Monday, 28 February 2011

Chilli Con Carne

I put up my first website in 1995. Between 1996 and 2001, I uploaded a series of recipes - one a month during regular monthly updates. This was, in effect, my first food blog (although the word 'blog' was first coined in 1998 and not widely used until several years later).

I will be revisiting some of these recipes during the course of this current blog. Here's the gif graphic I used in the 1990s:

The July 1996 entry was for 'Steve’s chilli'. I still cook it, especially when family are around. I basically cook it the same way today.

• Ingredients: Mince (about 1lb), large onion finely chopped, clove of garlic crushed, 2 green chillis, tin tomatoes, tin of kidney beans, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon chilli powder, vegetable oil, salt and pepper.

• Heat oil. Fry onion, add mince, add garlic.

• After about 5 mins add chopped chillis and tomatoes. Stir and simmer.

• Add kidney beans, sugar and seasoning.

• Cover and high heat for at least 30 mins.

• Uncover and boil off access liquid if any. Serve with nachos and/or rice. Have sour cream handy.

I noted in 1996 that Texan traditionalists tend to omit the kidney beans. Don't see the point of that. Anyone know if it's true? I have been know to add mushrooms and peppers to my chillis, which certainly isn't traditional to anywhere.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bleezer's Ice Cream

After a recent post (Feb 19) that included the lyrics of John Grant’s I Wanna Go To Marz, I must mention Bleezer’s Ice Cream by New York poet Jack Prelutsky in which he invents 28 (count them) ice cream flavours. Natalie Merchant set it to music on her record Leave Your Sleep (2010). It’s the mother of all ice cream-related song lyrics.

A video of Natalie singing it comes after the poem (not the best sound quality but love the dancing).

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:


I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
taste a flavor from my freezer,
you will surely ask for more.

Jack Prelutsky

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Hooters Cardiff

[This post is based on a piece I wrote for a different purpose in the week Hooters Cardiff opened in November 2010]

While working at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, I took my visiting sister and her boyfriend to Hooters – being an American sort of thing to do. We drank ice-cold beers, ate chicken wings and tried to figure out the rules of American football; while watching the waitresses go about their business. Boyfriend and I were enjoying it, when my sister took against the place. Hooters is not for everyone.

Hooters opened its first outlet in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983; it currently operates around 450 locations in 44 states. The first UK branch launched in Nottingham in 1998 and the chain is now expanding with branches in Brighton, Bristol and Cardiff.

A chorus of “Welcome to Hooters” greets you on entering. Clearly, it’s not the place for a quiet lunch. As in the USA, the Hooters Girls are the unique selling point, with their distinctive low-cut white tank tops sporting the Hootie the Owl logo (“hooters” also being American slang for breasts), tight orange shorts, money pouch, white socks and trainers. When not serving, they perform with hula hoops and beach balls, and at regular intervals congregate for a song and dance routine. You need to be in the mood for this - all the jollity could get tiring. A succession of Hooters Girls drop by to sign napkins. After a couple of days they can already spot the potential regulars.

The décor recreates the US model, with reruns of American football on numerous TVs and music that spans the decades. It’s all a bit retro. Unfortunately, this extends to the food, where it’s still 1983. I was disappointed that iced tea was not flowing, as it’s a popular drink in US Hooters, but the curly spiced fries did bring back memories of the Deep South. The seafood is not up to Gulf States standards: mussels that should have been plump and juicy, were small and poorly cooked. Overall, it’s not a place to come if you want a finely-cooked meal. It’s somewhere to come for a cold beer, share a platter of chicken wings, and enjoy the hospitality; in short, more bar than restaurant.

This is the first Welsh Hooters. The Florida sunshine can’t be replicated, but the heating is cranked up to a level appropriate for skimpy clothing - which makes it a good place to warm up on a wet Welsh day. Although there is no Welsh-language menu, there is a Welsh flag. Most importantly, the waitresses are from Cardiff, Barry and the Valleys, and proud of it. Recruited for their vibrant personalities and looks, rather than waitress experience, they are the reason that this Hooters is distinctly Welsh.

