Category Archives: BLOG

The Best Wine Tasting Apps

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I’m a fan of technology. So much so that James, my nephew, now in his twenties christened me ‘The Gadget Man’ almost as soon as he was old enough to get the words out. What is more, I am not, by nature a terribly organised person. Distinctly right-brained people rarely are. So if technology can help purge some of the chaos from my life I call it up.

For about the last 5 or 6 years I’ve been looking for a convenient way of writing wine tasting notes and storing them on my desktop computer. The advent of the iPod Touch and  indeed, the iPhone was manna from heaven to me… or so I thought. I downloaded a few apps, tried them out. People who saw me tapping away at tastings were intrigued. However, I realised early on that most of the early apps in this field were devised with cellar management in mind. The excellent Vinoteka, which I now use solely  to manage my meagre collection of  bottles laid down being a case in point. Its deployment for this task will save me a repeat of the 1985 Bandol disaster – in 2011 I came across 3 bottles squirrelled  away under the floorboards in a spare room; all were oxidised to hell.

When it came to writing tasting notes most of the apps were too simplistic.  Others were too unwieldy. With much regret I went back to pen and notebook, or, to be truthful, an indiscriminate collection of notebooks that served to compound the aforesaid chaos. The  recent purchase of an iPad Mini rekindled my  interest so I revisited the App Store to see if the passage of time had thrown up better stuff. It had. I’ve been using Wine Notes, one of the most beautiful and ‘sexy’ Apps in any genre, IMO. For the average wine lover, who probably tastes/drinks a dozen bottles a month over 3-4 sittings Wine Notes is a lovely app to have and use. The click-in lists of aroma and flavour descriptors is  comprehensive as most would need – if not,  it can be edited to add the likes of ‘gun-smoke’, ‘wattle seed’, ‘Marmite’ ‘three year old Nike trainers’  or whatever. There are gorgeous maps; a built-in database of wines; a facility to snap a barcode and more. 

Flavoor picker

Alas, for the wine writer, who has to taste a high number of wines in a short space of time, Wine Notes is just too cumbersome. It initially only worked on the iPhone and iPod Touch -the iPad, particularly the mini version, too my mind, strikes the best compromise between portability and convenience. FOOTNOTE: Today, messing, I found it works on the iPad too, obviously been updated.

But lately, I’ve found an app that seems to be designed for use by ‘professionals’ – a term I hate, but whatever. By which I mean people in the wine business, wine writers and keen WSET students. This app is called Winescribe and when it comes to vinous note-taking it really is as good as it gets.  It is easy and quick to use; offers help in the shape of drop-down lists – vintages, descriptors, etc and also has a ‘lightbox’ feature that enables judgement of a wine’s colour and clarity in, say, a dark, windowless tasting room. There’s a  compilation of wine terms (badged as ‘Dictionary’,  a wee bit overblown) which early WSET students might find useful. There is also the facility to export your notes as an Excel spreadsheet on e-mail – a great feature for wine clubs. Also, uniquely I think, Winescribe offers the user a choice of employing the 100, 20 or 5 point scoring system. Competitions, particularly in Oz or New Zealand use the 20 point system almost exclusively, as do Martin Moran and I for our Sunday Times tastings.

I do have one or two quibbles. Chiefly that the list of descriptors is  too simplistic to suit the pros, all of whom have a wider wine vocabulary than the average wine lover, with, as I’ve outlined above, their own pet descriptors.  Having a list one could edit would be the perfect refinement (maybe in the next update, Mister Winescribe Developer).  The ‘Faulty’ section could be expanded – I couldn’t find ‘corked’ nor ‘bretty’ but that’s a minor quibble.

Lastly (and purely for the purposes of my Sunday Times Tastings) I would love the facility to create a list from which you could ‘pick with a click’. In my case I’d use it to incorporate stockists, of which Ireland has more than the average. Cutting-and-pasting 5 or 6 for each wine, from a database of 50+ outlets is trying and time-consuming, I find. For writers in the UK, where 90% of the wines are in the hands of  four or five major supermarket chains , this might not be seen as a problem.

