Monday, 6 October 2008
Korea is a developing country. Quite literally, on a daily basis, all around the country, seemingly with no break between projects, buildings are torn down and new ones erected in near record time. Recently three coffee shops have opened on one street near my apartment not more than 1 minute apart. What the hell is the obsession with coffee? Maybe it is Korea's way of announcing that they are a developed nation and that you can now have a cup of Starbucks coffee whenever you want, just like in America. Downtown Jeonju has also recently opened its first Starbucks since I arrived here and coupled with dunkin' donuts and the plethora of other American style coffee shops we now either have an incredible choice of coffee options or an irritating number of shops that all sell coffee covered in a thick layer of cinnamon. I have lost count of how many we have and would plead for developers to relax and open shops that offer something slightly less homogenous, please it is time for a coffee break.
I am not really a coffee person and maybe that explains why I am getting a bit sick of coffee shops but I have, in the past indulged in a cup of coffee but my best experience, some years ago may have tainted my view of Korean coffee shops. Selfridges in London was the venue when a former girlfriend was shopping and I decided to have a cup of coffee and read the newly released Independent Berliner format. Selfridges, I hoped, would provide a fine example of coffee and so I decided to have a cup of coffee, a mocha. This particular mocha was made with coffee beans and milk with not a hint of chocolate syrup or chocolate flavoured powder. It was delicious and easily the best cup of coffee I had ever had up to that point and remains so. This is partly why I don't drink coffee because I will inevitably be disappointed.
As a British person I really enjoy a cup of tea with milk but no longer sugar as it is terribly bad for you and does detract somewhat from the taste of the tea, George Orwell said that you should probably just have hot water with sugar in it if that is what you want to drink. He would probably be horrified to think a good old cup of tea has been lost to people desperate to live the so called celebrity lifestyle, deluding themselves with a skinny decaf mocha light on the foam heavy on the syrup in a biodegradable cup with brown sugar and a plastic spoon, or something like that.
Here Mr. Orwell explains how to make a nice cup of tea.
A Nice Cup of Tea
If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays--it is economical, and one can drink it without milk--but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities--that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes--a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup--that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold--before one has well started on it. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
Lastly, tea--unless one is drinking it in the Russian style--should be drunk WITHOUT SUGAR. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguide people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again. These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
I'm not a Christian, in fact I don't have a religion, I suppose you could call me an atheist. I do however subscribe to a set of beliefs that are very similar to the 10 commandments, that bastion of Christian belief, but I am not a Christian. I just don't steal, or kill, or commit adultery or any of the other things Christians aren't supposed to do. I do however believe in karma, that cosmic force that rewards those who do good things just as it punishes those who do bad things. The problem with karma, or more accurately with people, is how do we know where karma begins and ends and when do we have to take responsibility for our own actions, when does "it's karma" as an excuse fall down?
In the last few years, but more recently in the last few months my parents' health has declined. A combination of age and lifestyle has combined to give them a cocktail of ailments that has left me wondering what have they done to deserve this? The answer is of course nothing. This isn't karma at work, it is more to do with bad lifestyle choices, diet, lack of exercise as well as other factors like family history, all adding to make people a little bit more predisposed to certain conditions. I am a firm believer in 'you get out what you put in' and if you abuse your body for decades with alcohol and fast, greasy food and rarely exercise don't be surprised one day if your doctor tells you have diabetes or a heart condition. I am not suggesting these are the only reasons for the current state of my parents' health but they have almost certainly contributed. The worst part is that these ailments tend to wait until a point in your life where you are already winding down to retirement or are sufficiently advanced in years that the willpower or strength to fight them off starts to wain. Karma does not dish out diabetes or heart attacks, bad lifestyle choices do and that is hard thing to say when it is my parents who are having the problems.
Jamie Oliver has a new series on TV that has just started called 'Jamie's Ministry of Food' and the first episode was a real eye opener. He goes to Rotherham, a typical Northern town where the locals have bad teeth and even worse dietary habits. One girl of 22 feeds her young daughter exclusively on fast food and then breaks down later, explaining what we all already knew, that she is lazy and selfish and doesn't have the best interests of her child at heart. I seriously think that feeding your child that kind of crap everyday amounts to child abuse and I am sure it won't be long before we hear of someone suing their parents for abuse when they were younger based on their diet. I wonder if it will happen here first or in that real bastion of fatness, the US of A?
That old excuse of 'it didn't do me any harm' or 'My parents never taught me to cook' is wearing incredibly thin and will no longer suffice as an excuse to feed your young children on strips of kebab meat and chips. Cooking for your family needn't be haute cuisine, it should be simple food made with fresh ingredients, more about getting vitamins and minerals into your body than taste sensations. I really admire Jamie Oliver but he is not only fighting a losing battle, he also seems to be vindicating their lifestyles. At one point he gets really angry and says that he doesn't know who to be angry at when the answer is staring him in the face. The mother of the fast food junkie five year old is to blame. Nobody makes her order fast food and as she later admits it is to do with laziness and selfishness on her part not because she can't cook (I mean who the hell can't boil an egg?)
My parents' health has declined in no small part to their diet and to this day (well not this day actually as my father is currently in hospital) my father insists on eating a ridiculous amount of salt on his food and he point blank refuses to stop eating the fried breakfasts that he has enjoyed for decades. My parents were born and grew up in post WWII Britain and even though fast food wasn't around then, beef dripping and lard were. The next generation, born in the sixties and seventies that saw the boom in fast food and curry houses and frozen meals and the generation after that, the microwave and kebab generation are the ones in real danger. Then there are the poor buggers from places like Rotherham (although it might as well have been anywhere) that are growing up, or should I say out, on a diet of cheese and chips, doner kebabs, Mcdonald's, pizza hut and all other manner of 'food' stuffs that are almost certian to cause long term damage.
I don't blame karma for my parents current predicament, in some way I blame them but then maybe the excuse of "We didn't know it was bad for you" holds some water for their generation, but what will the excuses be when the generation after them and after them have the same complaints? To say that people of those generations were unaware of the health risks of not eating well is offensive to anyone with a bit of common sense but the generation that Jamie Oliver is trying to help, my generation, are just down right offensive with some of their excuses. "I were [sic] never taught to cook" is not, has never been and will not ever be a valid reason for feeding your child on fast food and burdening them with a possible lifetime of weight problems and the associated psychological problems that come with it, as well as the possible consequences later in life, debilitating and soul destroying condition like diabetes, heart conditions and all other manner of vile conditions that attack and break down your body until you are a shadow of your former self.
My parents are now shadows, they are still my parents and they still have the same spirit that have always had but it is now in short supply and it is heartbreaking to hear news from family members of another setback caused by the diabetes or the doctor can't do this operation because of the heart medication ad nauseam, literally.
karma can only do so much, after that it is up to you.
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