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Food & Wine

Toblerone Brexit changes trump US Election news – we did not vote for this!

Toblerone changes shape & weight

Toblerone trending on BBC news
Toblerone trending on BBC news, Twitter and elsewhere

On the day of the US election when Trump and Clinton should be trending, the American-owned formerly Swiss Toblerone has stolen their thunder as a trending topic on Twitter and the BBC. UK Consumers unwrapping the same size, same price packets this morning were greeted with a 10% or more drop in weight from 400g to 360g or 170g to 150g, but with the iconic mountain ranges trimmed to leave the chocolate peaks resembling a bicycle rack.

The triangular shape and peaks of the chocolate bar are believed to be representative of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, yet Theodor Tobler’s son claimed the inspiration came from the pyramid shape formed by Folies Bergères dancers at a show finale.

American-owned Toblerone changes
American-owned Toblerone reduces weight to avoid increasing price

It is not a tune, though, that British consumers are willing to dance to. Illinois-based Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods) took over the Swiss firm in 1990. It is Brexit, however, or rather the crash of the Pound-Dollar exchange rate that has forced the drastic cuts. In the last months Microsoft, Lenovo, Apple, Marmite and more, have announced price hikes of 10-22%.  Other US-based products, Walkers and Birds Eye, plan to raise prices too.

Before we blame Brexit for a subtle change also made by the now US owners of previously York-based Terry’s Chocolate Orange, they reduced the weight of the oranges from 175g down to 157g, on 29 May, three weeks before the EU Referendum. They did this, as with Toblerone, by leaving the packaging unchanged and hollowing out one side of each orange segment.

Is all this a metaphor for life, or indeed politics? Read the small print. Check the ingredients (Cadbury’s Creme Eggs switched to a cheaper chocolate mix). Beware fake packaging and reduced content. Who of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is more shiny wrapper than edible content? Personally, I find nearly everything Trump says unpalatable.

Just as with elections, there are also winners and losers in all change. The European Union may be about free trade between its members and negotiating deals with America and Canada outside it, but it can be quite protectionist elsewhere. Take the German coffee-roasting industry worth billions, in order to protect that, the EU slaps a 7.5% tariff on any roasted coffee exports from developing markets in Africa, accepting only raw beans on fair terms.

At the end of the day, whilst traditions and chocolate loyalty are peculiarly passionate debates, it is the political battles of Brexit (ongoing) and the American Presidential election (today) that will have longer lasting effects on our cultures than a mere change of confectionery. In the battle of Trump v Toblerone I’m hoping that both are losers – as I don’t like either!

Toblerone
Toblerone – There can only be one winner
Food & Wine

Safe Alcohol guidelines from Nanny State unlikely to change my Wine intake

New Safer Alcohol Guidelines

New “safe” alcohol guidelines from Nanny State have been drawn up, where “safe” means none, like a nun, more abstinence than absinthe. Beer takes a battering and wine is to be watered down. Livers up and down the country are leaping for joy!

Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse and Grill
Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse, as opposed to rarely drinking

I’ve always been a wine-drinker, but with food at the dinner table from an early age. It created a responsible drinking habit – again with the nun references!

I did try teetotalism for three months at University and pigged out on pizza instead. My partner is more into total-tea-ism.

I actually, never get drunk, well extremely rarely and unintentionally. I drink for pleasure and only with food, never to get drunk. I prefer to stay in control and able to appreciate the taste.

Tongue in Cheek Comment

Actually, all of this is tongue in cheek, wine sloshed around the palate stuff – I just hate being told what to do. Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer recommends a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine so expect a tax on tea sometime soon. Tea duty! Perhaps we should have a Boston Wine Party or a new political movement like the American Tea Party movement, the British Wine Party movement!

It all seems to be part of the austerity cuts and equalities agenda. Men’s drinking has been cut to the levels of women as it turns out male livers and female livers were not gendered at all and after several female livers took the UK Government to the European Court of Humourous Rights the Government out of spite decided to reduce men’s limits rather than raise female limits to an equal level.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy continues as Parliament is choosing to keep its bars open to serve more than the daily drinking allowance to MPs drunk on their own power.