I purchased Winescribe on the App Store – it is specifically designed for the iPad – for €4.99.

WEBSITES

 

http://grandepassione.com/posts/2011/5/2/winescribe-a-serious-ipad-app-to-effortlessly-record-tasting.html (iPad)

http://winenotesapp.com (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)

http://www.vinotekasoft.com (MAC)

For an ingenious and useful app that doesn’t fit the spec as outlined above try https://www.vivino.com

IN MEMORIAM Clarissa Dickson Wright

 

RIP Clarissa Dickson Wright. Or, to bestow her full name, Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson-Wright (yes, honestly). Girl, you’ll be missed. Hope you got your desired last meal – wing rib of beef with the bone in.

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I thought it would be fitting to reprint the interview I did with Clarissa back in 2003. It took place in her bedroom at the Four Seasons, Dublin. She was in her dressing gown. I was very nervous.

Most people, the ones who only saw the Fat Ladies programme, never realised what a stunner Clarissa was in youth. I recall meeting her in London back in the late Sixties. She was, of course, propping up a bar or maybe it was propping her up. Whatever, she had the room’s attention.

 

INTERVIEW WITH CLARISSA DICKSON-WRIGHT from 2003

First published in Food & Wine Magazine

 

It’s not every day you get to interview one of the world’s top six biking icons. Who was also voted one of ‘1000 people nastier than Mick Hucknall’. I asked Clarissa Dickson Wright “Are you missing your Fat Lady friend?” “It sounds awful to say ‘no’ but because we were only together for filming I don’t really think she’s gone. I’m quite certain Jennifer’s sat up there with her bike propped up against a cloud, chain-smoking cigarettes while teaching the heavenly choirs how to sing jazz.”

Was it true that Clarissa was the youngest woman ever to qualify for the Bar? “I think I still am. My father wouldn’t pay for me to go to Oxford unless I read medicine which I didn’t want to so I stayed at home and read law at University College. Largely because I hated my father and my father hated lawyers.

“I’d never cooked anything until I was 21. We always had servants and we had this wonderful cook who was illiterate and had no desire to learn to read at all. My mother was deeply embarrassed that cook couldn’t read. But she had the most amazing memory. If you wanted cook to learn a new recipe you read it to her and if it was terribly complicated you read it to her twice. She and my mother had a great working relationship and because my father was very prominent in the medical world we entertained a good deal. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen because I loved food. When I was 21 my father went off his head and left home and my mother said ‘Now we can have some really jolly parties but there’s no one to cook.’ I said ‘Well I expect I can cook’ and I could. It’s a natural talent – like some people can sing or paint.”
I was beginning to enjoy myself. This was one witty, funny, interesting lady, fat or otherwise. Something she said struck a chord for I myself gave up the legal profession. “So…” I ventured. “What was the bridge between law and cooking on TV?”
“My life only makes sense if you know I’m an alcoholic.” (Clarissa is very upfront about her drinking.) “Well I was a very public drunk wasn’t I? Nobody says ‘Good heavens, Clarissa, you weren’t an alcoholic!’ Everyone says ‘Dear God, I thought you were dead!’ if they haven’t seen me for a bit.

“My mother died and left me an obscene amount of money. I went round the world to sort out her affairs and, it was an extraordinary thing, all ambition left me. But I fell into cooking by accident. I was visiting a friend who was cooking on a charter yacht in the West Indies. Her father died back in England and she asked me to take over. When I eventually got back to London I found I’d inherited, as a bad debt, a drinking club in St James’s. What my infinitely respectable mother was doing lending money to this old girl with a drinking club I’ve never managed to find out. I saw myself as one of the last drinking club queens of London, sitting on my bar stool, swinging my legs, with people buying me drinks until I fell off. I was thirty, not quite a society beauty but not bad looking and I must say, quite sought after. Because I don’t like things that don’t work and because there was nowhere to eat in the area I changed the hours, gave group membership to Christie’s and The Economist and started serving food between twelve and six. I didn’t actually need to make money at first, I was still rich. But then the looks went, the money went, the lovers stopped coming and it just became a hard grind. Eventually it all got too much of an effort and … I got sober.