The Hooters ethos derives from American football “jock” culture. The company describes the average Hooters Girl as an “all American Cheerleader, Surfer, Girl Next Door." This culture is alien to the UK, and branches (franchised to Bubo Ltd) will probably take on their own character. Hooters Nottingham has been operating for twelve years and, like its US parent, it claims to be a family restaurant, but the promotion of stag parties, bikini contests, and so on, has angered feminists. Their objections, echoing those of my sister many years ago, centre on the objectification, exploitation and potential harassment of woman.

I won’t be taking my family, or my sister, to Hooters, and probably won’t go there again myself (unless sister’s boyfriend – now brother-in-law - insists). Either we’ve moved on, or the world has, because Hooters doesn’t hold the same attraction as it once did. We’ll leave it to a younger generation to enjoy its obvious charms and debate its merits.

Hooters, St. Ann's Street, Cardiff

Friday, 25 February 2011

Breast Milk Ice Cream

In the news today - an ice cream parlour in London's Covent Garden has started selling breast milk ice cream. Why are all these people-on-the-street surprised when they like the taste? They have all tasted it before. At £14 a scoop, it would be interesting to see who's buying it. It's served with a rusk and a bottle (calpol optional), and is obviously good for kids. However, calling it Baby Gaga and having the waitress dress up in a Lady Gaga bondage-style outfit suggests that there may be something in slightly poorer taste going on here.

Full story (and a more serious news report):

Stephen Nottingham added on 2nd March 2011
Westminster Council officers seized the breast milk ice cream from The Icecreamists in Covent Garden. Despite owner Matt O'Conner saying it had been medically screened and pasteurized, the council responded to public concerns that the human breast milk may not be fit for human consumption. What the public are really saying is that this commercialization of human breast milk for adults makes them uneasy. As for the ice creamists, well, all this free publicity can't be doing them any harm.

5th March 2011
Westminster Council ordered the ice cream shop to stop selling breast milk ice cream because "it is a hepatitis risk."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Whitefriars, Coventry

Whitefriars Olde Ale House occupies two ancient buildings on the site of what was once the Whitefriars Carmelite Friary in Coventry.

Small intimate rooms. Stone floors. Stained glass. Log fire. Real ales. Doom Bar. Stout Coffin. Basket meals. Scampi and chips.

Further information:

Saturday, 19 February 2011

I Wanna Go to Marz

Here are the lyrics to one of my favourite songs at the moment, John Grant’s I Wanna Go to Marz, off his album Queen of Denmark (2010). The lyrics are apparently based on childhood memories of the names of milkshakes, sundaes, ice creams and other items sold in a Michigan sweet shop. He returned to the shop recently, but it was empty and for sale. The result was this song about the innocence of childhood (video below from UK show Later with Jools Holland).

Bittersweet strawberry marshmallow butterscotch
Polarbear cashew dixieland phosphate chocolate
My tutti frutti special raspberry, leave it to me
Three grace scotch lassie cherry smash lemon free

I wanna go to Marz
Where green rivers flow
And your sweet sixteen is waiting for you after the show
I wanna go to Mraz
We'll meet the gold dust twins tonight
You'll get your heart's desire, I will meet you under the lights

Golden champagne juicy grapefruit lucky monday
High school football hot fudge buffalo tulip sundae
Almond caramel frappe pineapple rootbeer
Black and white pennyapple Henry Ford sweetheart maple tea

I wanna go to Marz
Where green rivers flow
And your sweet sixteen is waiting for you after the show
I wanna go to Mraz
We'll meet the gold dust twins tonight
You'll get your heart's desire, I will meet you under the lights

Friday, 18 February 2011

Moroccan carrot soup

I make chicken stock when we have roast chicken at weekends, and use it to make either a midweek risotto or soup. This week’s soup was a big hit and I pass on the recipe here. It was originally in a collection that Allegra McEvedy did for The Guardian (serves 6).