It’s all clearly an anti-LGBT ploy (or conceivably out of concern for our health and wellbeing – which is an anagram of “binge well”) since it turns out LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to the more sober hetero/cis population!

A History of Safe Drinking Limits

1984 was a positive drinking utopia compared to now. That year saw the first guidance on gendered drinking produced in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit. Safe limits were defined as 18 “standard drinks” a week for men and 9 for women. At least we now have drinking equality! One standard drink was defined as one alcohol unit – a concept that would be introduced in the next edition. The pamphlet also defined “too much” alcohol as 56 standard drinks a week for men and 35 for women. 1987 saw these limits revised down to familiar 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, with “too much” defined as 36 units for men and 22 for women. That is until today where it has been revised down to zero units for safe drinking and 14 as a recommended maximum should you still feel the need.

BBC Booze Nationality Calculator

The BBC website has devoted public money to shaming us further with their online booze nationality calculator which clearly makes no allowance for sexuality as a factor.

French wine drinker - new alcohol guidelines
French wine drinker – new alcohol guidelines

You drink like you’re from France, which is the joint 18th heaviest-drinking country in the world…You are on course to drink about 20.7 litres of pure alcohol over the year, which is 25% more than the average for men in the United Kingdom, and 200% more than the average for women.”

It turns out either I’m French or a bisexual/lesbian British woman but not a gay man.

A Choice between Risk and Pleasure

Drinking more than 14 units *may* increase your risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition by about 1%. That compares to more risky behaviour like a bacon sandwich or watching television for an hour!

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said:

“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

Another tempting pleasure might be the latest research from Harvard and the UEA  suggesting that a high intake of blackcurrants and a few glasses of red wine could be “sexual superfoods“.

Drinking and Cancer

If wine is so bad for you, presumably most of Europe is dying of cancer, as opposed to stress and anxiety and other smoking and eating habits contributing to poor health outcomes. Other studies into the flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols in red grapes have shown wine’s heart protective benefits.

Actually, the Danes and French (big smokers) do unenviously top the cancer league however Portugal (36th) and Spain (34th) who drink more than Britain (23rd) come lower down the table. My plan is to drink more Malbec as the Argentinians come 49th. Clearly, other lifestyle factors are at work.

For women breast cancer risk from all factors but including increased drinking does rise from 10.9% to 12.6% (up to 14 units/week) to 15.3% (14-35 units). Similarly, bowel cancer rises for men and women by around 30% to 7-8% risk once 14 units are exceeded.

Allegedly, there are still health benefits if you are a woman over 55, I’ve never looked forward to ageing so much before! New #alcoholguidelines suck! I need a drink!

Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Food & Wine

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez BBC Radio 4 Today Guest Editor on Food & Feminism

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

BBC Radio 4 Today guest editor for a day, senior international lawyer and secret food blogger, Miriam González Durántez took charge of the programme’s direction and interviews. Intelligent and disarmingly charming González discussed politics, women, role models, immigration, extremism, high heels, and food with Jamie Oliver and Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, and interviewed Richard Branson, Theresa May, James Blunt among others, whilst sidestepping Justin Webb’s sexism. Barely minutes after the interview some people were criticising her interviews as “embarrassing“.

Only last week she wrote for the Financial Times on Spain’s recent election impasse, and political and judicial corruption there:

“The message is clear: voters do not want a focus on personalities or parties, they want a focus on cleaning up politics. Whoever becomes prime minister is almost irrelevant since he is likely to have to pack his (no chance of hers, alas) bags before long.” – Miriam González Durántez, Financial Times

González is an inspiring woman who also promotes the Inspiring Women Campaign since 2013 which talks with girls in state schools about future paths.

As El Mundo reported, it is the first time a Spaniard has guest edited the programme since the idea was introduced back in 2003. 