Her life seems a series of jump cuts. “How did you get the role in ‘Fat Ladies’?”, “I owe it all to the cardoon. Do you know what a cardoon is?” “An edible thistle,” I ventured. Clarissa claps her hands, in schoolgirl fashion. “Hooray, well done, so few people do. It’s a barely edible thistle. I had this mad obsession. I decided I owed it to the British nation to restore it to the cardoon. Pat Llewellyn was making Sophie Grigson’s Eat Your Greens at the time and somebody said “Have you seen Clarissa’s cardoons?” They were grown by an admirer in a field in Chapel St Leonard, near Skegness. Do you know Skegness?” I knew the town only from ancient railway posters proclaiming ‘Skegness is So Bracing’ and from ribald postcards mailed from Butlins by racy aunts. “Exactly. Pat arrived and demanded ‘Thrill me with your cardoons.’ I must have done because she said. ‘Ooh you’re really good at this television lark, we must do something else.’ Much later she met Jennifer over lunch and watched her ride off on her motorbike. Pat had what she described as ‘a vision,’ which she’d sold to the BBC. I’d only met Jennifer Patterson once, at a lunch party in Tuscany. I think the BBC thought we’d fight, thought that was the dynamic. But the minute they put us together it was us against the rest. There was this hooligan element. Do you remember the episode where we changed places? We were doing about five miles an hour then I accelerated away and whooped ‘Look, we’re doing the ton already!’ Of course we weren’t but the BBC felt they had to delete the line. I don’t think Triumph ever forgave us. Here was their new superbike, a more powerful version of the one Marlon Brando rode in The Wild Ones and we borrowed it and went cooking.”

I’d read an American review of Two Fat Ladies describing it as ‘heavy on humour and calories’. Was that the reason for its success?
“I think it was. You know sales of butter and cream went up 19% during the series and the pundits attributed it almost entirely to us.”

“And you advocated lard?”
“Lard and beef dripping are the two fats that you can actually heat so high that you seal the food through immediately. The best fish and chips to my mind is the kind that’s cooked in beef dripping.”

Whatever upsetting dieticians and cardiac surgeons, Clarissa has been the focus of much hostility (viz. the ‘nastier than Mick Hucknall’ web poll) over her high profile ‘Face of the Countryside’ role, in particular for her support of foxhunting. “I’m number three on the antis’ death list. I have all my post checked by Special Branch. In the early days of Clarissa and The Countryman one of the antis got hold of a copy of the BBC schedules. So this well orchestrated chorus of protestors rang up while the programme was on, screaming about all this terrible cruelty to animals. They didn’t realise the North Lonsdale Foxhounds episode had been put back. On screen, I was actually in The Scilly Isles cooking a lobster!”

Hates? “BBC humour. In one episode we were fly-fishing one of the best beats on the Tamar. They wanted me to come down the river in a pedalo, waving a minnow shouting ‘Yoo-hoo, look what I’ve caught. How silly.”

Thirty years a fisherman myself, I have qualms about killing things I don’t eat. “Why don’t we eat foxes?” I demanded. “Foxes kill things that we eat, that’s why we kill foxes. We don’t eat them because carnivores aren’t good to eat. With the possible exception of man – although man’s an omnivore. When I was ten I saw a picture in National Geographic of a native chief holding up a fork. In the article he laments ‘Nothing tastes as good now they don’t allow us to eat ‘long pig’.” Our eyes met and I had an alarming mental picture of being roasted on a spit, pan beneath to catch the dripping. I changed the subject. “Does success bring its own problems?” “Yes. There’s nowhere in the world where I can go without being recognised. It’s a good job I have no secret vices any more.”

