Monday, February 25, 2008

25 February 2008: Reasons

Jason asks how clotted cream tastes. Answer: try it! If indeed they have it in Michigan (do they?)

We found that Central Market is only a Texas thing. We went back there as not only is it the only place to get clotted cream, fresh lamb and Wiltshire cheese (no, you don't eat all three of those together) but it's also probably the best place to get really good, fresh fruit here in north-central Texas. We got some peaches - imported from Chile - last time we went and they were amazing: fragrant, dewy-juicy, perfectly ripe and tasting as good as anything that comes out of southern Georgia in the summer. And it wasn't just the peaches: apples, tangelos, even the lettuce was delicious.

We wondered if it was just that the peaches came from Chile. At Wal-Mart last weekend we saw peaches from Chile, and bought five. All five were dry, tasteless and essentially inedible. And they weren't that much cheaper than the ones at Central Market. So, in the interests of trying to keep with with the five-a-day thing, back we went.

Of course, while we were there we also had to stop at the in-store Gelateria for some genuine Italian ice-cream, as well as nosing round the various sections and buying a half-leg of lamb for a pretty extortionate price. And then through the bread section, and then on to the cheese section where (as readers who get beyond the first paragraph of these blogs will remember) the Clotted Cream basket sits. As we approached, we noticed two of the shop workers having a discussion there. Being the rude person I am, I interrupted them.

"Does this stuff sell well?" I asked, holding up a jar of Clotted Cream.
"Oh yeah," the older man responded. "Yeah, that's real popular."
"Why is it in the cheese section?"

*This* was the key question, I felt. Did they actually think it was cheese?

"That's a good question," he replied. I know it's a good question, I thought.
"It may be because the dairy section is over-full, they've no room over there. But I think it's because you don't think about the clotted cream when you go through dairy, but then people come to the bread section, pick up their scones and then think 'well I need some clotted cream', so it's here."

People think *that*? They think about scones and clotted cream?

There followed an interesting discussion about the differences between double cream and clotted, and the processes involved with making the two. The employees came out of it with having learned about Jersey milk, and I came out of it feeling much happier that people in this country, at least *some* of them, understand about scones.

Now, having determined where all this stuff is in Texas, it's a little ironic that we're going to end up in Indiana, and have to start the process all over again.

Friday, February 08, 2008

7 February 2008: Scones

The picture above is not a fake, it is not Photoshopped in any way and neither does it date from a time prior to our move to the USA. It is - exactly - what it looks to be. It is a home-made scone covered with peach jam and topped with clotted cream, and the photo was taken last night, deep in the heart of Texas.

This will come as something of a shock to those of you who are (1) fans of clotted cream and (2) familiar with the way things are on this side of the Atlantic. I mean, it was sometimes hard to find clotted cream when I lived in London (I shopped at the big Safeway on Holloway Road so I guess it was my own fault to a degree), and knowing the requirements for making it, I thought there was no way whatsoever that there would be even a sniff of it over here.

For starters, you can't readily get Jersey milk. Those little shaggy brown cows aren't as popular over here as the Brangus moo-moos we were out feeding last week on the ranch, and even in the specialist shops that sell a wider variety of dairy products, your milk choice is restricted to full-fat milk (that's the blue-label one at Tesco), 2% milk (roughly equivalent to semi-skimmed, which tends to top out at 1.7%), low-fat milk and no-fat milk (skimmed), along with other products such as buttermilk and chocolate milk. The cream section contains whipping cream and, if you're very lucky, 'heavy whipping cream'. No gold top in sight, and certainly nothing approaching the stuff Langage farm outputs with such glorious regularity.

But yesterday, as we continued our quest to map out the land here and discover what you can and can't get, and what is reasonably enough priced that you can get it regularly, we visited Central Market. This is a small chain of large supermarkets run by H.E.B. (who also run more normal supermarkets), as we had been told this was the best (possibly only) place in Fort Worth to buy lamb. We indeed found lamb there, but also enjoyed looking round at the Lyle's Golden Syrup, Yorkshire Tea, Patak's curry products and the now-customary large range of Root Beer varieties. There was also a pleasing-to-the-eye selection of butter (step forward Lurpak and Kerrygold) and a cheese section featuring a bewildering array of cheeses from all over the world, including Wiltshire.

And there, in the corner of the cheese section (why the cheese section?) was a small basket containing a number of jars, half of which were marked "English Luxury Double Cream" and the other half marked "English Luxury Clotted Cream". To say we did a double-take would be to understate the point: we spent a good five minutes looking away and looking back, just to make sure. And what was more interesting was the brand name: "The Devon Cream Company". No, I hadn't heard of them either. In fact they're not from Devon at all - but they were from England, and over here that's just as good. What was more interesting, though, was the 'Best Before' date stamped over the front of the small glass jar.

"BBE NOV 08", in case you can't quite read the print in the photo.

Normally clotted cream will last a month at a push if you buy it at the right time. But November 08? That's when they're having the election over here (I'm sick of it already). That's months away. And how long since it was made, chilled and transported here anyway?

Answer: it's not *quite* normal clotted cream. It's clotted cream's equivalent of UHT. When we realised this, spirits sank a little. But only a little. It was still worth buying, still worth transporting home in an ice box, still worth making scones and scooping it out in Blaine-sized portions (you know what I'm talking about, Blaine) over the top and when I took a bite, mildly fearful it would taste like UHT milk...

Nope. It was nice. It was very nice indeed. And we'll be going back again to get more.

6 February 2008: Tesco Express Plus One

Had a very bizarre dream last night.

I dreamed they (whoever "they" are) were building a new shopping area somewhere that was probably Devon but may also have been partly Texas (you know how such things are when you're dreaming). This shopping area featured, as part of it, a 'Chick-Fil-A' fast food outlet and in my dream I told Gloria this excitedly, knowing she is a fan, to which she replied that she already knew it was there. But the main feature was a reasonable size supermarket, and the sign outside declared it was going to be a "Tesco Express +1".

This meant, apparently, that they would always be an hour behind all the other Tesco's in the area, meaning that if one of the other Tesco's sold out of something, they would *always* have it in stock there for another hour. Additionally, they would also be open an hour later than the other stores each day. They were basing the idea on the "+1" TV channels on UK television, where if you miss Oprah on ITV2 you can watch it an hour later on ITV2+1, minus the adverts (which they haven't been paid to show twice).

What a brilliant plan, I thought, as sleep slowly gave way to waking. I wonder if I could make some money out of this fantastic, mould-breaking marketing idea? Then I remembered that it was very rare for Tesco to sell out of something, and certainly for me to visit it within an hour of them selling out. Then I also remembered a lot of Tesco stores are open 24 hours Monday to Saturday, so that meant these would have to be open 25 hours a day for them to have the same effect. Then I woke up a little more and realised that if they could predict what they were going to sell out of, they'd just order more for the store that was about to sell out rather than sending it to the other store down the road.

So actually the whole thing was a complete load of nonsense.

On the other hand, it did have a Chick-Fil-A next door, which is still a good idea. And it was a fun thought while it lasted.

Friday, February 01, 2008

1 February 2007: Brangus

Went feeding the cows this morning, a few bulls too. Nothing quite like being out in the early morning sunshine here in Star, Texas.