La abogada Miriam González es la primera persona española que ha sido invitada a codirigir un día el programa Today de la BBC Radio 4.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor BBC Radio 4 Today
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

 

Spanish Food

González turns out to have been the secret author of a cookery blogMum and Sons“. She has some excellent mayonnaise cheats and a delicious guacamole  recipe.

“I’m Spanish we talk about food all the time… at breakfast we talk about what’s for lunch, at lunch what’s for dinner!” (2h48m)

Having lived in Spain for two years and being complete obsessed by food, I must have had a secret Spanish heart transplant.

British Freedom

She mentioned on the programme about her love of British freedom as she’s discussed before in the Guardian:

“The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself.”

 

Women and Islamic State Extremism

González challenged Radio 4 to investigate and find out why over 60 British women and teens have travelled to Syria to possibly join Islamic State. Interviews include the Unity of Faiths Foundation which fights radicalisation through football, member of the Youth Parliament and an Ambassador for TUFF FC, Umra Butt, and director at anti-extremism Connect Justice, Laura Zahra McDonald.

“Facing racism and Islamophobic slurs…it’s the only place they feel accepted, it’s about belonging and fitting in…how can we empower people to belong…” (2h33m)

 

Smart and Beautiful

She used the opportunity as Today programme guest editor to challenge both gender roles, stereotypes and interview male and female role models. She also called on James Blunt to rewrite “You’re Beautiful” as “You are Smart” (1h45m). Blunt apologised for his “ridiculous accent” but not for being seen as sensitive or gay.

“…not very macho…effeminate and gay…not an insult…to call me gay is a compliment, and I’d like to be considered an honorary gay man, I’m totally at ease with myself.” James Blunt

Everyday Sexism

Ever the diplomat, she chose not to slam much of the inherent everyday sexism of BBC male interviewer Justin Webb who introduced her as Nick Clegg’s wife – a dubious honour not used to introduce anyone else’s marital status or partner. Twitter of course, took him to task:

 

“Who’s in charge in your household?” (2h54m50s) “You’re the wife of Nick Clegg – it is a fact, you don’t rile from that?” (2h56m50s) “You want Theresa May to be in charge of the Tories, you are willing her” (2h59m15s

 

Home Secretary Theresa May Interview

Sharing a love of shoes, González says to May:

“I think better in high heels” (2h20m)

On whether Theresa May would lead a BrExit “No Campaign”, May dodges the question, González challenges “That’s not really an answer to my question”, May replies, “I’m a politician, Miriam”, González reiterates “I’m a lawyer, I have to insist”, then deflects with laughter. (2h25m45s

 

An Embarrassing or Endearing Interviewer?

Despite a debate this morning on whether her interview with May was “embarrassing” González appears genuine, is obviously intelligent yet uses endearing humour – which may appear self and female-patronising at times, but which seems to be a ploy to disarm and choose which “square centimetre” battles to fight. Wanting to see change, she says, means choosing your battles wisely. Not every successful woman needs to be a Theresa May-Margaret Thatcher battleaxe, woman can make it by being themselves, not by being men.

Food & Wine

Five Grape Dry White Wine Wonder from Vineyard in the Garden of…

Blind Organic White Wine Tasting

Last night’s fabulous blind wine tasting with knowledgeable Tom Loudon at the Greenhouse on Bethel Street, Norwich, led off with a stunning dry white wine – which more than half the room chose as their favourite at the end of six tasting samples. The colour was beautifully pale, looking like straw with an accompanying grassy lychee scent. It had a slight effervescent tanginess, and mild sugary aftertaste, long and rounded on the finish and sharp on the teeth like an underripe hard green apple. After some food and time in the glass, it settled, mellowed and became more akin to the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that followed it in the tasting.

Davenport Horsmonden Dry White

Horsmonden Dry White Wine, Davenport Vineyard 2013 with a trio of goat's cheese, photo by Katy Jon Went
Horsmonden Dry White Wine, Davenport Vineyard 2013 with a trio of goat’s cheese

Both white wines were amazing with goat’s cheese, but the first wine, won to my mind – and in the big reveal it turned out to be an unfiltered organic 2013 English wine (£14.95) from the “garden of England”, Kent! It was delicious enough to think it could have come from the Garden of Eden and may have accounted for the fall of man!

