Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Pea and Ham Soup Noodles (Recipe)

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Sometimes I'm a genius. At least that's what I tell myself when I make up a recipe.

I still had the pea shoots that I'd blagged from Waitrose at Taste of London 2009, and I lay on the floor for a bit thinking what I could do with them.

For the uninitiated, pea shoots (aka pea tops or pea sprouts) are the heart-shaped, tendrilly leaves of the garden pea plant.


Long beloved in Chinese cookery where they are known as dòu miáo, they have only just made an appearance on our shores.

The little leaves taste just like the sweetest, freshest peas and are best eaten raw or lightly cooked, in salads and stir-fries.

However, it occurred to me that since peas and ham go so well together in Pea and Ham Soup, I could attempt to create a summery riff on the same.

I adore my noodle soups and decided that this would be my gameplan, so I fried some ham, boiled some udon, made some broth, and bunged the pea shoots on top. Then I scoffed the lot.

As suspected, the pea shoots and the ham complemented each other beautifully in a much lighter version of traditional Pea and Ham Soup.

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Serves two
Pea and Ham Soup Noodles

  • Handful of ham off-cuts/chunks
  • 80g packet of pea shoots
  • 400g fresh udon noodles
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 750ml boiling water
  • 1 soft boiled egg (optional - I am greedy)
Stir-fry the chunks of ham in a medium sized saucepan and, when the meat is caramelised, pour in the boiling water and add the stock cube and sugar.

Bring to a rolling boil and then chuck in the udon noodles. When the noodles are cooked through (couple of minutes max), dish up the lot into two bowls and divide the pea shoots between them.

Stir the pea shoots through the noodle soup until gently wilted, top with boiled egg if using and then serve immediately.

I love it when a plan comes together.


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Monday, 29 June 2009

Spam, Beautiful Spam

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No, not SPAM, but spam. You see, the amount of email spam I get these days has suddenly shot up for some reason.

My work filter manages to quarantine the majority, but sends me a clickable report of all the email subject lines.

Most of them are in wonderfully mangled English, riddled with clichés. Some fine examples I've recently received include:

"Forget about not been abling to please your partner!"
"Even super agents use these wonderful pils to pleasure"
"Every next act will be better that previous!"
and my favourite
"Prepare to get huge instrument"

All sic (and some might say sick).

However, the other day I received one which was surprisingly poetic and somewhat melancholy:

"Night fails make man irresolute and pitiful"

Not quite a haiku, its beauty made me pause for thought.

Still didn't click on it though.

What, you think I'm stupid or something?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Rant: The Supersizers Eat Medieval (TV Review)

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Raid the dressing-up box, guys and gals, for this week the Supersizers turn Medieval!

Despite massive deja vu after Heston's Medieval Feast, the Middle Ages has always provided good tv fodder, and Giles and Sue throw themselves into the task with gay abandon.

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William the Conqueror had just dis-eyeballed Harold and England became overrun with Normans from France.

So Giles is playing Norman Baron, and Sue is the Anglo-Saxon maiden who he's just conquered.

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They're living in Penshurst Place (I've been there!), the biggest Medieval manor in England.

Martin Blunos is their chef for the week, and though he looks more Viking than Medieval, he also looks more fun than Marcus Wareing so I'm happy.

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Anyway, it seems Medieval folk had some funny ideas about food and health.

Firstly, they believed that you were ruled by four humours: yellow bile (vomit), black pile (poo), blood and phlegm, and that each of these had a specific character trait.

Too much yellow bile made you choleric, too much black bile made you melancholic. Too much blood made you sanguine. Too much phlegm made you phlegmatic. Unsurprisingly, Sue tends to melancholy and Giles is choleric.

Secondly, for four days a week they gorged on meat and then, because gluttony was a mortal sin, they'd "fast" for the other three days by only eating fish - though no-one ever went hungry.

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Thirdly, they thought that if anything bad happened, it was down to a person's sins, so for breakfast instead of food, they'd have penances (sometimes involving whipping) to atone and to purify themselves.

The main meal in the Middle Ages was dinner served at 10 to 12 and Giles and Sue are ready to get stuck in, using plates of stale old bread called "trenchers".

