Don't be a gooseberry - rhubarb rhubarb and parsnips - MIX Conversation Session 20/01/2016

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Michael Pollan wrote a book about food called “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. This book, among others has made him one of the most influential writers about food and farming today.

 He is professor of science and environmental journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. That sentence has the word “science” in it, but Pollan is a natural journalist . . . a communicator and a master of the increasingly necessary soundbite. He has boiled down all his years of research to just seven words . . . “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.

Another of his soundbites that I particularly like is - “Don’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”.

Our session today started with us talking about cars and scrapyards. One thing came up that I’d never thought about before . . . around here we live in an area where business activity is dictated by tourism and there’s a big lull in the middle of December, not many people go on holiday just before Christmas . . .  so, where on earth does a rent–a–car company park the 600 unrented cars that it needs over the Christmas period? You need to find a lot of space for that . . . . imagine just sixty cars . . . .  but I suppose every business has its complications.

Nobody had any New Year’s Resolutions and we all decided they were silly things to have anyway. However one lady did say that she would like to start eating more healthily . . . so, on that cue, I deftly whipped out an extract from an interview with Michael Pollan that I had recorded off the radio. And of course this proved to be a very tricky listening exercise.

There was lots of interesting vocabulary and a smooth American accent . . . but Low Fat Gooseberry Flavoured Yoghurt sparked something off. Nobody had heard of . . . or recognised a picture of, a gooseberry. In Spanish they are called prickly redcurrants (grosella espinosa) although they’re green. I have since asked several people from various regions and they seem to be totally unheard of in Spain.

The same with rhubarb (ruibarbo), no one has a clue what it is.

Apart from getting into some classic desserts like rhubarb crumble and gooseberry pie, these English staples have even worked their way into the language.

If you are a single person out with a couple  . . . or a prospective couple, then you are a gooseberry. (Definition - informal Brit - an unwanted single person in a group of couples, esp a third person with a couple (often in the phrase play gooseberry))

And rhubarb is the noise made by actors to simulate conversation, esp by repeating the word rhubarb at random. Doing this is described by the verb to rhubarb.

This also made me think of parsnips. I have searched for a year, and again I haven’t found a single Spaniard who knows what they are, and yet you wouldn’t find an English Sunday roast without them. If you show people a picture, they say "that's a white carrot". About a year ago I found them in my local fruit and veg shop (they are called Chirivías). It’s a wonderful vegetable shop, they plant, grow and sell all sorts of exotic fruit and veg from far off lands, it's just that I had never thought of parsnips as "exotic" before. They tell me in the shop that only foreigners buy those.

Yummy! Roasted parsnips in Tenerife.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants . . . . this is not as simple as it sounds. Not even “Eat food” is easy when the grocery stores are filled with a profusion of “Edible food- like substances”.

The whole interview with Micheal Pollan is well worth a listen, you can get it HERE. Or if it gets taken off, ask me.

I finished off the evening with a plate of Antonio’s delicious Chilli Con Carne, which he cooks with chocolate . . . with a very noticeable chocolaty taste. I was surprised at how good that is. Apparently that’s the way it’s done in Mexico, and that’s where chocolate comes from.

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