Last meal on earth? “The day they hang me I shall have a wing rib of beef – with the bone in. “

Two Fat Ladies was the most successful cookery programme ever, capturing 70 million viewers, dubbed into 14 languages and subtitled into another eleven, including Inuit. If Pat Llewellyn (who also discovered Jamie Oliver) is reading this article I have a deadly idea for her next culinary extravaganza. Provisional working title is: ‘The Fat Lady and The Bald Geezer’. I’d be happy to sit in the sidecar.

 

FOR A’ THAT – A review of The Big Burns Supper, Dumfries Jan 24th – 26th 2014

Last weekend I attended the Big Burns Supper 2014, a festival held annually in the pleasant town of Dumfries to celebrate Scotland’s national poet.

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According to a Scots poet of a later generation, Edwin Muir, the charm of Robert Burns is that he can be all things to all men. Burns represents, he claimed, “to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious”. The sub-text  is, whatever you want your own personal Burns to be, he will be.

The appeal of Burns to the Scots and to their considerable diaspora is easy to understand. He wrote not in highfalutin English but in Scots, for the Scots. He was not afraid to sprinkle his prose and verse with dialect words and phrases. Much of the stuff he wrote has populist appeal, as witness his masterly reworking of a limping old ballad that’s now sung around the world at the turn of the year and been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M and Kenny G, to name but a handful of those who’ve tried their hand at ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

On the flight to Scotland, I allowed myself to speculate as to how the Scots should package Burns to widen the appeal, particularly non-Caledonians. Easy, I decided. Here we have a guy who was anti-authoritarian, even seditious. A convivial soul who liked nothing better than hanging around with his pals and downing a few scoops. A graffiti artist, too. Better yet, he looked like the young Elvis, wrote like Shakespeare and put it about like Sven Goran-Ericksen The Swedish Love Machine. Someone should make the movie. But please… spare us Mel Gibson.

At which point we touched down in Glasgow. Half an hour later I had a pristine, ten miles on the clock Arnold Clark-supplied Opel Astra under me and we were winging our way down the M74, destination Dumfries where the 2014 Big Burns Supper festival was to kick off on the morrow. Having time to spare I got off the motorway north of Moffat and drove past enthralling scenery to show Ann, my wife, the Devil’s Beef Tub, a deep, dramatic, swirling hole in the hills. Thereafter, we retraced our steps before meandering down the scenic A702, stopping for lunch in the well-kept town of Thornhill, birthplace of mega-talented and drop-dead-gorgeous Scottish singer, Emily Smith.

In Dumfries, a place I have only happy memories of, there is a camera obscura, a device that’s a precursor of photography. When the weather permits, it shows you a panoramic image of the town on the inner wall of the building. The custodian was, I remember, always at pains to point out the swans on the River Nith; also The Crichton – “Yin’s the biggest lunatic asylum in Scotland”. I was amused but awed to find that this was the location of our hotel for this trip. On arrival, I found the shadows of the past had been vanquished and that the extensive grounds now host the Royal Infirmary, a business park, two college campuses and The Aston, a fine hotel housing a Marco Pierre White restaurant where we dined with Rosemary and Andrea from the organising team of the Big Burns Supper, who outlined the concept to me.

The festival, first held in the town in 2012, aims to celebrate, via a programme of concerts, comedy, cabaret and community participation, the poet’s life and work. Burns, who died at 37 spent but the last four years of his life here, yet produced fully a quarter of his output during that period. A spiegeltent, a large travelling show tent, constructed in wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, had been erected in the town centre and this was to be the core venue for the festival’s programme. There would be a procession through the town lit by 1,000 lantern. 5,000 individual Burns suppers – haggis, neaps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) would be served up over the course of the event.