Dinner

1st Course: Broiled Steaks of Boeuf (like mulled cow); Poussin Farci; Pigeons stuffed with Apples and Prunes; Coney (Rabbit in Broth); Small Beer.

As the Normans were a minority elite, they'd have official tasters who would check their food hadn't been poisoned. Chef Blunos gets stuck in, and Giles explains that Beef, Mutton and Pork come from the Old French Boeuf, Mouton and Porc since only the Normans got to eat the beasts, whilst the poor Anglo-Saxons just got to rear them.

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2nd Course: Turk's Head Pie; Meatballs presented as Golden Apples (Meat Fruit!); Cockentrice: a Fantastical Beast.

The Cockentrice was believed to be a creature hatched from a cock's egg incubated by a venomous snake that could turn base metals to gold.

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The Cockentrice was actually a turkey ramrodded by a piglet. Or a pig being bummed by a goose if you're Heston Blumenthal.

Martin Blunos gamely stitches the comical beast together for the delectation of Giles and Sue. I have to say, it looks grim but tasty - tonnes of crackling.

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Time for some sport. Falconry was big in the Middle Ages. Only the King could have an eagle; princes had peregrines, knaves had kestrels, and barons like Giles had hawks.

If you got a birdy upgrade, they'd chop off your hand - but Giles is happy with his hawk and trains it to topple Sue's headdress.

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Hunting was also popular but rather difficult, as the new king William decided that he owned all the land and forests, and therefore all the animals and firewood on it - if you killed one of his deer, you'd get blinded for your efforts.

All this bloodthirsty activity would get folk fired up, so supper was a balancing meal at dusk.

Boar in Sweet & Sour Sauce was the antidote for phlegmmy excess, Fish in Sweet Sauce was cheering and ideal for melancholy, but Venison in Frumenty was bad for cholerics like Giles.

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Giles and Sue fight over the venison, the boar is an interesting precursor to Pork and Apple and Duck a l'Orange, but no-one wants the sugared pilchards which simply succeed in making Sue very, very angry.

The next day, Giles is up early to get knighted, which involves kneeling down before being cuffed in the head (none of this sword malarkey).

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It wasn't till the second half of the 13th Century when Richard the Lionheart was pin-up boy that the classic image of chivalrous knights became cemented, where they needed to impress damsels in distress with their hunting, fighting and courting skills.

As a display of physical prowess, Giles has a bit of a joust and tries to avoid getting crestfallen (ie having his helmet knocked off).

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Meanwhile Sue is perfecting her Rapunzel act by waiting patiently in a tower to be rescued. She passes her time playing the harp and sampling a dish of Medieval aphrodisiacs - pomegranate, almonds (good for sperm production) and coriander seed known as "dizzy corn" as it was a narcotic in large quantities.

According to Sue there were only three fates for a lady in those days (a) drugged and compliant, (b) off to a nunnery or (c) growing a beard and then getting crucified.

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Sir Giles is now off to the Crusades to stop the Saracens. As well as the obvious repercussions, the Crusades had a massive culinary impact as rice, lemon, sugar, cinnamon and pepper were introduced to British palates.

Giles' guests for his Crusades Dinner are cookery writer Anissa Helou (awesome hair) and Professor Jonathan Phillips.

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Crusades Dinner

1st Course: Tagine al Sikbaj: Lamb with Dates, Figs and Vinegar; Maqluba: Lamb in Mint, Pepper and Cinnamon; Aran: Yoghurt and Mint Drink; Jaleb: Date Syrup.

Spices were incredibly valuable in the Middle Ages - the Crusaders who captured Caesaria were apparently paid in pepper.

2nd Course: Syadia Tagen: Fish in Cinnamon with Rice served with Orange Blosson Sauce or Pomegranate and Rosewater Sauce; Dajaj Mousakhan: Spicy Chicken with Onion and Sumac; Arac: Aniseed liqueur.

Anissa declares that this is real Holy Land food to be eaten with scoops of bread. Prof Jonathan points out that the Crusaders actually fasted before battle to purify themelves. He also tells us that Saladin sent Sherbet with Ice from the Lebanon to Richard the Lionheart, as it was the custom to send an honourable opponent a cooling drink.

In 1215, the Barons ganged up on then King John to sign the Magna Carta - forcing him to cede much of his Royal land, proving that he was no longer above the law. The Magna Carta gave us the tight of Trial by Jury and the right not to be cheated by food sellers - a proto Weights and Measures Authority.

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Giles and Sue hold a Celebration of the Magna Carta with Michael Portillo, alleged Magna Carta expert, and food historian Colin Spicer.

Celebration of the Magna Carta

1st Course: Baron's Meal - Boar's Head with Flowers; Pheasants with Dried Fruit Sauce; Spiced Gamebirds; Venison Haslett (pressed venison with sorrel sauce).

2nd Course: Peasant's Feast - Eel Pie; Smale Byrds Ystwde; Nuncheons.

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Nuncheons were a dried vegetable stew that would be taken to the fields and rehydrated with ale (water was unsafe). Peasants got through 5,000 calories a day, much in the form of bread made with rye, barley, wheat and the odd hallucinogenic weed. If the harvest was bad, the people starved - in 1315 there was a flood of Biblical proportions and no harvest for 3 years after that.

More Medieval quackery - in the Middle Ages, folk believed that disease was caused by sin and bad smells so a wake-me-up of steeped herbs and flowers was often prescribed. Rhubarb was a miracle cure - purging choler, driving away flatulence and withdrawing flame from the stomach.

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Despite the rhubarb, the Black Death hit in 1348 - nearly half the population died of bubonic plague. There was one good thing to come of this - due to a shortage of labour, women were allowed to work for the first time - breweries were popular.

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So Sue's off to Brew Wharf to meet ale maker Richard Fox. He's let an authentic Medieval mix of yeast, grain and water sit for five days to make Sue's Evil Brew, though he hasn't used the traditional fermentation acceleration methods of gobbing in it or letting chickens roost on top.

The resulting mixture is grimly cloudy and Sue's on the floor in minutes.

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The very first English cookery book "The Form of Cury" was commissioned by Richard II in the Middle Ages.

The Canterbury Tales were also penned by Chaucer around this time - the basic premise being a group of pilgrims telling tales in order to win a meal.

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Like the original pilgrims, Giles and Sue fail to make it to Canterbury and instead stop off at Aylesford Priory to pay the monks to do their penances for them.

This practice was so rife that monastic meals were notoriously (and ironically) gluttonous.

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A Monastic Fast

Porpoise and Frumenty (porpoise - some mistake surely?); Tart of Pickled Fish; Fish in Jellye; Flatfish in Sauce Egardusye; Spiced Pike; Whelk Leach (looks like spam); Oysters in Gravy; Eel and Salmon Fritters.

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Sharing the repast with Giles and Sue are Rev Richard Copsey, Carmelite historian and Henrietta Leyser of St Peter's College, Oxford.

The dishes are all fish, as fish was pure as it didn't bleed or remind you of the Body of Christ, and meat was considered sinful for building up strength and sexual potency - you were literally tempted by the flesh.

However, "fish" was defined quite widely to include rabbit, beavers' tails (they were scaly) and barnacle geese which apparently grew on trees and then fell off into the water.

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Anyway, it's the end of Medieval Week and so Sir Giles and Lady Sue will celebrate with a Feast Day! Such a feast would take weeks to prepare, even for the average kitchen staff of 100.

There'd also be entertainment throughout the feast (which served sweet and savoury dishes together) and could go on for days.

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As well as the staff of Penshurst Place, Giles and Sue have invited food historian Nicole Fletcher and Medievalist John Goodall partly to share and partly to show off because food is power.

Chef Martin Blunos is preparing all manner of beasties for their delectation including a whole Peacock served with its skin and feathers intact.

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The star of the show is clearly the Coq en Met - a turkey riding a suckling pig, dressed for a battle with lance and cape in the colours of the lord of the manor - basically a turkey superhero.

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As well as juggling dwarves, fire-eaters and acrobats, between each course came subtleties, like bright wobbling jellies, gilded gingerbread, eggshells stuffed with marzipan and date leach meaning something you lick - which is where we get the word "lech" from. These fanciful dishes were all designed to make the guests giggle.

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At the end of the feast, all the remains including the used trenchers, would be handed out to the poor at the gates, again to show the largesse of the nobility.

However, Sir Giles and Lady Sue choose to forgo this ritual for once, possibly to avoid having it thrown back at them, and instead they tipsily totter off to bed.

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Next week, the Supersizers Eat the Fifties.

All screencaps copyright BBC

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Quick Scallop Linguine (Recipe)

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Despite stuffing myself at Taste of London, by the time I got home I was famished again.

Luckily, I'd returned with the fixings for an awesome supper.

With the King Scallops bought off Taste Waitrose and the parsley pilfered from the French Flair Theatre, I was dying to make some seafood linguine.

Sadly, said scallops had already made their presence known by deciding to leak into my rucksack, but hubby got rid of the stench by lobbing the rucksack into the garden, a quick if short-term solution.

However, thankfully the scallops themselves were fat, juicy and fresh, with glossy orange corals intact.

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Gordon Ramsay suggests removing the corals (the scallop roe) and baking them on a low heat to then crumble over dishes as a savoury topping.

This is a nice idea if you're stupid enough to remove the corals in the first place.

Personally I think to do so is sacrilege because (a) they're beautiful and (b) they're delicious - creamy and intense, a little like ankimo (monkfish liver - dubbed Japanese foie gras).

Next you'll be telling me you prefer white meat.

Serves 2 greedy people

Scallop Linguine
  • 10 scallops
  • 10 baby plum or cherry tomatoes
  • Handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 200g linguine
Clean the scallops but do not remove the corals.

Halve the tomatoes and slice the garlic thinly.

In a wok or shallow saucepan, heat the oil and fry the garlic lightly. Next add the tomatoes and fry until soft.

Meanwhile boil the linguine, drain (reserving a little of the cooking water) and set aside.

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Add the scallops to the pan of tomatoes and garlic and cook through until firm.

Now fling in the parsley and then the linguine and toss the whole lot together. If it's too dry, add the reserved pasta cooking water.

Serve immediately with plenty of salt and pepper sprinkled on top.

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Monday, 22 June 2009

Taste of London 2009 - A Worker's Tale

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Tristan Welch of Launceston Place

Sunday was quite literally a brighter day for Taste of London 2009.

In return for Thursday's complimentary tickets, I'd foolishly offered to help my cousin Lily run the Yum Yum Tree Fudge stand. I went in the Chester Road Trade Entrance and got totally lost, but thankfully she spotted me wandering aimlessly about.

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Yum Yum Tree was tucked away in the Producers' Section. Using my excellent Blue Peter skills, I co-opted next door's table to make a few multi-coloured posters eg "Perfect for Father's Day (Today!)", whilst Lily and another cousin laid out the fudge.

It was weird but beautiful to see the park devoid of visitors and to see people scurryng around setting up stalls or just chilling before the masses descended.

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Our neighbour was Max - a lovely guy promoting Sweet Freedom, a sugar substitute. We also rubbed shoulders with David's Chilli Oil, Mangajo Juices, and Tracklements.

At 12 o'clock, the PA announced that Taste of London 2009 was officially open. My job was to stand in the sun with free fudgey samples and yell at people to come and buy.

It was hot and embarrassing, but I still loved it - I particularly enjoyed grinning and gurning at the lads from Fishworks who were also touting their wares.

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I got quite good at pitching:

"Yum Yum Tree Fudge! Over 30 different flavours from Goji Berry to Garlic!
Home-made with all natural flavours and ingredients!"


The only horror was having to watch visitors swan past with delicious looking treats and drinks - first a wave of mojitos, next a gaggle of ice poles. Luckily the guy at Mangajo took pity on me and kept me hydrated with their fruity iced teas.

I got a break at 1, so I rushed around to spend my leftover Crowns. The first place I dashed to was the Taste Waitrose stand which offered by far the most attractive sounding dish - Slow Cooked Pig Cheeks with Pea Tops and Seared Scallops (£4).

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It totally lived up to expectations. The pig cheeks were luscious, meaty and soft and went wonderfully with the juicy scallops.

The pea tops were zesty and summery and cut through the richness. There was also a gorgeous, fragrant pool of meaty gravy at the bottom, maybe allspice?

It was so ridiculously good, I would have gladly grabbed another but no time.

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After darting in and out of various producers, next I swung by Launceston Place to catch Tristan Welch dishing up - and hell if he ain't super-cute in the flesh - also see pic at top.

Then to Pont De La Tour again to get another amazing Seafood Platter (£8).

This time I got two fat whelks for my troubles - and I undaintily scarfed the lot opposite someone who I know is a famous actress/singer (blonde hair, fringe, may have presented Loose Women at one point).

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Last stop on my break was L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon for the Le Burger au Foie Gras et aux Poivrons Verjutés and the Le Chocolat Sensation au Chocolat Araguani, Glace au Chocolat Ivoire et Biscuit Oreo (£3).

Turned out the burger was the size of a golfball, but I still ordered the generous-looking pud quick smart.

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Oh my giddy aunt. One spoonful of Chocolate Sensation and I swear I blacked out through ecstasy.

The white chocolate shards were creamy sweetness, the chocolatey base oozed lusciousness and the dark chocolate Oreo crumbs melted away into heaven.

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Anyway, back to the grindstone after this brief interlude of bliss - this time I was behind the Yum Yum Tree counter and I proved fantastically rubbish at giving prices:

"4 for £1, no, 1 for £4, 2 for £10, no, 3 for £10"

Also I hate to say it, but after five hours, everyone was beginning to look like gannets.

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Some punters were brazen - saying "Four pound? For that little bag? What a rip-off!" and "Will you sell me a bag for £1?".

Come on people, you paid £25 just to get in - you're not poor.

Anyway, I have renewed respect for those in the food industry, especially small producers.

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Time did pass thankfully, and we did pretty well considering the number of people who did drive-by tastings without even looking at us.

Suddenly there were only 20 minutes left - and as Lily wanted to sell as much as possible, I ran back into the open to holler about the Yum Yum Tree Fudge closing sale.

Five minutes left and I realised I still had a wad of Crowns to spend. My cousin told me to go get rid of them, so I ran off like Supermarket Sweep.

First I got the T&T (Tuna & Truffle) Rolls from Sumosan (£5).

These were good and with a nice tang of truffle, but not nearly as delicious as I remember - and also featured one less roll than last time.

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I ducked over to Kai Mayfair next who were actually giving away their Chocolate, Kumquat & Tea Shots by then (usually £3).

I wolfed one of those down - cocoa, citrus goodness with just the right hint of tea.

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The Taste Waitrose Stand was also shifting all their ingredients, so I fought through the crowd to snatch a bunch of goodies including an enormous tub of King Scallops for a fiver and a free bag of Pea Tops.

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Eventually all the visitors were turfed out, even the stragglers, and a sense of happy calm and relaxation descended.

The camaraderie was back in force as exhibitors swapped their stock and chatted as they began to pack away.

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I wandered by Launceston Place again and they were handing out their Rhubarb and Crumble Ice Creams.

It was just as fantastically fruity and creamy as it had looked on telly, and though the crumble topping was a touch too fine, I expect this was because it was the last little bit and I'm certainly not complaining.

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My friend Lou at the French Flair Theatre called me over to get their leftover supplies so my cousins and I ran over to scoop up crates of eggs, herbs, butter, cheese and vegetables.

Lou even introduced me to ze lovely Jun Tanaka and we attempted to preserve the moment for posterity but then my camera totally malfunctioned.

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Finally we were all packed up and ready to roll.

Four adults, a table, a chair, 50 crates and all the leftovers we could carry managed to fit in one car - there's the Burmese spirit for you!

As we pulled away I thought to myself what a ruddy good day I'd had.

Sunday made me love Taste of London again - maybe because my backstage pass made me really appreciate the effort that goes into a festival like this.

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