Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 21/10/18

A Matter Of Taste

I'm glad that I seem to be in no imminent danger of becoming either a Trendy or a Hipster. What follows is my consoling proof.

I was in Sainsbury's this morning as usual, and the first item on my list was 'potato'. Specifically, a potato for baking so that I could have it with a small tin of beans and a couple of rashers of bacon for my tea (leaving aside the fact that I'd had beans and bacon on Friday as part of my regular Cholesterol Bomb).

However, when I got to the veg section, I found that the baking potatoes they had were so small that it would take three of them to make a decent meal. So that was that idea gone down the pictures.

(A side-note here on the subject of my Sunday tea. From mid-May to mid-September, this comprises half of a quiche with salad and - latterly - hummus. From mid-November to mid-March, it's Lobscouse Au Juge. The two interregna between the end of one season and the start of the other pose a quandary. This is because - both the quiche/salad and scouse doing for both Sunday and Monday - I have to find two alternatives for each week, which sore besets the imagination.)

I then pondered the possibility of couscous and fried mushrooms, which I've had many a time during the week, although not recently. I went in search of couscous, only to find that the sachets they used to stock aren't there any more, and I wasn't going to buy anything oversized.

Deciding in my desperation to get adventurous, I thought of quinoa.

I've read the word dozens of times - as would any reader of the Guardian - but I've never been sure how to pronounce it, and asking someone would mark me out as a complete duffer wherever bien pensants gather to dine. It's a bit like the village of Martletwy in the south west of my own fair land; is it pronounced 'martle-twie'? Or 'mart-let-wie'? Or 'Mart-let-wee'? Wikipedia is no help on the matter, alas.

Worse still, I didn't even really know what quinoa actually is. I thought it was some type of grain or cereal, but beyond that...I tried to look it up on my phone, but the inside of Sainsbury's is a dead zone for a phone signal. Or at least, that part of it is; I blame the concentration of lentils in that region attenuating the signal to uselessness. All the packets I picked up merely stated that the main ingredient was...quinoa. Essentially accurate, but equally essentially unhelpful.

Moreover, all the packets I picked up were far too big, being of 200g or 250g; way too much for me, especially as I couldn't be sure I would want to eat it anyway.

In the end, I did manage to find a 300g packet which was (in theory) re-sealable.

(I say 'in theory', because in my experience the sticky-tape thingy one is supposed to seal such packets back up with swiftly loses its virtue and the contents end up being exposed to the air).

I then wandered back to the fresh produce section, picked half a dozen mushrooms and considered that part of the job done.

Back home and teatime in due course approaching, I read the directions on the packet. It seems that I had to rinse the quinoa several times, "to remove the bitterness". As I have long since learned that, in matters of novelty, it pays to attend to the instructions, I set to rinsing the 70g of the stuff that I had weighed out. But then I was once again assailed by uncertainty; what could I use to rinse it in? I got out one of the ramekins which - if memory serves - my mother had got as a special offer with Oxo some thirty-odd years ago, poured the quinoa into it and then added water.

After a moment or two, it occured to me that I wasn't rinsing the damned stuff, I was soaking it. So I got the kitchen sieve, poured the by-now soggy quinoa into that and ran more water through it. After a minute or so of this, I got bored and transferred the slush to my little saucepan, measured out the required amount of water and set it to boil. Once at the boil, I turned the gas down, put the lid on the pan and left it to simmer for the requisite 15 to 18 minutes...

...at which point (and having fried the mushrooms), I removed the saucepan lid to find that there was still a fair bit of water in there. I might have foreseen this; if you leave the lid on, any liquid doesn't all go. So I carried on cooking it with the lid off for a couple of minutes, and then put the resulting sog through the sieve a second time, poured it out on the plate alongside the fungi and made to eat it...

This just in, ladies and gentlemen: quinoa is very, very boring. It's even blander than neat couscous, which always has to have some strong flavours added to it to make it worth the trouble of shoving it into yer gob. I thought of adding something to the dull freight on my plate - like two or three substantial dollops of brown sauce, for example - but suspected that I would be marked down as a heretic by readers of the colour supplements and force-fed more of the stuff.

At the end of all this, the question remains; why is quinoa supposedly so popular with the smart set? Is it because it's quite exotic, being grown on the slopes of the Andes and all? Is it a case of eating it because all those people you set your cap at as embodying all those attributes you would wish to ascribe to yourself go on about it so much? Or is it part of that same impulse previously encountered in the fake hair-shirt trends of the late 1980s amongst the same social type, in which the consumption of plain yoghurt and misoshiru were extolled as being signs that one was living the Good, Virtuous (if expensive) Life?

If it's all the same to the swanks, I'll stick to my lobscouse...