Toast half a teaspoon of cumin seeds and crush. Chop about 750g carrots and sweat in 30g butter for 15 mins. Cook 80g rice and drain. Cover cooked carrots with 1.2 litres chicken stock and 250 ml milk, and simmer.

Blend soup, but keep a rough consistency. Put back into the pan, add the rice and cumin, and simmer some more.

Pull off the heat and whisk in two egg yolks, stir in a handful of chopped mint leaves, and sprinkle with paprika before serving. The finishing touches with the egg and the mint are essential in this case and give the soup a delightful texture and taste.

I served this on two nights, by dividing the blended soup into two portions and adding one egg yolk, freshly-chopped mint and paprika just before serving each night.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Farewell to The Castle Oak

The Castle Oak (formerly The Malthouse) in Dinas Powys – our local pub - has served its last pint. It has closed for good. Tesco have bought the site for one of their Metro stores, although we are well served by local shops thank you very much.

A peak of pub closures occurred in 2009, with around 52 a week shutting down in the UK. They are still closing at an alarming rate. Recent figures show that in the past year a total of 2,377 pubs have closed.

The British pub is an important meeting place within the community. A community that has lost all its pubs is a much poorer place for it.

High beer tax, which has raised the cost of an average pint of beer to £3 in a UK pub, is one of the factors responsible. Something needs to be done to reverse the trend of closing pubs. Reducing or scraping beer tax would be a start.

Further reading:

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Fresh: The Baguette Bar, Cardiff

Today, I had my lunchtime sandwich from Fresh: The Baguette Bar in the Royal Arcade, Cardiff. Freshly-made sandwiches and a huge variety of fillings is their thing. There were around 30 baguette fillings (over 10 of those being vegetarian). In addition, there were nearly 20 panini fillings, and a range of salad bowl options. An appetizing selection of cakes, Millionaires shortbread, brownies and flapjacks are on display.

The Baguette Specials include Chicken and Bacon Caesar; Cajun Chicken with BBQ sauce; Pastrami, Salami, roasted Onions, mild mustard mayo and lettuce; Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese with Mustard and Dill sauce and salad; and Greek Feta Cheese with homemade sundried tomato and fresh basil pesto, olives and salad. I went for the Malaysian Chicken Satay in a multi-seed brown baguette with a coffee (one of the most expensive baguettes; total bill £5.15). The bread was indeed very fresh, and it was a sweet spicy treat.

Fresh does a lot in a very small space. A spiral staircase goes up to the kitchen on the floor above. There is no internal seating, but there is a table and some seats outside in the covered Arcade.

Fresh was Sandwich/Snack Bar of the Year 2006 in the South Wales Echo Food and Drinks Awards. The husband and wife team behind Fresh have kept up standards. The place is friendly, efficient, has loyal regulars, and is obviously a popular alternate to a cheese and pickle from Greggs.

Fresh should not be confused with Ffresh [Welsh spelling], the popular café in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.

Fresh: the Baguette Bar
32 Royal Arcade, The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1AE
(029) 2022 3158 (telephone orders before 10.30am)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

On the set of Alys - Don't eat the food!

I was served a lovely breakfast in the café in Alys, but was under strict instructions not to eat the food.

Alys is a gritty drama written by Siwan Jones, about a single mother and her son who flee from Cardiff after a violent incident and settle in a small Welsh town. The series has plenty of black humour and is directed in an interesting style (think David Lynch meets Mike Leigh to film a Welsh western in Llandudoch).

Although set in West Wales, the series is mainly filmed in Barry and Penarth. Last summer I was one of the extras in the café, which was established in an empty unit on Barry Island. A drab backcloth on a van in front of the door obscures the promenade and the Bristol Channel. Clever use of roadwork and traffic noise makes it seem part of a different town in the series.

I was “man in café” being served a massive breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, mushroom, beans, fried tomato and fried bread. I said “diolch.” You look at the food, but you can’t eat it. This would create continuity problems between different takes, and the food has probably been made inedible so that it looks good on film.