Vinceremos says of it that it is “a wine which we love to present at blind tastings as it always performs so strongly and surprises so many when revealed as ‘English’.”

It’s been described as a wine “that can compete with any dry white wine from another country”. I’m normally an anglophobe when it comes to wine, but I was truly impressed.

On Vinceremos 6 out of 6 reviewers gave it the maximum 5 stars.

“It delights most with its blossomy lime aromas, zesty freshness and vivacity and great concentration of apple and yeasty flavours. A dry white best filed under ‘refreshing’.” – Vinceremos

On Abel & Cole’s site, all but 2 people gave it 5 out of 5:

“Horsmonden Dry White wine is an utterly charming, invigorating white. It’s an impressive English wine. Vibrant, super-fresh, and citrusy, it’s a light to medium body.”

Its long finish is best appreciated on its own before diving into any accompanying food.

Hamish Anderson, sommelier at the Tate, writing in The Daily Telegraph, described the 2013 Horsmonden as:

“a blinder – its pungent nose of lemon and nettles is not only quintessentially English, but also makes you want to dive in for a sip. A glass of glorious, spirit-lifting refreshment.”

Indeed, it is listed on Tate Modern‘s award winning wine list.

“Will Davenport’s Limney is in my view pound for pound one of the best English wines. We have worked with him for a number of vintages and its fresh, grassy style is ideally suited to the more casual dining environment of Tate Modern.”

The Vineyard

Davenport Vineyards started at Horsmonden in Kent and went organic in 2000, after planting their first vine there in 1991. Some 20 acres of vines makes them one of the UK’s largest organic producers creating a range of sparkling, white, and red wines.

The Grapes

Davenport‘s Horsmonden Dry White (£13.30 online) consists of Bacchus, Faberrebe, Ortega, Siegerrebe, Huxelrebe, from their oldest vines. A combination described as “alchemy” by one visiting commentator. Of these the 20th century varietals Bacchus and Ortega dominate.

Bacchus grape via Wiki
Bacchus grape variety

The Bacchus grape was a German cross-bred variety from a Silvaner x Riesling cross with Müller-Thurgau back in 1933 and grows in Germany and England now.

“Under British growing conditions, where the colder climate means that a higher acidity is retained and where only lower yields are possible, Bacchus can give varietal wines of reasonable quality, somewhat in a Sauvignon blanc-like style”

Wines made with Bacchus  grapes are often full of character, sometimes described as “exuberant”, in line with their namesake the Graeco-Roman god of wine and festivity. Bacchus, aka Dionysus in the Greek pantheon, was himself tutored by a drunken Silenus, who was often transported on donkey-back due to his own inebriation.

The Ortega grape, also of German origin, was a cross between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe in 1948 and named after the Spanish philosopher and poet José Ortega y Gasset who famously pronounced “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” – “I am I and my circumstance”  and “I live therefore I think” – perhaps that should be “I live therefore I drink”!

Multi-Award Winning Wine

Horsmonden Dry White Wine, Davenport Vineyard 2013
Horsmonden Dry White Wine, Davenport Vineyard 2013

The Horsmonden dry white has won numerous awards since its inception in 1993 including the UKVA Wine of the Year Competition Silver Medal (the 2009 and 2013 won Bronze awards), the SEVA Wine of the Year Bronze Medal, and the Decanter World Wine Awards Bronze Medal for the 2010 vintage.

In the Soil Association Organic Food Awards the 2010 was Commended and the 2011, Highly Commended, but in 2014 was awarded the Soil Association‘s Organic Wine Overall Winner:

“Will Davenport has made a wine bursting with freshness and style that can compete with any dry white wine from another country while also having a minimal impact on the environment.”

The 2014 vintage

It’s been said that “2013 was a great year and 2014 promises to be even better” well it clearly was and the future looks rosy, well white at least, for Will Davenport and English wines.

