, selling their own bodies, selling kids into slavery and all finding ways to justify their actions. We learned nobody was nice to anyone else.
We learned not to fiddle around with the boyar's wife. Seriously, if you take one message from this film then make sure it's not to fiddle around with a boyar's wife.
If I were on IMDB I'd be ranking this film around the 7/10 mark. Deserving of its accolades and deep in conversations on the meaning of life. The final quarter passes by too quickly to make it a classic in my book and ends unsatisfactorily, but the plotline isn't the real point - it's the setting of eastern Europe of nearly 200 years ago and whether we can understand how Europe got to where it is now.


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Heavy, man.

What did I get? Black Magic LP by Brimstone Coven
How did I get it? Sent free for review by Subba Cultcha

This is a really heavy album by an occult-metal band. It harks right back to Black Sabbath in every way - music, lyrics - check out that video in my review on Subba Cultcha. I love a bit of heavy rock, me.

My full review is here.