Taking a taste of Trump Town

Nick takes a trip to the heart of American politics and finds the way to its heart is through his stomach

Street sign washington DC

This way please

Waking up in Washington DC what’s the first thing to do? I’m staying in the chic but affordable Hotel Madera DC in the DuPont Circle part of the city, a toney neighbourhood that still has streets of fine old houses that are like dowager aunts, a bit faded but clearly have money.

With inverse jet lag fading, I get it worse when flying back, I’m still a bit too woozy to make a long journey to find breakfast, fortunately the hotel has the Firefly Restaurant downstairs, a popular brunch spot for DCers, I’m told.

Painted pushbike

Other modes of transport are available

And it is certainly busy, the menu from Executive Chef Jammir Gray enticingly offers everything from healthy (Açaí Bowl of housemade almond granola, coconut, dragon fruit) to heavy (Chilaquiles – tomatillo, chorizo, queso fresco, lime crèma, two eggs any style).

So even though it’s really more breakfast than brunch time, I get seduced into ordering  a plate of avocado toast, pumpernickel, herbed cream cheese, pickled red onion and wild puffed rice. It’s everything you expect from American breakfast, lots of flavours and lots of it. Luckily I intend walking it off by going to see the White House that’s not too far away.

To The Trump House

The Whitehouse Washington DC

The Whitehouse back garden, no trampoline or rusty BBQ here.

The metro system in DC doesn’t really cover much and the buses are a bit confusing. So off on foot to Trump’s place, my first visit. It’s a lot smaller than I expected, I think perhaps I had been confusing it with Capitol Hill. Rather like London’s tourist spots it has pushed back sightseers with anti-terrorist barriers at the front, so I go around back to the lawn side where you can peer in and see the spot where the helicopters land.

You can also see the garden Michelle Obama planted, though without the flattering camera angles of TV news, it looks rather small and forlorn. There seems no sign of the Donald so I do what one does after visiting a famous place, I go to the Gift Shop.

Interestingly the Gift Shop seems more balanced than many Americans when it comes to the subject of Potus. About 75% is pro-Trump merchandise while 25% is satirical about him, if not downright disrespectful. For a monstrous dictator he seems quite happy to allow negative comments about him, even if only on a T Shirt.

DSC_8185

It’s a long walk to the other end. Pack a lunch

I move over to the western end of the  National Mall just a short walk away and go to see the Lincoln Memorial. Over my head, planes constantly climb out of Ronald Reagan airport, surprisingly low in the sky this close to America’s political centre. Abe is enormous, even though I knew he would be it’s still a surprise.

170 tons of white marble. He gazes out over the reflecting pool and is a remarkable piece of work. Kings and Emperors have been commemorated with less pomp, but that’s America everything has to be bigger. And that makes me think of lunch.

Keep On Trucking

The Food Truck Scene in Washington DC is semi-legendary. A constantly changing scene that varies all the time with new trucks coming online and others retiring or taking a breather. The sheer number and varying locations could mean some wasted walking,  but fortunately there’s an app for that, showing in real time what trucks are at which spots, as well as a DC Foodtrucks website.

crabby2

You want claws with that?

The food on offer would send the average London millennial into raptures, all spicy, sticky, sugary, salty, fatty and with world ingredients. I’m keen to avoid the usual Mexican, Korean and Pulled Pork options so track down Feelin’ Crabby’s truck for a Jumbo Lump Crab Sandwich.

Standing in clear sunshine, but with a cold wind blowing down the street, I have to eat fast before getting too cold. It’s a juicy thing, fresh tasting and filling and with that safely down the hatch (nautical reference) it was off to join a food tour.Walking Georgetown

Georgetown Washington DC

No more trams but the lines remain

DC Food Tours do about eight areas of DC and I chose Georgetown. This is the original part of DC and is where the old money lives, a bit like our Hampstead.

Here politicians of both sides have humble homes that cost a fortune, the classier ones still have little wall plaques that showed they were insured against fire back in the 18th century. If the private fire brigade showed up and didn’t see their company’s plaque, they’d move on and let the place burn down.

DSC_8108

A terrifically tasty taco

It was a good three-hour tour, taking in six or seven places with food and drink in each one and lots of touristy info between destinations, such as the fire insurance bit I just regurgitated.

After a large amount of coffee, tacos and cakes and other assorted treats there is a bit of a danger of more regurgitation, so I head back to the hotel to prepare for the highlight of my visit – Michelin-starred Kinship.