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After dinner, we wasted no times in getting into the festival spirit, perhaps literally, by attending an event titled ‘Whisky for Dafties’, an introduction to the delights of Scottish single malt, hosted in robust fashion by comedian/whiskey fanatic Alan Anderson.

Session 1

Afterwards we repaired to The Globe, Dumfries’ oldest pub and Burns’ local where an impromptu music session was underway in the compact ‘Snug’ and a more formal one in ‘The Room’. We opted for informality. The Globe’s manager Jane Brown, herself a devotee of the poet (and President of the worldwide Robert Burns Society) kindly showed us the upstairs bedroom where our hero enjoyed assignations with the Globe’s blonde barmaid Anna Park. Burns’ other amusement while at his favourite ‘howff’ was to inscribe poems on the windows with a diamond-tipped pen. Some of these poems may still be seen.

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Next day we visited Ellisland Farm, Burns’ first home in the region, a few miles outside Dumfries, where curator Les Byers, impressive custodian of the poet’s lore and legend gave us more inside track. Dumfries, he advised, was in those days a prosperous, bustling town, more important even than Glasgow as the hub of the lucrative trade in tobacco, a commodity imported through the nearby port of Carsethorn wherefrom, in 1851 alone, more than 21,000 people emigrated to Canada, The States, Australia and New Zealand.

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After taking leave of Les, we headed for the sea ourselves, seizing the opportunity of a break in the wet weather to walk on the beach at Rockcliffe and ramble up and over to Kippford via the Jubilee Path, something I’d done many times before.

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Later we attended Le Haggis, an event that fully justified its billing as as “the sexiest show in the festival”, a ninety minute extravaganza involving music, song, cabaret and an amazing display of dexterity, fitness and physique by a pair of burlesque acrobats. In the interim, the band, fronted by a fabulous girl singer (who sings, as I was informed, in the local community choir) brought real meaning to ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, a song more frequently maladroitly performed either as a turgid dirge or as a jolly knees-up. Another performance that nearly had the tent crashing down on us was a vibrant rendition, by a lassie garbed in a leather basque and ‘sussies’ of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘In These Shoes’.

We attended the lantern procession, a truly amazing sight. More than 30 local groups and organisations took part in the parade, accompanied by several floats and huge puppets. Kudos to the Manchester (another town dear to my heart) Samba School whose rhythmic momentum, aided by a brace of pipe bands, drove the whole thing along. Afterwards, we ducked the late night Roller Disco “I’m not comfortable without my own skates, hehe.” “Yeah, right”, says my wife.

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Highlight of the next day was, for me, the live performance in the Spiegeltent, of Dick Gaughan, a master interpreter of both traditional and contemporary songs and a guitar genius, whom I first met when I was co-hosting a folk club in England back when Burns was a lad (well, not quite). A dish of the obligatory haggis and its customary trappings fortified us for pints, first in The Ship, my own ‘local’ back in the days when my acquaintanceship with Dumfries was more regular than it is today. The pints there are as honest as ever and the denizens still play dominoes, altogether another proper pub holding back the tide of muzak and expensive swill. Later, in the packed-to-the-rafters Globe we dissected the event with other festival attendees and learned of myriad delights we’d missed. At the end of the evening a girl we met in the street offered to walk us to the taxi rank to ensure we did not get lost, where else on earth would you get that sort of courtesy these days? Truly, Doonhamers (the inhabitants of Dumfries – I’ll explain another time) are salt of the earth.

The festival’s organisers deserve huge credit for The Big Burns Supper. I feel sure it’s an event that will, year on year, grow in stature, appealing not only to the Burns anorak, the patriot and the emigré, but to the wider body of people out there, of every race and creed, who enjoy song, dance, theatre, literature, merrymaking, the craic and just having a great time. Me, I intend coming back – for a’ that.

