A sad customer’s plea to the commercial smallholders.

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You know that friend that you have that you love and support as best you can then you have to sit there and watch them make horrible decisions that make their lives harder? You know, that friend who wants a white wedding and nine babies but only goes on dates with serial philanderers? Or that friend who cries into their slim fast all week then lives off pizza, beer and chocolate all weekend but doesn’t get why the scale wont shift? You know, that friend, who you love because they are your friend but secretly hate a little bit because, well, they really wont help themself so why should you?

I do not want to rant about one of my friends, however I am today considering the above analogy in reference to The Small Shopholder. Because I want to love the small shopholder. I want to swap gossip over coffees with them. I want to hang out on the sofa with popcorn and watch old Bruce Willis movies and braid the hair of independent traders the world over, but here’s the snag. I don’t like a lot of them, and they just don’t help themselves in that respect.

On paper, there a million reasons to choose the smaller, local traders and independent shops for all kinds of things and I harp on about them frequently. Contributing to local economy, variety of produce, reduction of greenhouse gases and transport related planetary abuse, that kind of stuff. Not to mention the self righteous glow of doing all of these things even though it costs us a teeny bit more money than we necesarrily have to spend. We, the humble consumer, become veritable saints when parting with cash in any outlet that doesn’t form part of the generally accepted mass corporate evil. Yay for us.

So it sucks just a little bit when said local small traders don’t seem to appreciate our massive acts of selflessness and are either rude, rubbish, or both.

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My sarcasm runneth over and not every person or establishment I spend a fiver with owes me their living, I know that. I also know as a small occasional trader myself that the customer although always right is often wrong, annoying and unduly cheeky. But they are your customer, and in the days of the internet and motor cars and the mass corporate evil, you are not the only option in town even if you literally are the only shop in town. So why make the decision for your customer to go elsewhere any easier?

Why are we here? Because in a state of mild overhang I took the short walk to my independent but over priced local shop for eggs and carbohydrates with which to break my fast. I could have gone a bit further up the road to the co-op. I could have just stayed at home and worked through my mass branded yoghurt and cereal. I should have done either of those things, because my local indie shop managed to refuse me a cheese based product because the date ‘will soon be up’ (WTF?!?!?!), then charge me 50p for paying by debit card (which is just bloody greedy given the mark ups already in place). Not irritating enough for you? Imagine getting home and tucking into a much needed fried egg buttie to find that the sub standard ‘stay fresh’ rolls you bought from them are almost THREE WEEKS out of date. Yummy! I could take it back but oh, no no itemised receipts from this place and as I have previously stated I was mildly hungover and hungry. Am I going out again to argue over a £1.69 refund? No. Am I going to ever shop there again? Another firm no.

Because it’s not hard to keep your stock in correct rotation, it’s not cool to still charge for a card payment and why the hell would you refuse to sell a pack of cheese that has 10 days still on the date? Then laugh when your customer says but I’m going to use it today? All ridiculous things that no-one needed to make a mess of and will ensure I don’t go back or spend any money with them ever again. Am I over reacting to what could just be the work of one lazy up-facer and a slightly crazy lady behind the till? Possibly, but the trouble with a reaction is that it just happens and you can’t change it.

This kind of experience is sadly not a rare one and got me thinking about other occassions when I have wondered why I bloody bother with these people.

A green grocer who’s only advice on which of his apples were better for cooking was that you can cook any apple. Rude.

Bespoke homeware store in central location with absolutely zero standard opening hours. Pop along to check them out, they might be open they might not. Rubbish.

A world famous tea room where the manageress asked us to sit outside in November because she couldn’t be bothered to put two tables together (there were only six of us). Rude.

An independent deli in town with the best cheese range going- possibly because their staff sour the milk to order with their faces and special language of grunts and huffs. Rude.

A small ebay trader selling lovely, quirky jewellery that inevitably needs supergluing back together on arrival as they refuse to package it properly and- love it – suggest that you raise this complaint with Royal Mail! Rude and Rubbish.

No-one wants to be friends with you if you are rude and/or rubbish, small traders. They really don’t.  Even if we know deep down that you have overheads and tired feet and have been up since six and really do get fed up with dealing with question after stupid bloody question, you could still force out a smile. It won’t cost you anything. You inevitably have time to check that you aren’t selling something that is full of mould and you probably make just enough to invest in some bubble wrap to avoid turning a jewellery business into an online rubble supply. Just try. Because even though people like me want to support their micro ecomomies and spend locally and detract from the CO2 problem we are also shallow little people who will take our money to Sainsburys in a heartbeat if you’re going to be like that about it. I know it’s tough making a living vs the mass corporate evil, so why add to your own obstacles?

As Louis CK put it once in a very funny excerpt we can have lots of wonderful, virtuous ideals and yet live by none of them. I believe in supporting local trade, but I will get my cheese from Tesco if you make me. Because I’m human and sensitive and petty but I am also your cutsomer so please, enough with being rubbish.

How rude.

 

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VIFC- Cooking With Dairy

 

Have I mentioned that as well as our foodie nights the lovely Victoria Inn also hosts Cheese Club once a month? Yes, that’s where select individuals ascend to the private room at the back and eat a load of cheese. And talk about cheese. Then eat a bit more cheese. I couldn’t wait to get on board with cheese club, but it’s on a Monday and I invariably forget to go which is my own shameful cross to bear.