Here are some of the tricks of the trade, culled from a media awareness course. Roast chicken or turkey has probably been cooked only briefly, painted with ten coats of food colouring, and blowtorched. The syrup being poured over pancakes is probably motor oil. Puddings are rock hard, and ice is artificial, so that nothing melts. Anything BBQ has probably been painted with wood stain. Vegetables may have been sprayed with glycerine, while the milk on cereal is probably glue.

And my close-up being served breakfast? Well, it’s probably on the cutting-room floor. I would not have smiled if I’d known that this wasn’t Gavin & Stacey, but a dark drama set in rat-infested buildings! But I am there in the background when the arguments are going on in the kitchen, looking hungry.

Alys can be seen on S4/Clic (if you’re over 16 and live in the UK) for a limited period:

Here’s the shows website:

Monday, 14 February 2011

Food on Film. 10. Chocolat

Chocolat (2000) is a gooey confection directed by Lasse Hallström, based on a novel by Joanne Harris. It tells the story of a woman and her daughter who arrive in a repressed French village in 1959. They make chocolate and open a shop called La Chocolaterie Maya. The decadent chocolate starts to change the lives of the townsfolk, especially in the romance department. However, when they carry on trading during Lent the devout Major plots against the chocolate shop by accusing the woman of immorality. Things come to a head when a group of river gypsies arrive in town.

Hallström is the ideal director to helm a project like this (see also My Life as a Dog and The Cider House Rules). There are enjoyable turns from Johnny (he's Irish, don't you know) Depp in gypsy mode and Judie (talk with a French accent, don’t be ridiculous) Dench as the wife of Alfred Molina’s scheming Major, while the ever-reliable Juliette Binoche effortlessly carries proceedings.

One for Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Eating Crisps (and nothing but crisps)

Today I am just pointing out an article that fascinated me in yesterday's newspaper. Debbie Taylor writes about her experience of only eating (and only wanting to eat) potato crisps for the past ten years. It seems to touch on some interesting questions about diet, how little variety we need to keep the body going, and the health issues surrounding crisps (usually consider as junk food).

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Food on Film. 9. Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup (2001) is a US remake of Eat Drink Man Woman (No.3 Top Ten Food Film). I was originally going to discount this because: a) it is a remake and b) it is not as good as Ang Lee’s film. However, I changed my mind because: a) food is still central to the film and has been changed from Taiwanese to Latin American cuisine, and b) it is not a bad film.

Directed by Maria Ripoll and starring Hector Elizondo, Elizabeth Peña, Jacqueline Obradors, Tamara Mello and Raquel Welch (yes, that Raquel Welch), the film has a notable Latino soundtrack and shifts the action between the family home and a family-run restaurant. The meals featured were designed by chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, who are noted for their contemporary take on traditional Mexican cuisine.

Friday, 11 February 2011

British Sea Power Merchandise Stall

British Sea Power played a storming gig at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff earlier this week. As well as being one of the UK’s best rock bands, they also have the best merchandise stall on the touring circuit. Set out like a table at a village fete, you can buy vinyl records, T-shirts, badges and patches, tote bags and a range of food and drink-related items. The band have produced collectible mugs since the release of their début album in 2003. Their latest mug - Tea Power Mk IX - is based on the submarine whale illustration in the latest CD booklet and includes the (typical) lyric “Oh the heavy water how it unfolds.” It is the ninth in the series of “Tea Power drinking vessels”. Special packs of BSP tea can be bought, for that mug and tea combo present. BSP Tourist Clotted Cream Fudge, from Tiverton in Devon (suitable for vegetarians), is also a popular souvenir to take home to friends. The BSP own-label “Zeus” lager beer, brewed by Dent Brewery in Yorkshire, sells well, while, on request, there are also a limited number of 30ml bottles of BSP-made Selmeston Sloe gin with hand-painted labels by band-member Yan.