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INFORMATION

Homecoming Scotland 2014  In 2014, Scotland will welcome the world as we take to the global stage and celebrate our nation through a year-long series of exciting events. Complementing the Ryder Cup and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Homecoming Scotland will be a celebration of the country’s rich culture, natural beauty, active adventures and creative heritage. For more information go to: www.visitscotland.com 

Accommodation  I stayed at Aston Hotel, Dumfries www.astonhotels.co.uk/dumfries

Activities  

Big Burns Supper http://2014.bigburnssupper.com/

Ellisland Farm, Dumfries www.ellislandfarm.co.uk

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura The Observatory, Rotchell Road Dumfries DG2 7SW www.dumfriesmuseum.com

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Recipes for Burns Night

Complete Works of Robert Burns  www.robertburns.org/works/ 

3FE – NEW ROASTER UP AND RUNNING

I spent an interesting morning watching 3FEs new commercial Probat roaster, now up and running in a secret location in Dublin Docklands. I was taken there, blindfolded, by 3FE’s Colin Harmon.

Looking at the beast, which kicks out god knows how many Kg, it struck me as incredible how similar both hardware and techniques were to my own efforts with the 500g capacity Huky 500. Strange, too, to think we both get our beans via Steve Leighton’s ‘Hasbean’ in the UK with whom I’be been dealing for close on 10 years.

Comparing the two machines there are many similarities. Both have:

rotating drum

entry funnel

heat source

bean tester

gauges – 1 digital (bean mass) 1 analogue (ambient)

extraction flap

fan for cooling the beans.

Factor in a stop watch, a chart* and a pen and there you have it!

Like mine, 3FE’s  roaster is all manual and very ‘hands-on’ as Pete, 3FE’s roasting supremo, testified.In neither case can you walk away and smoke a ciggie (I don’t), pour a drink (I have been known to) or make a phone call otherwise things tend to go pear-shaped. Only difference being, if I cock up a roast it’s a minor disappointment. If Pete does it, it’s a commercial tragedy.

At the end of the morning Pete gave me a quantity of the ‘greens’ he was roasting – in return for extracting a promise to to supply a sample after I’ve roasted them. Phew! The hard work begins here.

For the anoraks among you, the beans are 3FE Costa Rica Farami Di Dota Yellow Honey Cattura, promising “a big hit of milk chocolate that quickly turns into a stewed fruit and honey-like mouthfeel that just goes on and on.” The aftertaste promises “hints of cherry with a super clean finish”. Looking forward.

These  beans are available from 3FE’s café outlet at 32 Lower Grand Canal Street, Dublin 2.Probat 1Huky Monster

My roasting chart

* This chart is the Mk3 version. I’m now on Mk4

 

A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD

Wine Importer: “How come you’re charging €30 for my base budget bottle of Southern France red?”

Dublin Restaurateur: “Because we can”.

I’ve heard all the arguments. “We can’t charge what the food costs us to make so we have to jack the price of wine up to compensate” is a common theme. Yeah, right.

Amazing, too. How the recently imposed €1 extra tax on a bottle of wine get’s transposed to €3 when it gets to the customer.

As an ex-restaurateur my heart goes out to the guys who are struggling to keep body and soul together while providing value for money sustenance. But some people are really taking the piss.

 

 

 

PEAR SHAPED! When a roast goes wrong

Introduced a new element into the roasting equation today, a newly-designed roasting log and a stop watch – purpose being to help me control the roast and get repeatable optimum results – YEAH, RIGHT!

 

Scan 5

Obsessed with clocking everything, I ballsed-up. Couldn’t get the ‘Fall’ temp down anywhere near 100 C; Dehydration stage only lasted 3 minutes and roast romped up to 1st crack quicker than you could say “Burundi Ngozi Mugamera washed” by which time I was a bag of nerves and let it go well past 2nd crack for a near Naples roast, of which I’m not terribly fond.