Make mine Michelin

DSC_8141

A city that mixes old and new

The Michelin Guide Washington DC 2017, recommends 107 DC restaurants representing 33 cuisines. Nine DC restaurants earned a single star and Kinship in Shaw is one of them. So popular is it that I can only get a table at 5:30, when it opened, an unusual time to have dinner. Finding my UK Uber account worked in DC as well, I am there in no time.

The Shaw District is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in DC and now one of the hippest. The exterior of Kinship gives nothing away, almost invisible as a  restaurant, but inside there’s a book-lined lounge with a fireplace, an intimate bar and a minimalist-chic dining room.  Despite the early hour it’s already fully seated.

unnamed

The lobster dish

The food is, as expected, extremely good but without pretension on the plate. Chef Eric Ziebold and partner Célia Laurent’s restaurant describe their place as a ‘modern American restaurant’ and it’s hard to argue with that, or their desire to have their own cuisine.

The majority of the dishes are divided into five categories: craft (dishes of a technique), history (classics reimagined), ingredients (ingredients), indulgence (wallet busting items) and “for the table” which means sharing dishes like whole fish or a 12-ounce dry-aged rib eye.

Of all the great dishes served, I like the butter-poached Maine lobster on house-made caramelized brioche best. Chef Ziebold spent many years at The French Laundry and this dish is his recollection of dipping bread in the lobster cooking butter at end of service.

Hot dog!

Now of course starting dinner at 5:30 meant I find myself back on the street by 8:30. So I walk across, stopping at bars, to nearby ‘Black Broadway’ or U Street. It’s a place steeped in Black American history, a place where segregation was fought against and where music halls saw the first performances by legends such as Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton.

An institution here is Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1213 U Street. Founded by Ben and Virginia Ali in 1958 it saw the race riots out, the massive upheaval of the metro installation, the tough economic times of the 70s and 80s and now is part of the resurgence.

I’m actually a bit peckish again, it’s by now getting on for 11 pm after all, so I go in. Virginia herself comes to say hello, a dapper figure she moves effortlessly through the packed place, the customers parting respectfully to let her through. ‘Busy?’ she answers my question. ‘You should see it in here at 2 am!’

The half smoke chili dog at Ben's Chili Bowl

Even President Obama has stopped by one of these

I eat what has to be eaten at Ben’s, the chili half smoke – 1/4lb half pork and beef smoked sausage on a warm steamed bun topped with mustard, onions and spicy homemade chili sauce. The sausage has the crisp snap that only the best ones ever have and the bun is sweet and soft. The chili sauce is hot, but not insanely so and overall you can see why the place is so very popular with all colours and classes.

And I can see why DC is a popular place. It’s not all government buildings and offices as I imagined, but a real living place that has much more to offer the tourist hungry for some great food as well as seeing the heart of the USA’s administration

Thanks to capitalregionusa and also to SkyParkSecure who made leaving my car at Heathrow so easy.

Digging Badger Beer At The Brewery

What’s black and white and drunk all over? Badger Beer. Nick digs deep at the Dorset Brewery to unearth some of their award-winning secrets.

badger-7427

Short sighted people are catered for

“The naturally occurring water we pump up for the beer could be easily sold as quality bottled water, but that would be such a terrible waste!”

Mark Woodhouse, current representative of the family that has run Hall & Woodhouse for seven generations, chuckles amiably. Next to him his Head Brewer Toby Heasman smiles too, he’s probably heard that one before. Continue reading

Snuffling for truffles in Spain

Italy? Yes. France? Of course. But Spain? Discover a region where the truffles and mushrooms aren’t just delicious but one of the area’s biggest industries and tourist attractions.

dsc_7194

Gourmet’s best friend

‘He got bitten by a snake out here a few months ago, he almost died!’ The man from the company Tuber Viveros ruffles the neck of his dog with affection, ‘but he’s okay now and happy back at work.’ His dog looks up at him adoringly, keen to get on with his job.

That job is to sniff out truffles, because somewhere in this massive plantation of trees stretching out in all directions, the black gold lies buried. The dog’s work is made a little easier by the fact that every tree is almost certain have a truffle or two amongst its roots, some ripe some not. That’s because the element of chance was reduced by a discovery back in the 1970s.