Here’s my review of the gig on Newsoundwales:

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Food on Film. 8. Super Size Me

In his 2004 documentary Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s food for a 30-day period. One of his self-imposed rules was that if a member of staff offered to “super-size” his meal, he would agree. Over the course of this relatively short time period, Spurlock gained over 11kg in weight and his physical and psychological well-being declined alarmingly, for example, with fat accumulating in his liver, intense mood swings and a loss of libido. Despite this, Spurlock delivers a humourous film that explores how fast food corporations have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the USA and elsewhere. Here's how the film starts:

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Las Iguanas, Cardiff

Las Iguanas is a bright green-fronted restaurant, nestling between the Cardiff Bridal Centre and a sex shop, with its origins in Bristol and its heart in Latin American.

The first Las Iguanas opened in the St Nicholas area of Bristol in 1991. There are now around 22 in the UK. Las Iguanas on Mill Lane in Cardiff’s Café Quarter has been open for 16 years this April, while a new outlet opens in Cardiff Bay this March.

At lunchtime today, we opted for Brazilian main courses on a two-for-one special offer. We shared a starter of molletos (“toasted ciabatta rubbed with garlic butter and topped with refried black bean and melted cheese, served with pink pickled onion, radish and spring onion”). This was lighter and tastier than it sounded from the menu description.

I had the Sea Bass Con Coco, which the menu told me was “a coastal Bahian dish of sea bass fillet, mussels in their shells, wilted spinach & crayfish tails in a light, fragrant saffron & coconut broth with little new potatoes, cannelloni beans & baby tomatoes.” The fish was cooked to perfection. A spoon was provided for eating the tasty broth. This dish was fresh and zingy, with an subtle underlying hotness.

My partner had the Xinxim Brasilian lime chicken, the restaurant’s signature dish (and reportedly Pelé’s favourite). The chicken in a creamy crayfish and peanut sauce arrived at table in a crockery bowl over a flame, along with a plate of rice, sweet plantain, and green beans. Crunchy coconut farofa (toasted manioc flour) came seperately and could be sprinkled on top, although we agreed this didn’t seem to add much to the dish. I helped finish the ample rice, as this dish was the more filling of the two.

We washed our meals down with a couple of non-alcoholic cocktails each (the best being the lemon and lime Citrus Cooler). Final bill (for two) came to £21.30.

You can buy chilli sauces (Bart Spices of Bristol), coffee, gift vouchers and CDs of the Latin American music they play on your way out.

Las Iguanas is a great option if you want to treat yourself to something a little different for lunch.

Mill Lane Cardiff CF10 1FL. Tel: 02920 226 373. Email:

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu 12.00-23.00
Fri-Sat 12.00-23.30
Bar Open Fri-Sat til Late

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Food on Film. 7. Big Night

Big Night (1996) was directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci. The setting is an Italian restaurant in New Jersey in the 1950s, established by two brothers who have recently immigrated from Abruzzo. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is a brilliant, perfectionist chef, unimpressed by some of his customers’ responses to his genuine Italian cooking. The other brother Secondo (Tucci) manages the Restaurant, which they have called Paradise, and is committed to life in the USA despite the failing of the restaurant and his brother's suggestion that they should return to Italy.
The final scene is courageous film-making. In a long, virtually wordless, single-take, one character cooks an omelette and shares it with two others. It works perfectly. This is food healing rifts and bringing people together, not for the first time in these Top Ten Food Movies.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Ethical Chef, Cardiff

On a recent visit to the Riverside Farmers' Market, we encountered the Ethical Chef for the first time. The ethical chef is Deri Reed, who has a reputation for being one of South Wales' leading vegetarian chefs. He established EthicalChef in 2010 and caters for private dining events. Previously he worked for around two years at the Angel Vaults restaurant in Carmarthen as a sous chef, and then at a top vegetarian restaurant in Cork (2009-2010). On his stall at the Sunday morning Riverside Farmer's Market, he cooks vegetarian meals from local ingredients. It's a good place to pick up a few cooking tips. The Ethical Chef website has a number of vegetarian recipes that I'll be trying out in the near future.

