Sunday, 19 September 2010

****ing Off - The Culinary Way

September always puts me into the mood for thinking back to Septembers past. This particular month that has always seen me deliberately rustling through the first few fallen leaves (which is really rather squidgy and disgusting up here in Scotland most of the time, but hey, that's why God invented the ankle wellie); it has observed me tuck into onion tart, washed down with barely fermented 'new wine' with much gusto; and a few years ago, it saw me stumble over many a pumpkin during my first autumn on the East Coast of the United States of America. I had just moved into a flat in a brownstone - the flat that would turn out to be below neighbours who added not only many a slammed door to my sleepless nights but also inspiration for many new additions to my voodoo doll collection. This was also the flat whose landlords lived just down the road and made me fantasize about writing bad, bad words onto their dirty living room windows in mirror image. But I get distracted.
Image from
the Pfalz area is definitely worth visiting just for its onion tarts and new wine!

Said landlords were part of a neighbourhood movement that looked after the cleanliness of the street. Fair enough, except it involved dumping the sweeping and snow shoveling of the pavement outside my 3-party building onto the lucky tenant on the ground floor. Guess who that was. Much later, I found out that that was actually illegal. You sweep and you learn. Anyway, one day, I found a piece of paper in my letter box inviting me for (read: ordering me to) a street sweeping event (11am-5pm, arrive on time, bring your own broom, smiles optional) followed by a 'cook-off'. I was fraught. I hate prepositions. Whatever was that "-off" meant to be?

It turned out to be a barbeque competition of sorts: every neighbour placed his own 21st-century version of an open fire onto the street, charred some pieces of meat and assured me that his sauce was saucier than the others'. Their wives had a bitchy version of the same contest, but they were ranking the cuteness and cleverness of their offspring. Needless to say, the fact that I was a childless vegetarian did not go down well. Someone pointed into the general direction of a group of individuals who did not fit in, either, and exclaimed "Violet over there is a vegetarian, too... I think". Her name was really Rachel, but whatever.
For more information on the Great British Bake Off,

Much more to the point, I have observed an increased use of the "-off"-appendage since that day, especially in the media. My beloved Great British Bake Off is not called the Great British Baking Contest, and there are 'dance-offs', too. (I resist the urge to wax punnical about 'doze-offs' and 'write-offs' here, but you get the drift). Funnily enough, cook-offs often seem to resemble the act of frying off (as in "Jus' wait a minute, luv, I'll jus' fry off this spam fritter - be right with ye!"). Generally, though, no matter how hard I try, I cannot help but perceive the "-off" less as a snazzy slogan and more like an invitation to, well, 'off' others and their cooking pride. Surely this cannot be the point of baking? What do you do with a perfect cake, the one that trumps all others, if there's no one there to eat it? Does it even exist if no one is there to hear the crunch of its crust or see its crumbs fall?

In the interest of working with rather than against one's friends and peers, here's a shout-out to Shana, whose wonderful blog on food-related words and their history may be found at It is here that I first heard about jostaberries, and the etymology of 'omelette'. Hats off (without a hyphen) to her!

F*****-off (Thats 'fridge-off', if you don't mind)
If this post reminds you a bit of the style of the Tony Hawks, this might be because I have spend a recent bout of sleepless nights in his company. Well, to be fair, he was the reason for my lack of sleep. In an attempt to delegate bed-time reading to someone other than myself, I was listening to the audiobook version of his Round Ireland With A Fridge - Hawks's account of his hitchhiking adventure around Ireland in the mid-90's with a fridge in tow (a drunken bet lost, a hilarious experience gained). Yep, it really does not help your going to sleep when you find yourself in giggles at regular intervals. But Tony and his fridge were the perfect company these last few increasingly chilly nights. Highly recommended.

On that note, my research for feeding the friendly with cakey goodness next weekend calls. So, I'll leave you to your own devices for now. **** off and read something, or cook something - and enjoy September while you can!

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