‘Scientists worked out how to inoculate the roots of certain tree saplings with truffle spores’, my guide tells me as we stride out across the plantation, his dogs running ahead and questing around busily. ‘When the trees reach around ten years old, truffles will begin to form’.

dsc_7180

On the hunt

Truffles are a form of parasite on tree roots, but a benign one. They cannot synthesise sugars and other carbohydrates themselves, they have to get them from plants. They use the tree’s carbohydrates to make filaments that spread through the soil in an ever-widening net and, as they do so, they send back nutrients to the grateful tree.

At some point, late in the year, some filaments come together and create a fruit, the truffle. This then rapidly gains weight and when ripe puts out the odour which the dogs pick up on.

He explains that the grass above a truffle also tends to die back, which gives humans a rough idea where a truffle might be.  But we can’t tell if it’s ripe or not and can’t risk digging it up and wasting it, only the dog’s nose knows for sure. He directs the dog to some likely looking spots and after checking out a few the dog soon makes it clear where he wants his master to dig by scrabbling the earth up furiously.

dsc_7122

Is this the truffle you’re looking for?

Using what looks like a medieval dagger, we make the hole bigger and uncover a truffle the size of a ping-pong ball. My guide lets the dog sniff it, to reinforce training, then rewards the now deliriously happy canine with some treats he keeps in his pocket. I have a sniff of the truffle too and it’s gorgeous. Dimethyl sulfide is the correct name for what causes the aroma and it’s actually related to the smell of cabbage, which is why some people don’t like it hard though that is to believe.

With the dog happily bounding around us, we walk onward in the now increasing drizzle to try and find some more treasure.

Mycology matters in Soria

dsc_7206

The aroma is everything

The truffle we found, Black Truffle Soria  (Tuber melanosporum), is named after the nearby town of Soria in the region of Castile y Leon, about three hours drive from Madrid. The second highest town in Spain, it’s a town that loves its truffles and mushrooms and its weather and geography are perfect for both.

In  a good year the region can see 5,000 kilos of black truffle collected from around 1700 hectares of plantations. Much of the Soria truffle harvest is exported, as its quality is appreciated worldwide. Prices vary with the harvest, but a kilo of truffles might fetch around €1000 in a good year. It’s a major part of the economy, as is the mushroom tourism business but more of that later.

IMG_4617.jpg

A little mushroom treat

The town lavishly celebrates its truffles and mushrooms (hongos) this time every year with the restaurants and bars all serving creative dishes made from both. And there’s also a two-day mycology conference where remarkable mushroom dishes are demonstrated by leading chefs and the science of fungi passionately discussed.

Tapas tasting

img_4646

Creative mushroom tapas

I spend my first evening happily wandering the narrow car-free streets and trying mushroom dishes in tapas bars all across the ancient, pretty town. In La Chistera I get a two mushroom choux ball over a glass of rich foaming mushroom consommé. In La Candela chef cooks boletus mushrooms and eggs at the table for me in a frying pan that has been fiercely heated in the kitchen and rushed out quickly. No time for plates I scoop up the delicious mess up from the pan with crusty bread.

img_4662

And some more mushrooms

Next in La Cepa, the tapas is a flatbread topped with a selection of mushrooms, potato, a piece of crab, some carrot, mayonnaise and finally mango flavoured with truffle. It’s a true taste bomb

Everywhere I go that evening I grab one amazing mushroom dish and one glass of wine, the local and lovely Ribera del Duero named for the river that flows through the town. I finally get back to my cute hotel high up on the hill very happy, but rather wobbly.

Mushroom tourism is mushrooming

dsc_7280

Miles and miles of mushrooms

Would you travel to pick mushrooms? The Spanish do and they come to the Parque Micológico de Pinar Grande near Soria. Here in 2,500 hectares of accessible pine forest the rangers tell me there are more mushroom varieties than one can count, although around 2700 is the usual figure quoted.

dsc_7311

Don’t disrespect the forest

After buying a low priced permit you can pick all you want, within reason, and there are guides to take you out and advise you. The whole thing is run in an eco-friendly and very responsible way, rangers patrol constantly to preserve the flora and fauna while a trompe l’oeil mushroom man watches spookily from out of the woods.

dsc_7282

Garlic, butter and let’s go

The park website provides daily updates on what mushrooms may be available the next day, or next week, carefully monitoring weather patterns so that the chances of a visitor having a fruitless day are minimised.

Looking down at our basket, I longed for a camping gas stove, some butter, garlic and bread so I could to eat all that bosky bounty on the spot. Next time I’ll rent somewhere in town.

Michelin mushrooms on stage

dsc_6972

Oscar Garcia Marina

Seeing what a proper chef can do with mushrooms in Soria and around the area is easy. Restaurant Baluarte  for example is where chef Oscar Garcia Marina, often labelled the best chef in Castilla y León, can be found.

My mushroom lunch there of nine courses produced one sensation after another, with witty plays on mushroom textures – infused, raw, fried, pickled, dried – as well as a wide range of mushroom varieties. It even ended with a mushroom based dessert but the artistry never overwhelmed the flavours.

dsc_7386

Just one more picture

The next day is the conference and as well as the cooking demos there are break out discussions. The cooking is incredible, Oscar does a good show, as does Nacho Manzana the three star chef who is also executive chef of Iberica in the UK.

Bill Jones, a genial Canadian who has been helping me eat my way to an early grave, gets up on stage to give a talk from his experiences as author, chef and forager at his restaurant Deerholme on Vancouver Island. His jokes get a bit lost in translation so I find myself the only person laughing in a room full of Spanish chefs, but he cooks some great mushroom dishes that easily cross the language barrier,

At lunch the tapas brought out have a lot of mushroom in them, of course, but my favourite thing is the Torrezno.

Torrezno is pork belly that’s been marinated and dried, cut into strips and then fried fiercely in olive oil. It’s undoubtedly the best pork and crackling I have ever eaten and so I buy some later, along with the highly-rated local chorizo, to smuggle home buried deep in my suitcase.

Soria and its surrounds have been a bit of a surprise; Spain seems to have so many wonderful undiscovered food areas that it’s a shame so many gourmands head to the increasing tourist trap of San Sebastian.

dsc_6908

The end of the canyon

As well as the food, the region is rich in natural wonders such as The Cañón del Río Lobos Nature Park, where a giant Griffon vulture circled over my head, clearly gauging whether I would survive the beautiful walk through the canyon to the Chapel of San Bartolomé, one of the most important  sites of the Order of the Knights Templar.

dsc_6806

Best lamb ever

And I won’t forget the wood-oven cooked suckling lamb in the restaurant El Lagar de Isilla  in Arunda, made more remarkable by being taken under the restaurant after lunch to discover a deep and massive network of underground galleries, dating back to the  XV century, where wine was once made and stored and that have secret entrances spread out all over the town.

Yes it seems that in this wonderful part of Spain, there’s just as much going on under the ground as as there is on it.

Our thanks to the Spanish Tourist Office

www.spain.info

www.ineedspain.com

 We stayed at:

Hotel Termal Burgo de Osma,

Calle Universidad, 5,

42300 El Burgo de Osma, Soria

Hotel Leonor Mirón

Paseo del Mirón, s/n,

42005 Soria

Mountains of magic

Nick finds out of ski season Switzerland is all about lush landscapes, fine vistas and plenty of cheese and chocolate.

dsc_6014

Interlaken is a centre for tandem parasailing

The parasailers circle over town like colourful vultures, perhaps lured by the smell of cheese? It’s hard to avoid the aromas of Emmentaler in a country where it’s eaten as often as we eat cheddar.

dsc_5762

The holes are made by the trapped gases during maturation

Emmentaler with its classic ‘cartoon’ holes is often regarded as a cheese suitable only for children, but Emmental eaten in Switzerland is another taste experience altogether.The milk of course is crucial, in Switzerland it comes from cows that graze on grass made lush by the snow melt. Continue reading

Oiling the kitchen wheels with Borderfields rapeseed oils

Forget olive oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and any other old oils because rapeseed oil is the new frying choice and what’s more it’s 100% UK sourced and bottled. Nick Harman goes to see how the seeds become liquid gold..

Bottled with love

Rapeseed oil, known as Canola oil in America perhaps for obvious reasons, has had a relatively short history in the UK but has been going  from strength to strength with supply sometimes being outstripped by demand. Especially when endorsed on the TV.

‘Well, Greg Wallace mentioned how good it was on Masterchef a few years back and the next day sales went through the roof,’ says Jon Hammond, Executive Director of Hammond Food Oils as we duck through plastic curtains into another section of the rapeseed pressing and bottling plant near Nottingham. ‘It was like the old Delia effect, do you remember when she recommended that saucepan?’ Who could forget?

Rapeseed genuinely is a seed, a tiny black round seed that s identical in look to the mustard seed used in Indian cooking, or the cabbage seed we plant in vegetable plots. This is because it’s a part of the same brassica family and even smells rather the same. Today its unmistakable bright yellow flowers are a familiar part of the UK’s colour palette all summer long.

It’s harvest time comes in August and the seeds are arriving at the factory in their millions where they are quickly sieved and sorted to remove unwanted flower and stalk debris before heading to the cold presser. The woody debris goes to be used as biofuel for heating, nothing is wasted not even it seems the waste

Chicken feed, no waste

Chicken feed, no waste

‘Chicken feed!’ says Jon showing me a sample of squidgy green material left after the pressing, it’s perfect for chickens, full of nutrients and gooey with the last traces of the oil that couldn’t be extracted by the relatively (compared to hot pressing) less efficient cold press method. ‘Cold pressing though preserves more of the goodness,’ explains Jon ‘and we press and filter the seed five times, that’s more than any other brand on the market, for the purest product

dsc_5181

Gold standard

The oil pours sinuously down pipes to be refined ready for bottling, gradually going from green to gold in the process.

dsc_5209

The machine marches on

This is a small factory with a small workforce where the bottling machine chugs away cheerfully, occasionally stopping and being tended by its minders, before lurching back into clinking life again. The bottles are wrapped with their date marked labels and pass out through a catflap affair to be hustled into boxes by hand ready for dispatch.

Not just plain rapeseed oil either, much of the produce is flavoured with things such as lemon, basil, chili and garlic to meet increasing demand.

The natural oil is relatively neutral in flavour,  it has a slight nuttiness that’s warm and embracing and not the assertive pepperiness of so much olive oil as well as half the saturated fat and and a near perfect blend of omegas 3, 6 and 9.

The neutral flavour makes it ideal for frying, as does its high smoke point that means that unlike olive oil it can be made to go very hot indeed without choking you out of the kitchen.

dsc_5361

Cooks’ choice

A big fan is Michelin starred chef, Kenny Atkinson who first won a Michelin star at St Martin’s on the Isle Hotel  and then at his own restaurant, House of Tides in Newcastle. He’s been a big fan he says since he was obliged to find a substitute for olive oil when cooking for the Great British Menu. ‘Everything had to be sourced from the UK obviously, so that meant no olive oil. But I fell in love with rapeseed oil and now that’s all I use in my restaurant kitchen.’

dsc_5365

Grate for any dish

To prove how good it is he gets busy and cooks Grilled Mackerel with salad of fennel and an orange, brown shrimp and ginger vinaigrette, whips up a vibrant Watercress Pesto Sauce and then Lemon and Thyme Cake Bars. Follow the links for the recipes.

dsc_5391

Mayonnaise made easy

All delicious I find,  as I eat the dishes under a clear blue sky out in the Nottinghamshire countryside just a mile or two away from where the oil was produced.

dsc_5423

Ready to fry

Rapeseed oil is one of our island’s most perfect products it seems and is slipping ever deeper into the clued-up chef’s toolbox.Try some yourself and get the golden touch.

The full Borderfields range includes:

Borderfields British Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Scottish Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Chilli Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Basil Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Lemon Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic & Ginger Stir Fry Oil (250ml)

Available at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda stores nationwide, as well as selected Tesco stores and www.amazon.co.uk – with RRPs ranging from £1.99 – £4.50.

Queen of the crop

Nick heads down to Kent to fill his punnet with some of the tastiest strawberries in the country

DSC_4810

My hand snakes out again almost against my will, grabs a traffic-light red strawberry from its stem and I pop it into my mouth. I’m actually supposed to be putting it in the plastic punnet I’m carrying but it’s impossible to resist the sun-warmed fruit.

DSC_4827

Continue reading

Worth its salt

Nick goes to Anglesey to earn his salary (sic) by seeing Halon Môn salt created and how Green & Black’s chocolate is making new use of it.

DSC_5484

David Lea-Wilson, co-founder

‘Every day whatever the weather I come down to the water’s edge and use this device,’ says David Lea-Wilson co-founder of the Anglesey Salt Company waving a curious kind of measuring instrument that looks rather like the thing doctors poke in people’s ears.

It is in fact a  refractometer and accurately measures how much light bends, or refracts, when it enters water. The more salt dissolved in the water, the more resistance the light will meet and the more it will bend.

This device is crucially important because the seawater here is what goes to make Halen Môn salt, widely regarded as one of the best sea salts in the UK if not the world. And it’s the salt Green & Black’s have chosen to go into their new Dark Sea Salt THIN bar.

Continue reading