Nothing to do but pour myself a large Hennessy Fine de Cognac and switch on the telly.

Next one will be better.

NEW CUP, NEW BLEND

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Presently salivating over the prospect of drinking a lovely espresso from my new cup and saucer, which Ann brought back from Nice as a prezzie.

Must also mention my new fave blend, a 300 gram roast in The Huky Monster, comprising: 200g El Salvador Finca Argentina Fincona 2 Tablon Bourbon Natural + 50g Costa Rica Herbazu Honey Roasted + 50g Burundi Ngozi Mugomera Washed.

Roasted to somewhere between City and Full City (lifted at 225C), beans dark brown but positively no shine. All ‘greens’ from www.hasbean.co.uk.

Right, that’s the nerdy bits over, what does it taste like? Well, I developed this blend to get me the ultimate ‘flat white’. The main constituent, the Finca Argentina was described by Hasbean’s Steve Leighton as ‘black forest gâteau’ and that’s not a bad description. I fancy I roast a tad darker than he does which means I’ve swapped some (but not all) of the black cherry and forest fruit notes for an accentuation of the rich chocolate and caramel character. The Herbazzu, on its own quite acidic, balances the blend with a trace of lemon and lime zest, plus a further layer of dark chocolate. The Burundi, quite a big bruiser as a solo espresso, adds vanillin tannin and a touch of woodsmoke, the latter a bit like the effect of peat on malt whisky. The whole makes a complex and, I think, enchanting brew.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been drinking it as espresso. Here the toffee and chocolate are sllghtly more muted, with the red wine notes (Grenache-ish?) pushed to the fore. Decent kit.

CRYSTAL BALL – some thoughts on the future of journalism

I floated this topic on my Facebook page earlier today. It got a number of responses, some agreeing, some contrary. I think it’s worth putting up here as my take on the way things are going with The 4th Estate and those who try to scrape a living writing for it. I really hope I’m wrong.

DEATH OF J 

“In less than 10 years there will be only 2 types of journalist. Bloggers who will write for free or freebies; Staffers, whose duties will be to find bloggers. Those bloggers who can generate loads of ‘likes’ will get the junkets, the prestige trips; newbie bloggers, recent journalism graduates or those who can’t ‘hike the likes’ will be condemned to writing about bottling lines, dehydrated soups and The Tone Deaf Baked Bean Salesman of the Year Award. These guys will receive no remuneration other than the accreditation and (maybe) the return fare.

Subbing, along with tense, syntax and other embellishments will be a thing of the past.”

 

A Facebook friend, Oisin Davis of Damson Diner, countered with: “If that is going to be the case, then the bloggers will need to demand proper fees for writing and the staff writers will have to get more clever about where they get their next pieces from. I remember days prior to email and blogs when I would promote music shows. At the end of each gig, I would fax out a press release to a load of staffers that I knew were always looking for stories. In each one, I’d wax lyrical about how amazing the gig was, how it sold out and how wild the audience were etc. 9 out of 10 times the writer would simply regurgitate, word for word what I had written. I’d always get a kick out of that, knowing darn well that they were never in attendance themselves. I also remember thinking how disingenuous that was and how that surely could not go on forever. Well a lot of staffers don’t have it so easy any more and we can thank bloggers, in some part anyway, for that.”

 

I can see where he is coming from. There is still a deal of sloppy journalism about, with much cutting-and-pasting of press releases and some poor writing. This has been brought about in parts by the changing in staffing of newspapers and magazines. For example, years ago newspapers used to staff for the peaks. The logic was: “If, simultaneously, we have a factory fire in Glasnevin, a flood in Templeogue, a lottery winner in the Liberties and a mad axeman running amok in Ballsbridge, how many journalists and photographers do we need to cover these stories?” Nowadays it’s “How quickly can one guy and his digital Nikon compact get round” or “Hang about, we’ll get the skinny on the web”. The same publications now staff for the troughs.

