Thursday, 16 February 2012

February 16th - Family friendly food and the acceptable face of smoking

Dear Nigel,

We decide to go out to dinner to celebrate my Mum's Birthday and the inevitable question arises - where? If this was a party of adults only then the choice would be simpler - anywhere you fancy, basically. But, since it is a family party and includes two rather lively little girls, the choice is less clear cut.

 What happened to my two adorable little dolls who would sit meekly at the table while conversation went on around them and nibble on a piece of bread? This year they turned into a pair of fiendish elves with itching powder down their pants, bent on giving their ageing grandparents indigestion at the very least. And, raising my stress levels to boiling point as i grin broadly whilst strapping one child down to her seat with my right hand,simultaneously tripping up the other with my left foot before she legs it to play under someone else's table.

Mum says she can't cope with the stress of a nice restaurant meal and declares we must go somewhere more family friendly. In the event we go to a perfectly decently average family food pub where i decide, as usual, that the safest option is usually a good rib eye steak. The children are quite happy, as always, with sausages and chips and a pot of the red stuff.

The problem isn't with the pub or the food or the family friendliness - these are much as you and i might expect. I simply wonder why it's rarely possible to marry one with the other. I must admit i can quite happily see it from the other side too: One of my favourite pubs back at home - The Red Lion at Litton - is a beautiful little olde worlde pub with excellent food and doesn't allow children through its doors. This used to annoy me at first, but on the occasions i have been 'sans les enfants', it's been really pleasant to be able to concentrate on the food and the person you're trying to talk to. Then again, as a parent wishing to educate my little darlings in the finer things in life, as they do on the continent, i wonder why i have to find myself downgraded to economy class - OK, one up from McDonalds - and pretend that i wouldn't know there were more than three types of vegetables in this world, - orange ones, green ones and chips; or that fish sometimes comes without a crisp golden coating.

Maybe London is teeming with little places where the Maitre d' is happy to oblige your little treasures in their chic catwalk apparel, but out in the sticks there is still an accepted divide between them with bloomin' kids and the pearls and blazer brigade, young working couples and the chosen- childless in their cream cashmere and sensible walking stilettos.

On a positive foodie note, the hot smoked salmon we bought at Swallows in Seahouses was superb. Firm, fleshy and the colour of neat orange squash (as you used to get it as a child - almost a burnt orange). Mum poached it in milk to remove some of the saltiness and we ate it simply with new potatoes and courgettes.

Home tomorrow and i get to find out what you've been up to and what you've been cooking. I'm tempted to pick up some Craster kippers from Robson's down the road. I took the kids to the swings late this afternoon and the smoke was bellowing out of the roof of the smokehouse, though the shop had long closed. It's good to see the old traditions going strong, and the advent of the Internet and vacuum packing winging it all over the world.

Yours from the north of the North,


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