Davenport describes the 2014 as:

“…soft, aromatic and fruit driven. Perfect for a summer afternoon or for drinking with white meats, salads and even quite spicy food.”

and the UKVA 2015 judges noted its:

“Fruity, peach nose, powerful tropical palate, touch of spice”.

2015-16 awards are now rolling in for this wine including IWSC Silver Medal and UKVA wine of the year competition 2015 – Bronze Medal winner.

For the truly organic and local ethical wine purchaser – without compromising on quality and taste, buying this dazzling English dry white wine saves on considerable carbon miles when compared to shipping a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc half-way around the world.

 

Food & Wine

National Biscuit Day, that’s Cookies for the Americans and Dutch

National Biscuit Day

Apparently it’s National Biscuit Day (29 May) and the ones we like reveals spooky stuff about us, says one utterly pointless survey. For instance, shy Rich Tea biscuit lovers are most likely to come from East Anglia and watch TOWIE (if you don’t know what this stands for, you are best left in the dark). In my mind, the best place for biscuits is either dunked in a cup of builder’s tea – albeit in a fine bone china cup, or scrunched up in a double thickness, double chocolate, cheesecake base – yum!

McVitie’s Biscuit Personality Survey

The “nation-wide” survey (that didn’t ask me) portrays Digestive biscuit devotees as “fun-loving”, Fruit Shortcake savourers as not nuts, but “charming”, whereas Ginger Nuts describe themselves as “feisty”, and Jaffa Cake crunchers self-identify as “cheeky”. As for HobNobs

HMCE & VAT on Jaffa Cakes

Cakes, cookies or biscuits
Cakes, cookies or biscuits?

As to Jaffa Cakes, well they are biscuits, not cakes, unless you are a tax man working for HMCE and trying to assess VAT on them as “luxury” rather basic zero-rated foodstuffs. Jaffa Cakes, in 2012 the UK’s most popular “biscuit”, have been made by McVitie’s since 1927, currently at the rate of 2000-a-minute. Whilst there is no VAT on a basic biscuit or any cake, add chocolate to a biscuit and it becomes a luxury, whilst presumably , chocolate cake is still a basic nutritional need! So McVities have always defined Jaffa Cakes as, well, cakes – hence their name, despite being sold in the biscuit aisle. Her Majesty’s Customs and Killjoys tried to define them as biscuits in a court battle against United Biscuits (now owned by Turkish Yildiz bought for £2bn at the end of 2014) from 1991 but lost in a tribunal review.

“One of the critical aspects of the argument was related to what happens when biscuits or cakes go stale. The court found, as anyone who has forgotten to put the lid on their biscuit tin properly will know, that when biscuits go stale they go softer. But when cakes go stale they go harder. The test was done, and when Jaffa cakes are left exposed to the air they get harder. So Jaffa cakes are definitely cakes and not biscuits.” – Jaffa Cake fan site

Biscuit Etymology

Chocolate baking
Completely gratuitous home baked chocolate

As a kid I called them bikkits, some call them biskwits, but what is the etymology of “biscuit”, or the linguistic cookie crumb trail of koekje.

Us Brits know what a biscuit is, indeed a cookie is a biscuit too, but are all biscuits cookies? The linguistic division here is similar to how British crisps are baked and dried potatoes but chips are fries, whilst in the USA and the Netherlands, fries are chips, but chips are crisps!

The word comes from the Latin for “twice cooked”, bis-coctus (coquere=”to cook”) which ended up in Middle French as bescuit. This, in turn, ended up in 14th century Middle English as bisquite. Put simple, it means a twice baked product, first cooked then dried out.

Meantime, in Holland – more correctly the Netherlands, as my partner keeps reminding me, around the turn of the 18th century the Dutch adopted koekje, “little cake”, to refer to the same hard-baked foodstuffs, that have become cookies in the US. The slight pedantic culinary difference is that the Dutch “cookie” is a baked product that rises and cools, whilst the English “biscuit” has remains flat, having no raising agent.

National Biscuit Day needs no excuse to indulge in cake, cookie or biscuit, or all three!