 

This was my riposte: “Oisin, there is no such thing as a ‘proper fee’ any more. Rates are shrinking year on year. It is now virtually impossible for anyone to make a full-time living as a freelance journalist and the few I know who do are knocking themselves into the ground. Freelancers are soft targets too, when the time for editorial budget cuts comes round.

In the press, more and more news comes via agencies; more and more news and features are syndicated. It’s hard enough to earn a crust, even without bloggers getting in on the act.

Bloggers are a different kettle of fish. For them writing is a hobby or, at best, a secondary income. There are no qualifications for blogging other than the ability to put up a WordPress page. There is no requirement to become an expert in your desired specialisation and no need to be able to write to deadlines. All you need to blog is an opinion and a keyboard. After that we are in ‘Stream of Consciousness Land’.

I would go as far as saying that when it comes to imparting information in an interesting manner bloggers (with a few, very few, honourable exceptions) are utterly inept.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the PR industry (I won’t grace it with the term ‘profession’) who also have pretty low standards, suddenly discovered bloggers. More and more of them now appear at every bunfight. For the PR mob it’s probably enough to see ‘Yesterday I went to the Clonagloomy bubblegum yoghurt launch; I tasted some and it was lovely” on a dozen blogs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a blog a proper critique of a product and of course there won’t be because the invitations will cease and the bloggers know it. And, in their wake, will come more bloggers, ready and willing to write for a free trip and to see their names in print.”

 

HOME MADE/HOME GROWN

Here’s last night’s dinner:

Zucchini

 

1. Home made ‘fettuccini’. Made  from the recipe in the Thermomix Cookbook. I was a bit amazed that it worked – their pizza dough recipe is terrible.

for 2 I used

200g doppio zero flour

1 large egg

1 tsp olive oil.

Then I followed the procedure, adjusting with 3 extra tsp, one at a time, of water to get the texture right. Next, I cling-filmed and chilled for 30 minutes.

Removing the cling-film (important this!)  I then processed the dough through my pasta machine – 3 passes wide open (6), folding once after each one. Then 1 pass each, folded, through 5, 4 and 3.  Then through the larger of the two cutters. The result was somewhat like the fettucine I’ve had in Rome – slightly thicker and wider than tagliatelle (not narrower like some of the stuff you get in packets here). Then I hung it to dry.

2. The sauce – scallions, garlic, celery and 3 chestnut mushrooms chopped very fine, then sweated in a little EV olive oil before deglazing the pan with some red wine and adding stock, basil, fresh oregano, good organic passata and seasoning to taste.

3. Young zucchini and runner beans, briefly steamed then left to sit in a small frying pan with a knob of butter and a scattering of black pepper.

I was chuffed that the zucchini, runner beans, garlic, scallions, basil and oregano came out of our garden – and I only have a tiny plot.

 

 

POINT BLANC – is there anything better than classical French cuisine?

ERN_0011

 

Seeking inspiration, I’m sat in the garden, drinking rosé and thumbing through recipe books, old faves I haven’t used in a long time. Okay, so Raymond Blanc’s palette has been augmented by the use of ingredients such as lemongrass and ginger but the recipes in this wonderful book (first published in 1988 when the young, self-taught Raymond was widely regarded as the best chef in Britain) are deep-rooted in the French classical tradition.

Coquilles Saint-Jacques aux Feuillettes feature. As do Carre d’Agneau Rôti, Iles Flottantes (Façon Maman Blanc) and more. No chemistry set, no grubbing about under hedgerows, nothing easy-peasy thrown together in the TV programme manner. Here, preparation is often long and involved. Stocks are all made from scratch.

It prompted the thought that, done properly, there’s no more satisfying cuisine than French classical. Tomorrow it’s Côte de Boeuf for me, lightly smoked in ‘Gianluca’ my outdoor oven over apple wood, juniper berries, bay and rosemary. Not forgetting the Sauce Bordelaise.