100 and 87.

I have fled Mordor. The Middle Earth of the civilised world: Walsall, where bloated orcs and trolls and hobbited cross-breeds haunt the deserted high street looking for prey. It is bleak and grey and exhausted by its own contagious hopelessness. I spent last night in the Premier Inn watching table upon table of others like myself, alone with their computers and papers, scanning the dinner menu for a noose, in desolate silence. It sits uncomfortably; the last stop in a train tour of England’s industrial wastelands and forgotten villages. Lucky escape.

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100 and 85.

Mornings in Alabama begin with ritual insect murder: ants in the kitchen, cockroaches in the sitting room, cereal box infestations and window ledge lizard-catching. Then there is the waiting. This is our belated weekend; we worked through Saturday and Sunday, the end of our seven day roadtrip through Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and back. I celebrated turning 23 in four states. We wait until mid-afternoon to be remembered and collected; driven for wine and groceries and back again, to wait until the next day.

I am working for Time Warner, the world’s largest entertainment company, through Murphy Media, the firm contracted for the book we write and research on these trips. From crab-encrusted fried chicken with the aptly-named Tennessee Momma ‘Big Fatty’ to Millie’s, the dark Friday night Richmond drinking joint where I was trapped in a fridge and given a personal city-tour by the owner in a BMW, we are binge-eating our way across the South, adventure by adventure.

We live in a cottage on the woodland estate of a former Goldman Sachs CEO. It is a dog lover’s sordid fantasy; statues, cushions, photographs, calendars, and wax monuments to the cocker spaniel, adorn every surface. This house is a monument to the shaggiest breeds of the panting, wild-eyed and easy to please; fortunate, because we too are transforming into this unfamiliar species, as we worship ever-more at the altar of the Deep South deep fryer. Dangerous.

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100 and 84.

I have a blank criminal record; two degrees from top three universities; am in the States on an Oxford scholarship; I have a social security card to work legally in this country for fuck’s sake! Yet, here I am, again: the airport holding pen for blacks, Latinos, Muslims and mixed race me. I attended this country’s second oldest university, two years ago, but am barred from direct entry by the capital Confederacy. Welcome to the Land of the Free.

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100 and 83.

I am rarely speechless. Yesterday was a rare occasion.

Two months ago I attended a meeting about the Oxford University Internship Scheme to find out about an Indian village writing NGO. However, I left this meeting with a very different goal in mind: to become an intern for Murphy Media. It is the most competitive internship available, with over 200 applications from matriculated Oxford students every year. I started researching.

The two selected interns spend six weeks in the American South, writing, filming, researching and collaberating on an exciting food TV show and book series with a team of very charming Southern men. It is adventure in its meatiest, greasiest, most delicious form with the opportunity to learn as much as possible about how shows are made, and the difference between chicken and chicken fried steak.

And I got it! Absolutely speechless, still.

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100 and 82.

It is Eighth Week. Eight fast, cold weeks taking us two terms and two thirds into a three term degree. Days start at ten in bed with cornflakes and end at one, or two, in an empty library. Work begins after dinner and so, the days are mine for fiction and peach bellinis and coffee dates that last until nightfall. Our shower is still broken six months on, twenty of us sharing one cubicle, but no one complains and we are all happy. I had my final class this week, and then Spring arrived. Beautiful weather.

 

100 and 81.

First pie review column of the term.

Pie: fruity, juicy, crusty, meaty; the sacred plate of Chaucer’s cook and Langland’s passus. It is the Demon Barber’s fleshy Fleet Street secret, baking his victims in pastry to sell next door, and Roald Dahl’s Twits’ Wednesday night treat. Seven centuries of gluttony, lustfully brings us to the most contemporary of deadly sins: greed, justified here in our first pie review of the season.

Pieminister Oxford is the Covered Market’s best value midweek lunch, and only sit-down pie restaurant. We arrived on Mothership Tuesday, when a pie, mash, gravy, cheese, toasted shallots and a pile of mushy peas, all come together for six quid. It’s a lot of food.

This is Middle England at its most appetising. There is the urban provincialism of Real English pub food on Real English enamel plates, where all drinks are artisanal and ‘Live and Eat Pie!’ glitters overhead on a neon wall hanging. Customers sit around communal tables divided down the middle by great metallic troughs cluttered with condiments and water, on the off chance that they come up for air as they hog down their crusts. It is grey and black and dark without the filth and squalor of a Real English Pig Sty, in fact it’s spotless. Top marks for cleaning.

I went for the Fungi Chicken – free-range chicken with field and chestnut mushrooms. A classic. My partner in crime chose the Matador: beef steak and chorizo with olives and broad beans. The pastry was flaky, soft, and inoffensive but for its startling tepidity. The contents were far more favourable. All the animal products in Pieminister pies are organic and free range, and the company has won Good Chicken and Good Egg awards for its food ethics.

The chicken was tender and flavoursome, as were the mushrooms, which had stewed in pie juices without yet reaching fetid wilting point. Mash is an Irish sex symbol, the seventeenth century poster child for anti-famine, and watered in gravy it lived up to its reputation; keeping me full, turning me on and evoking childhood memories of my best mate The Leprechaun. Delicious. With the cheese and shallots, and mustard from the trough, the plate became the ugliest, tastiest lunch I’ve had in a while. Looks aren’t everything. And neither is music, because to enjoy a lunch this much whilst sat beneath two speakers playing hackneyed love songs is a difficult task.

If you like pie with all the extras and are nearing the end of your last loan instalment, there are few places that can beat here for pricing; there’s even a ten percent student discount. The Lighter Pie menu offers three options under 440 calories, and as ball season approaches this might be the happy medium between starvation and binge eating pasties when you can’t find a dress. It’s not glamorous and it won’t change your life, but it will do everything a pie should without sending you bankrupt.

VALUE: 8

TASTE: 7

ATMOSPHERE: 6

SERVICE: 8

OVERALL: 7/10

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