|Food I Have Known: Cambridge Chronicles, Part the Second|
|July 28, 2003|
After my last entry, I thought about all the libations that went along with all those tasty bites. After all, it was in England that I made a lot of firsts, seconds, thirds and final calls in my quickly broadening world of alcohol.
My first night in the Shakespeare Summer program, a group of us went out to The Anchor. Later we learned that it was considered the tourist pub of Cambridge, loud and overpriced, so we never went back after that first night. But it was there that I had lager for the first time. I was used to crap college beer and wasn't sure how dark I wanted to go, so someone recommended Stella Artois. It was...different. Not only have I never gone back to The Anchor but I've never ordered Stella again either. It tasted too much like skunked Natty Light.
My next first was having hard cider, British style. I'm pretty sure I had some prior experience with cider, but all was forgotten once I tasted it Over There. For many reasons, The Maypole pub on Portugal Place is my favorite all-time pub anywhere, but in this case, it was the first place I had cider. The Maypole had Dry Blackthorn on tap -- crisp, dry, and not at all the sickly sweet beverage so many American ciders tend to be. I've tried other British ciders since then -- Scrumpy Jack, Strongbow -- but I've never liked them as much as Dry Blackthorn. It could be because that was my first introduction to cider and therefore it made the biggest impression on me, or it could be because it's just that damn good. I've been able to get my hands on cases of Strongbow here. The tall, black cans with U.S.-regulated alcoholic content are an okay substitution when pitted against Cider Jack, but I'd love to get my lips on slightly illegal Dry Blackthorn some day. That cider ended up being my preferred drink for the entire summer. Until I was introduced to Pimm's No. 1.
I think a bunch of us were just hanging out in my rooms at Trinity Hall when Walleye asked if any of us had ever had Pimm's. None of us had, so we ran off to Odd Bins (or was it Bin Ends?) and grabbed a bottle of the dark stuff. At Walleye's direction, we also grabbed some bottles of "lemonade." I put it in quotes because what they call lemonade over there is not what we sell from stands as kids. In fact, the closest thing we have to their lemonade is either Sprite or 7-Up but it's not exact. It's not opaque or lemony enough. My first reaction to Pimm's was that it was rather queer tasting. Spicy. Not spicy like ginger ale, more like curry. And I'm not quite sure if it's curry paste or curry powder or if it's just the smell of curry in my mouth. You know how you can do that chewing motion with your mouth while inhaling and get a weird smell-taste? All these years later, I still think it tastes like curry and I've never worked out why since all the ingredients are secret. We drank quite a lot of Pimm's that summer and when I went home, I introduced it to my family and friends at a party in Friday Harbor.
The following summer is when I had a proper Pimm's Cup. Mr. Red Jeans managed to get hold of some tickets to Henley -- in the Enclosure, no less, not that I really knew what that meant at the time -- and we all went down to London for it. First off, Lady Wolverton and I had to be properly attired. It's usually the case that asking straight guys what's appropriate clothing for certain occasions is next to worthless, but British guys seemed to understand and even knew how to advise for certain unknown-to-Americans events. Between Harrod's and Laura Ashley, we found some suitable things that weren't too dowdy or too floral. All that really mattered was that if we were to step one painted toe in the Enclosure, our shoulders had to be covered. Didn't want to offend the Queen, after all, did we? And thank god we didn't have to worry about hats.
All the way from London to Henley, Lady Wolverton and I kept each other in stitches by turning to each other to say, "Marble Arch, five-one-OOOH-one!" and "How well do you know Staines?" "Not intimately," "It's a bottleneck." Now, if you've seen The Reluctant Debutante, you will understand those references. We were just thrilled to be traversing the same route David Fenner took to get to his various balls from his Eton barracks. Once we got to Henley we had to contend with a severe downpour while we waited for The Liberian Ambassador to show up with the rest of our tickets. He finally arrived and quite tritely magically, the sun came out, and we all went in. I made a beeline for the bar and got myself a Pimm's Cup. It was filled with mint springs, strawberries, and slices of oranges and cucumber. Yes, cucumber. That always sounded odd to me as well, but I had been told that was the proper way to have Pimm's. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: cucumber and curry go wonderfully well together in a tea sandwich, so why not here as well? The result was so refreshing, so much like drinking a cup of summer as the races went on.