Further Information:

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Food on Film. 6. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

Peter Greenway’s brutal 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, starring Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard and Richard Bohringer, is set in a restaurant owned by Albert Spicer (Gambon) - a violent London gangster. It is notable for its tracking shots, breathtaking cinematography (Sacha Verney), and a terrific Michael Nyman score. The camera tracks from the gutters of Thatcher’s dog-shit strewn London streets, through an endless kitchen that seems to compress British history, and into a dining room presided over by Gambon's malevolent presence - a place where wealth and power are everything.
Food in Peter Greenaway’s films is more often rotting than wholesome (e.g., see also A Zed and Two Noughts). With its timeless kitchen, the film suggests that expensive dining and criminal activity have often been linked in London’s past. The Thief is a philistine who tears at his food, in contrast to the book-wormish Lover, with his sophisticated tastes, who is clearly doomed in a society like this. Ultimately, however, a revenge of sorts is dished out.

A tough call this, as there's only room for one cannibalism-related film in a Top Ten Food Films listing; so this stands in for Delicatessen, Eating Raoul, Ravenous, Sweeny Todd, Titus Andronicus, Soylent Green, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Eat the Rich, Cannibal Hookers... (a Top Ten in their own right!).

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Cardiff Arts Institute

The Cardiff Arts Institute (CAI) is a bar with a difference. The décor sets this place apart, for a start. One wall is covered in Lego boards, and a plentiful supply of Lego bricks is artfully (or not) modelled up the walls by customers on a daily basis. Another wall is decorated with rubber gloves (I couldn’t actually eat under that). Quirky touches elsewhere include a stuffed magpie on a Roman-style bust, and a glass table containing model cars. Modern art comes and goes.

I went in for lunch this week, before a talk at the National Museum across the road (see Blog for 3rd Feb). On “The Institute Menu” are classic pub meals, burgers, and a range of coffee and cake options. However, I went for a sandwich. The “Daily Bread” selection offers Classic BLT, Herb and Garlic Chicken with salad leaves, Free-range eggs with mayonnaise and cress, and Colliers cheddar with Rev James Chutney (Reverend James is a Brains beer, this being a Brains-owned bar).

I went for the Welsh Cured Ham with Piccalilli, and a latte (£6.60 bill). The sandwiches are served with thick stubby chips (more like wedges) – they stay hot and are filling. There is a choice of white or brown bread. It’s a substantial lunch. Service is slower and the cost higher than the average Cardiff sandwich bar, but this is a good place to meet for a quiet lunch (being away from main shops and offices it avoids the midday crush) or to spread out your notes or newspaper to take stock of the world. It's friendly and has a unique and stimulating ambience.

The Cardiff Arts Institute is, as its name suggests, much more than a bar and café. A room upstairs hosts a range of weekly activities, including Life Drawing, dance lessons, and classes with the Celtic Learners Network. In the evening, the place becomes a lively bar, with local bands and DJs. Music regularly played here ranges from acoustic, folk and world music, to rock and dance.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Food on Film. 5. Tampopo

Tampopo (1985) - directed by Juzo Itami and starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto and Ken Watanabe - is a wickedly funny satire of both highbrow cinema and elaborate food rituals. The plot involves two truck drivers, who help revive the fortunes of a fast-food noodle café run by the widowed Tampopo (Dandelion). They turn the place into a temple to the art of ramen making. Around this plot are woven sketches and subplots involving gangsters, a gourmet French restaurant, etiquette classes, and so forth.
This film revolves around the joy of food. The idea that formulaic food preparation and eating rituals are the source of wisdom is thoroughly mocked, as exemplified by the celebrated noodle master scene. The noodle-slurping scene is reminiscent of the baked bean campfire scene in Blazing Saddles (Tampopo was billed as a “noodle western”). Then there’s the erotic raw egg scene, the melodramatic oyster scene….. In fact, this film is enjoying something of a revival, because so many of its scenes are viewed on YouTube.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Seafoods in Prehistoric Wales

Dr Rick Schulting (Lecturer in Scientific and Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Oxford) gave yesterday’s (2 Feb 2011) Origins Lunchtime Talk at the National Museum Wales, Cardiff. His talk, in the renovated Clore gallery, was entitled ‘Cockles, sewin and laver: the uses of seafoods in earlier prehistoric Wales.’ He summarized work he has done in collaboration with the Museum over the past decade; analysing ancient human remains to investigate diet.