Anyway so last month the draw for the February meeting was an ingredient- Dairy. This lead me to suspect that I might get in on some of the cheesy goodness previously lost out on due to my sporadiac appearance for cheese club. I wasn’t wrong, and it did seem easy to go straight for the cheese in our savoury dishes. What was surprising was how many other options came to mind after we had all cooked, sat and devoured. I struggled to come up with ideas for my starter I have to say but in retrospect I was just being brain lazy. And also somewhat nostalgic as I initially decided to make an old favourite from The Mothership- her cream cheese and sandwich spread dip. Oh My Goodness. Amazing stuff, possibly some of my earliest dinner party involvement helping to stir this up to complete the ubiquitous Crisps and Dips. This was in the 80s when this was still a cool and suave thing to do before falling totally out of fashion then coming back as kitsch and/or slob out TV night food. Sadly I didn’t get to share this piquant tub of cheesey delight with my fellow foodies as the Sandwich Spread drought in the local area was so severe as to lead me to believe that Heinz had discontinued it, however I have since been corrected that it can still be found in Asda. Maybe we will come back to this another day. I did however bang out a passable mustardy cheesey dip and a highly pleasing goats cheese dip which I will summarise for you at the end of this post.

And now, the offerings:

Crudité! Recipe at the end of this post. The mustardy dip was a little pokey but I enjoyed it and the lemony goats cheese although runny was very pleasing, may well have made a good salad dressing.

Crudité! Recipe at the end of this post. The mustardy dip was a little pokey but I enjoyed it and the lemony goats cheese although runny was very pleasing, may well have made a good salad dressing. Serving platter model’s own.

 

Prawn Mornay. I love you Sheena. Thick, rich bechamel with paremesan and another (which I'm going to say gruyere but may be mistaken) cheese with prawns and peas to make it healthy. Ahem. Absolutely beautiful.

Prawn Mornay. I love you Sheena. Thick, rich bechamel with paremesan and another (which I’m going to say gruyere but may be mistaken) cheese with prawns and peas to make it healthy. Ahem. Absolutely beautiful.

 

Cheesy bacon and pasta shells in a tomatoey sauce from Charlotte. Reeealy good and I would say better than similar dishes you pay eight quid for in your chain Italina restaurant of choice and end up tasking only durum and garlic. Really nicely done. Extar points for using mahoosive shells.

Cheesy bacon and pasta shells in a tomatoey sauce from Charlotte.  I would say better than similar dishes you pay eight quid for in your chain Italian restaurant of choice and end up tasting only durum and garlic. Really nicely done. Extra points for using mahoosive shells.

 

Tom, I love you more than I love Sheena. Mac n cheese n bacon, hooray! Tom broke an (apprently) established food club rule by healthy-ing up this dish using rice flour, skinny milk and half fat cheddar but I applaud him in this it was SO delicious. I'm a sucker for macaroni cheese anyway to the extent that I couldn't be British and politely decline his offer of me taking the leftovers home for my lunch. It was as good cold the next day from my desk. Bravo, my winner for this month.

Tom, I love you more than I love Sheena. Mac n cheese n bacon, hooray! Tom broke an (apprently) established food club rule by healthy-ing up this dish using rice flour, skinny milk and half fat cheddar but I applaud him in this it was SO delicious. I’m a sucker for macaroni cheese anyway to the extent that I couldn’t be British and politely decline his offer of me taking the leftovers home for my lunch. It was as good cold the next day from my desk. Bravo, my favourite for this month.

 

Bread and Butter Pudding by Matt, who yes scored another desset draw by totally legitimate means. Hmm. This was well recieved by everyone who doesn't have an inherent biological fear of soggy bread. Extra points for double dairy usage.

Bread and Butter Pudding by Matt, who yes scored another dessert draw by totally legitimate means. Hmm. This was well recieved by everyone who doesn’t have an inherent biological phobia of soggy bread. Extra points for double dairy usage.

 

Creme Bruleé, Proffessor Stu, perfectly executed. We think this is the third outing of a creme brulee at food club, the archives are to be checked to verify this. I wonder if maybe we should have a creme brulee cook off.....

Creme Bruleé, Proffessor Stu, perfectly executed. We think this is the third outing of a creme brulee at food club, the archives are to be checked to verify this. I wonder if maybe we should have a creme brulee cook off…..

 

We gather next in March to share our findings on food of the fifties and a new added category to aid our creativity- all ingredients to be British sourced.

 

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As promised here follows two very easy dips to be made at home when you feel a bit retro or don’t want to eat a proper dinner infront of Poldark. Serve with sliced carrots, cucumber and peppers to counteract the massive fat content! I also like pitta chips a la Boomboom made by roughly chopping wholemeal pittas, drizzling with rapeseed oil and a good shake of maldon sea salt and freshly milled black pepper then baked in a medium oven until the edges start to brown. Also good seasoned with paprika.

Not Mum’s Sandwich Spread Dip But As Near As I Could Fake It

Combine one tub of philadelphia (or cream cheese of your choice) with three tablespoons natural yoghurt and two finely chopped gherkins and 1-3 teaspoons of hot english mustard, depending on how pokey you can take it.

Easy Lemon & Goats Cheese Dip

Take 250g of a soft goats cheese and the juice of 1 lemon and mush down with a fork, adding natural yoghurt until you can beat this into a soft dippy consistency. Blanket the top with fresh black pepper. I think this might work with feta too but don’t quote me on that just yet.