By the time we got back to London, Lady Wolverton and I were so refreshed with drinking in cups of summer that we were singing "My Country Tis of Thee" at the top of our lungs. This alarmed Mr. Red Jeans very much as we were due to his parents for dinner. His parents who lived within spitting distance of No. 10 Downing. That should tell you something about what his father does and therefore how nervous Lady Wolverton and I should have been to be having dinner with them. But we weren't really. Even the fact that Lady Wolverton was dating Mr. Red Jeans and that he was uptightting all over her to make a good impression did little to scare her into submission. It was a lovely dinner, though. Mother Red Jeans made a delicious mushroom pasta, a fresh greens salad and we also had slices of her homemade terrine. Now knowing what a pain in the ass those things are to make, I'm all the more impressed lo, these six years later. I was seated next to Father Red Jeans, who didn't expect me to discuss British politics with him, thank god, since what I knew about it at the time stemmed only from laughing at Prime Minister's Question Hour on C-SPAN. Instead we talked about the Shakespeare program we had done the previous year at Trinity Hall and discovered that an old school friend of his from Cambridge went to law school with my father. The even weirder coincidence being that I had just met that exact guy at my father's law school reunion a few months before.
Earlier, I mentioned The Maypole as being my favorite pub on God's Green Earth. Why? Only because they had the most amazingly mixed cocktails at Happy Hour prices! I can't even begin to remember all of them, but it is where I had a Between the Sheets, a Sidecar, a White Lady, and a Brandy Alexander for the first time. Before that, they were just drinks Maggie Smith rattled off to Peter Ustinov in Evil Under the Sun. Their bartenders were genius with the shaker. There was this one in particular -- he wasn't very large and even looked like he could be a jockey -- who used his whole body when shaking up a drink. It was like a controlled dance where not only his arms and shoulders got into it, but his hips as well. Yet, oddly, his feet never moved. He did it with a totally straight face, too, as if he was totally unaware of the show he was putting on. I suppose it's completely possible that he was. I still dream of his Brandy Alexanders and have yet to find a bar, private or public, that can recreate such nutmeggy perfection. The Maypole had quite an extensive food menu as well, because the place was owned by an Italian family who made incredibly tasty homemade dishes for very cheap. Mathra's favorite was this eggplant casserole, called "Melanzane Something-or-Other." It was at The Maypole that I learned how to play darts and Bumper Pool.
After learning about Pimm's, cider, and lager, I next tried creamy ales. The Bath Ale House is where I first had, and subsequently fell completely in love with, Caffrey's. I like Boddington's well enough, but Caffrey's is really the only cream ale for me. It's infuriating that I cannot figure out what the hell is going on with their company and why it is that they aren't distributing in the U.S. right now. Up until sometime last year, Mark and I were able to get Caffrey's at lots of bars around Boston, but now, it's clean disappeared and neither bartender nor liquor store proprietor can tell us why. Even their site is most unhelpful and does not at all quell my fears that the wonderful beverage could very well be lost to me forever.
Again in the interest in broadening my alcoholic vocabulary, I drank a fair bit of wine when I lived in England. One of the perks of living within the E.U. is the fact that you can get nice French wines on the cheap and, as such, we became very familiar with all the local off-licenses. One night The Roommate and I were invited by members of the Trinity First & Third to attend a Formal Hall at the college. After asking around, we were alerted to the custom of bringing along wine for the table since our tickets had been paid for by our hosts. Two bottles each seemed to be the agreed upon amount -- a red and a white. Dolled up in our veddy, veddy best, we hiked over to Trinity College after first stopping off at Bottoms Up. I was particular proud of my vintage selections that night as I choose a red I had already had and liked and a white that I knew had to be good because it had such a cute picture of a cat on it. In fact, the name of the wine was "Cat's Paw on a Gooseberry Bush," and there was the cat, sitting in front of a bush. Being a cat lover, I thought it too precious to pass up.
I should have known there was something up when the guys at the College Buttery snickered a bit as they uncorked our bottles -- a service we paid a pound per bottle for as penalty for not buying our wine straight from the Buttery itself -- but I just thought they were being jolly. There were more snickers at the table when we sat with our friends and started our meal, but I still didn't catch on. Finally, in the dim light of Hall, I saw the label clearly for the first time. It didn't say, "Cat's Paw on a Gooseberry Bush," it said "Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush"! And grabbing the bottle from the table and examining it closer still, I saw that it wasn't a cute ickle kitty sitting by a bush. It was a cat spraying the bush with a very evil look on its mean little face! Who in their right mind names a bottle of wine after animal urination on indifferent shrubbery? After I recovered from my embarrassment -- which was lessened when the whole table seemed to think it the most hysterical bottle of wine anyone had brought to Formal Hall -- we discussed that the wine must be a very delicious wine to be able to carry off such a name. It wasn't. Faisal put it best when he said delicately, "It's a bit rough."
That's me, always the sophisticate.