Shifting ice sheets and changing sea levels have left little direct evidence of coastal communities in prehistoric Wales. Therefore, human bone fragments have been subject to indirect scientific analysis. Dr. Schulting explained how alkaline conditions are best for preserving human bone, and how caves on Caldey Island and on the Gower Peninsula were explored – some extreme archaeology was involved. The material found in these sites is preserved and studied in the Museum.

The analytical methods used involve looking at isotopes: atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons. For example, carbon atoms normally have 12 neutrons. Carbon-14 is used to tell the age of material, because it is unstable and decays over long time-periods. Carbon-13, which accounts for about 1% of the world’s carbon, is stable and can be used to determine type of diet from bone fragments. A higher proportion of C-13 (compared to C-12) occurs in animals with a marine diet, while a lower proportion of C-13 is indicative of a terrestrial diet. Isotopes of nitrogen are also useful in understanding prehistoric diets. The proportion of different nitrogen isotopes in bone is indicative of an animal’s place in the food chain. In humans, vegans differ markedly from vegetarians and omnivores in their nitrogen isotope profile.

It seems the Mesolithic Welsh were eating large amounts of seafood in their diets around 8,500 years ago. These items probably included the cockles, sewin (a Welsh brown trout) and laver (edible seaweed) of the talk’s title – all familiar dietary items in South Wales today. However, a change of diet occurred as the Mesolithic period gave way to the Neolithic period (characterized by farming, pottery and other early human technologies). With farming came a marked change in diet, with terrestrial plants and animals dominating and much less seafood being eaten in the coastal areas around Tenby and the Gower.

Dr. Schulting’s interesting lecture was the first of ten Origins Lunchtimes Talks at the Museum. Future subjects include Eunuchs in Antiquity (Feb 16th), Vikings in the West (March 2nd), dendrochronology (March 16th), the Dinas Powys hillfort (April 13th) and the making of ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ (May 18th).

Further information:
National Museum Wales:
Dr. Rick Schulting:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Food on Film. 4. Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia (2009) was written and directed by Nora Ephron. She based the screenplay on two books: Julia Child’s autobiography ‘My Life in France’ and Julie Powell’s memoirs. It has the distinction of being the first film to be based on a blog.

Meryl Streep gives a wonderful performance as the American food writer Julia Child. The movie focuses on Child’s time in Paris in the 1950s, when she attends culinary classes and starts to write a cookbook for US housewives. Meanwhile, Amy Adams plays New York food blogger Julie Powell, who in 2002 decides to cook all the 524 recipes in Child's cookbook ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ (1961) in a year.

Here's a video that features the real Julia Child:

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Food Diaries

The youngest is keeping a food diary for school. Under ‘Snacks’ she meticulously records every crisp and mouthful of chocolate, but fails to mention the salad I put on her dinner plate. We must look like Really Bad Parents.
Today, I ate toast and home-made marmalade for breakfast, egg and bacon for lunch (as I write), while this afternoon I’ll be slow-cooking a casserole of onion, garlic, carrots, leeks and lamb, to serve with baked potatoes and kale.
However, the most impressive food diaries are visual. Eat 22 is a film by artist Ellie Harrison. It’s a record of everything she ate for a year (11 March 2001 – 11 March 2002, when she was 22). I have seen this hypnotic and thought-provoking film a couple of times in gallery situations - it’s currently on permanent display in the Wellcome Collection Museum in London.

The Australian artist Patrick Boland has also photographed everything he ate in one year:

Further information on Ellie Harrison: