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Monday, 27 February 2012

The birthday boy thinks about ways of getting fitter.

Today my birthday age matches the year in which I was born. I am now 56 and was born in 1956. Only once will that happen in my life unless I survive to 2056. So happy birthday to me and thankyou to all my Facebook friends for your birthday wishes and thanks too to those who have sent cards and thanks to Rick and Janette who are taking me out for a meal tonight at Piccolino's in Nottingham.

I'm not a sporty person, you have to know that about me. At school I was crap at the egg and spoon race, skipping was a nightmare of  bad co-ordination, near self strangulation and savage rope burns and I almost broke an ankle in a rather rough sack race event when two of the fattest boys in the class for twelve year olds fell over in front of me ( I was third from last anyway) and I went arse over juvenile tit and spent two weeks off school getting familiar with constant bags of ice cubes around my practically frozen purple and blue coloured right ankle. The two fat boys, Toby and Terry Jenkins just bounced away without injury. At senior school I cried off all ball sports, was terrified about vaulting the horse, and jumping hurdles. I refused to climb the rope ladders due to a terror of heights and more rope burns and the only sport I excelled in was cross country running. I was surprisingly good at this and loved to splosh through wet fields and hidden amounts of dog poo and run down country lanes in willy exposing shorts and floppy green flash tennis shoes. Nothing better than a scolding hot shower to ease those muscle aches and wash away the mud from my skinny legs.  After school I got interested in cycling for fun and for a while followed the Milk Race and The Tour de France in the media if not on my bike itself.

Then the seventies arrived and me and mate enrolled in a Shukokai karate class for a while because we were big Bruce Lee fans and couldn't find a Kung Fu class in Derby at the time. We lived, breathed and idolised Bruce Lee and loved to watch the TV series, Kung Fu, too. The karate classes were physically tough and we didn't stay long. At home my Dad suggested I use his abandoned Bullworker to build up some muscle. I over did it and put my back out for the first time in my life.
Crossing the channel

hmmm, sexy shorts.

It wasn't that I hadn't been adventurous.I loved to go hiking for miles and, by my mid thirties, I'd been caving and sailed in a yacht across the English channel to Cherbourg and back and almost got the crew and myself marooned near the Isle of Wight. Later in life I took up Tai Chi and loved the slow exercise and only really finished the classes due to not being able to afford them, being out of work at the time.

Today I have been amusing myself by taking photos and thinking up ways of exercise that I could adopt to get myself fitter.
extreme ironing
weight lifting
indoor running on the spot
Spatula tennis
Horse riding
Skate boarding! This is the shot seconds before I fell off the skate board.
fell walking
hugging competitions
Men's Health magazine exercises
barefoot wet rocks walking

dry land swimming

And so back to my birthday. Thanks to Rick and Janette for a lovely evening out tonight. Fabulous company as always.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Pass me the walking frame now...

At the end of this month I'm fifty-six years old. As a small child I would have thought this age to be cobweb covered ancient. Beyond ancient - almost one hundred, give or take a year as percieved from my naive nine year old's advantage point.. If you could see me right now typing away with the heating on full, slumped on the settee, still in my dressing gown and it being well past midday; feeling yucky with a runny nose, head cold and a glass of medicinal Jack Daniels by my side (courtesy of kind neighbour - by the way) you might well believe my smug childhood self was correct.

smug little git

Today I lost my glasses three times and couldn't find the house key more than once and got bad tempered when I continually struggled to put on my boxer shorts without toppling over. The proceedure took three wobbly goes in all. We don't even talk about putting on socks without straining my back. When I get the left sock on it is a miracle of acheivement on the lines of the discovering the Americas or a cure for the common cold. The right one takes a decade longer to put on and then, frustratingly, I find it is inside out. And this action of 'putting on the socks' entails more huffing and puffing action than the Wolf did oustide the home of the Three Little Pigs.

Painting a good picture aren't I? Attractive huh?

What ever happened to all those years ago when I would run for fun, miles and miles, in  tennis pumps! And cycle, again miles and miles up and down the hills of Derbyshire, for the simple joy of it all. Wind in me hair and all that. Hair, aaah, hair, down the proverbial plughole of life it has gorn. One day Leo Sayer, next day Jean Luc Picard without the six pack. Or a Next Generation Starship Enterprise for that matter.

My friend Rebecca cutely refers to my sixty pack as my Buddha Belly. I have trained for many years inbibing beer to get to this level of tummy so I must surely be credited with some honour in this regard. As they say in the Far East: the Budai figure generally represents happiness and the same reason praying brings miracles, rubbing the figure brings luck. Form an orderly queue here.

I previously mentioned hair.

Question:How come hair won't grow on a large proportion of the rear of my head but will grow in abundance from my ears and nose? And why is there one very wirey hair that insists on growing in the middle of the bald spot when all its fellow hairs gave up the ghost many years ago? AND, more importantly WHY does Leo Sayer STILL have a full head of hair forty years on? I bought all his bloody albums for God's sake. Ungrateful bastard!

Answers on a postcard to Age Concern c/o Phil Lowe please.

Going for a siesta now. Make sure nurse has my hot milk ready for when I return.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Phil Lowe, A Very Hungry Englishman.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Raymond Blanc’s journey through his favourite culinary regions of France. In the BBC 2 series, The Very Hungry Frenchman, Raymond travels to five regions of France, takes over a restaurant and cooks the special dishes of that area. So far three programmes have been broadcast and in each one I would have loved to been by his side meeting all the people passionate about the food of France.

The episodes I have seen so far have Raymond and his two helpers Kush and Katy from Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons travelling to Lyon, where he meets up with his friend and award winning chef Paul Bocuse and indulges in the superb chocolate the city is famous for. They made a crumble with it and served it to their guests in a bouchon – a typical rustic Lyonnais restaurant. They also made a very light pike quenelle which was very much admired as well as poached egg Lyonnais salad. The programme also extolled the quality of the Bresse chickens which can fetch up around Forty pounds apiece. The modern Paul Bocuse market looked fantastic as did the city of Lyon itself. Somewhere I must visit some day.

Out of the three episodes that have been shown the first was in Franche Compté where we get to meet one of the biggest influences of Raymond’s life, his mother. This was the region where Raymond grew up and the region where he discovered a passion for gastronomy as his mother’s helper and where he would roam the forests, foraging for everything – wild asparagus, snails, frogs, eggs, mushrooms and berries. Oooh la la!

Then, says Raymond, “After hours of hunting and gathering, I’d run home to devour bread with butter and Maman Blanc’s jams. We kept rabbits, but they were for the table and whenever one was served my mother had tears running down her cheeks and a smile on her lips. This time around, I ate mountains of magnificent smoked Morteau sausage – and had that gastronomic marriage made in heaven: slices of nutty Comté cheese and a glass of sherry-like vin jaune.  I hope you British gourmets will be inspired to create these superb French dishes at home. I am proud to have been part of the Great British food revolution, but I’ll always find time to raise a glass and toast, Vive La France.” Source: Daily Mail website.

The second episode was in Burgundy where Raymond and his helpers cooked the famous Beef Bourguignon from beef from the long lived and stress free Charolais cows and inspired me to give it a go last Saturday, albeit with meat from a Vache Anglaise. He also ate Michelin star snails and visited a vineyard world famous for its Chardonnay grapes and learnt the technique for taking the grapes from the vines without damage. The best wines, grand cru, are made from the vines at the topmost part of the vineyard and of course, the terroir along with the sunshine are the most important ingredients to creating superb wines.

Next week the programme comes from Alsace, a region of hearty mountainous dishes and close Germanic flavours along with French and I can’t wait for the final episode in Provence. Again I quote the Daily Mail website.
“Heading south, Provence provided Mediterranean sunshine and I was instantly reminded of my first visit, when I was 12 and went to see a friend who had moved there. It was like going to another country: the smell of fennel and lavender, the lazy sound of crickets, the constant blue sky – and the bustling market stalls laid out with lobster, octopus and squid. When I returned this time I enjoyed Provençal specialities including brandade (a purée of salt cod) and the best bouillabaisse I’ve ever tasted – a glorious fish stew combines the flavours of the sea with the tastes of the land (tomatoes, olive oil, saffron, star anise, pastis or brandy). “ 

Sounds great non? Could this series rival my favourite French cooking series, French Odyssey by Rick Stein?

Monday, 13 February 2012

Le weekend... enjoying a big joint.

I don’t normally have a Saturday and Sunday style weekend off as I work both days and get Monday and Tuesday off instead. However, I’ve had a bit of a holiday break including yesterday and the day before. So, to celebrate I went on a cookathon and cooked a joint of spiced shoulder pork on Saturday and made a  Boeuf Bourguignon yesterday. I didn’t intend to do both but this is how it happened.

Firstly I went across the road to my ever smiling village butcher, Mr Happy, and enquired about the price of a nice looking pork shoulder joint in his window display. As I enquired I was also aware that I could get a hand of pork – that’s a shoulder piece with the knuckle joint on the bone for about a fiver from the butcher two miles away on the Clifton estate. They are very good value from the Clifton butchers, Paul Walker’s. So, when Mr Happy the butcher in the village smiled at me and said, £13.55, guess where I went? I don’t think he was very happy anymore.

It was a cold but nice day weather-wise and it took me over an hour to walk to Clifton and back but the thought of saving £8.55 and probably getting a bigger, considerably cheaper, fresher joint, stirred me onwards, Clifton bound. In the end I spent about nine pounds with Paul Walkers’, purchasing some nice looking braising steak and three cooking apples for an apple sauce as well as the pork hand for £4.91. I felt like a hunter gatherer bringing home the catch of the day, plus some. Ug!

When I got home I boned and rolled the pork, scored it and laced it with cloves, star anise and a cinnamon stick and popped it into the oven for two and half hours on a low heat and it was yummy. Great crackling too!!  I also had some roast spuds and carrots and green beans but there is no picture as I got a bit tiddly with some accompanying vintage cider and forgot to take one. That same afternoon I prepped the beef, trimming the little bit of fat off and marinating it in a red wine from Bourgogne (Mâcon – les Epillets). I added a sort of bouquet garni with some thyme and bay leaves and three chopped cloves of garlic. Then I covered the bowl with tin foil and placed it in the fridge overnight to do it’s magic. This was the first time I’d done this. I also did some clothes washing and more vintage cider drinking and made a home made apple sauce from three cooking apples. Not bad for a Rosbif.

Sunday saw me cooking the beef as recommended in my French cooking book and I added new potatoes, chunky chopped celery, carrots and button mushrooms to the casserole, made a wine reduction with the marinade and cooked it the oven – medium heat- for two hours and sat with a glass of wine watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey while the house filled, once again with the delicious aromas of my weekend meals.

Rick Stein in a French railway cafe
left over cold pork and home made apple sauce

What next?! Maybe a rabbit fricassée? I know a field or two near Bunny where there are some bunnies. Where’s me gun? I’ll get my trusty hunting cat, Madame Soufie to come with me too. Bang bang!! Fetch Soufie fetch. No don’t eat it!!!
Madame Soufie the hunting cat.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Well, eat my ears and feet

Sadly, that's not an invite to be pervy or cannibalistic but me reflecting on a recent book purchase called Odd Bits. The book invites people to think about how delicious some of the lesser eaten bits of cows, sheep, pigs and fowls might be. It's full of very nice looking recipes but I think I would draw the line at eating chickens feet or testicles ta.

I do like various bits of offal like lambs and pigs liver and lambs and ox kidney (pigs kidneys always seem a bit bitter to me) and when I was a young boy my mum used to take me to a tripe shop at Derby Market. The tripe shop always smelt strongly of vinegar and we used to eat it raw as well as cooked. I don't think I was told what tripe was at the time but did enjoy eating it. We also had it cooked in milk and the taste was quite different. My Auntie Barbara remembers the tripe shop too and they used to ask for the honeycomb bit of the tripe. Tripe and onions (pickled onions) were a favourite with her side of the family when growing up and her Dad (another grandad) used to enjoy eating chitterlings (cooked intestines) and called them by a name I'd never heard before, hodge. This I gleaned from a short chat with Barbara on the dog and bone (phone) this morning. Speaking of dogs, her old dog in the 1960s used to be given a sheep's head with the brains exposed and, apparently, the Alsatian used to wolf these down. Imagine that now!!!! We had a laugh about walking into a supermarket and instead of seeing rows of canned dog food there would be rows of sheep's heads for sale! Macabre.

We also used to eat a lot of brawn where pig's cheek would have been shredded and cooked in the brawn mixture. My Grandad Lowe used to like to eat cooked sheep's brains as did a lot of his generation (folk born around 1890 and 1900) and he was particularly fond of boiled pigs trotters.

Cooked tongue was a regular part of my Sunday tea growing up and as part of my early days in the butcher's trade I was used to seeing ox and lambs tongues preserved in big buckets of brine as well as pigs intestines, also in brine, ready for cleaning and using for sausage skins. In fact I grew up seeing all the humane killing processes and gutted chickens and trimmed the meat off cows heads and lambs heads for cow's cheek and dog food. Even back in the 1970s people used to come into the butchers shops and ask for lites (the lungs of pigs of lambs and sheep mainly) to cook and feed their pets.

I'd try most things of this nature but grey chitterlings and their smell does turn my stomach a bit and as for sweetbreads and testicles, well call me fey but...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Minus eight and a house filled with the aroma of lemon and thyme chicken.

According to the local radio, tonight's temperature could be as low as minus eight and as I am feeling very peckish I have spent this afternoon oven roasting a succulent chicken filled with a whole lemon and fragrant thyme picked fresh from the garden and sprinkled lovingly over the partially cooked meat two thirds through the cooking process. I also prepared some roasting vegetables, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic and placed them in the oven around the roasting bird around the same time. On gas mark seven they now had three quarters of an hour to cook through and flavour the chicken further. Furthermore, I lightly boiled a few new potatoes to add to the dish.

Next door's cat, Mr Harris, came in to check that all was well with the chicken and found it perfectly OK as he sniffed the air like a cat version of the Bisto kids. He also found it perfectly (and a bit alarmingly) OK to bite my fingers as I stroked his sweet little head affectionately. I think it was the strong smell of the thyme. He's never bit me before. Interestingly, I gave him a bit of the the cooked chicken when it had come out of the oven and had cooled down enough to be comfortable for a little cat's mouth to eat. He had a bit but didn't seem that fussed. He either wasn't hungry or the lemon and thyme flavours put him off.

Anyway, I enjoyed it and there is plenty left for another day or another dish to enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

I've won a blog award and next week, an interview!

Many thanks to Jean of for the Liebster blog award.

She very kindly described my blog as: Last but not least  to Phil who works on the butcher's counter at Tesco in Nottingham and writes wittily about food and life in Nottingham; life in general and his love for all things French.

As a big Francophile I always enjoy her view of the French way of life and the beautiful area to which she and her husband return to as often as possible. And who can blame them!!! How often have I read their posts when they have arrived late afternoon at their French property and have gravitated to the local bar for some French food and drink and would have loved to be able to join them.
On the subject of food I would like to nominate Dom at for his constant enthusiasm for the world of food and his encouragement of sharing food and drink based experiences. I sometimes wished that I drove in order to get to his kitchen out in the Lincolnshire wilds. Thanks Dom for always being there for your readers and sharing great foodie ideas and inspirations.

Another good friend in life and the blogging world is Janette currently at She always balances her blog posts with a delicate balance of humour, truth and enthusiasm for the written word. In her previous blog Janette challenged herself to achieve 40 challenges before her  40th birthday and therefore did more adventurous things than most of us might do sitting on our bottoms watching the telly every evening. Inspirational. How she manages to find time for all her writing and reading alongside her demanding job, I’ll never know but am proud to have her and her husband as my best friends.

For a long time I only knew this lady as my blogging friend FF This educated  and charming lady is a constant inspiration to all those who blog. A true survivor and a true inspiration: thank you Julie for always being there in the background and sharing your life through blogging in a discreet and intelligent way with great wit.

Finally, a chap I know from my flickr account (Gail’sMan) and his blog never fails to raise a smile through his appalling jokes (see, blokes can say this without falling out) and his gift for photography. It is no surprise that he has so many followers and he is constant in his stream of daily photography around the Nottingham area and always has something interesting to say about his subjects.

Finally, the fantastically talented artist Cheryl, whose honest watercolours are to be surely deserving of an exhibition. See Cheryl, I'm sure that you have a wordpress blog too but couldn't find it.

The rules for award winners, if you wish to take part, are: post the award on your sidebar, link to the blog that awarded it and write a post passing it on to five other blogs with less than 200 followers.

For all those who I have nominated please copy and paste your award from the link and enjoy passing on the link to five other blogs who you feel deserve the mention.  Next week I have an interview with a student who wants to interview me about the motivations behind creating and writing a blog.