I wonder whether there’s a word for people, like me, who take extreme exception to words and phrases that suddenly become fashionable. There are lots of us. We get pleasurably enraged whenever someone utters a new cant phrase.
Three that I love to hate at the moment are:
back in the day, to be honest with you and above all any form of the word curate, as in “Sophie curated the flowers for this evening” or “ Ben curated the music for the party”. Another used to be passionate about, but people seem to be less passionate about it these days.
It’s mildly entertaining to watch these expressions appearing and disappearing, often quickly, and to wonder how it happens. Who are the cliché makers, those people whose words are unconsciously mimicked by nearly everyone else? And why do the clichés disappear? Nobody really says a whole raft of any more, or at the end of the day. Some survive unfortunately. I don’t think a big ask will be disappearing anytime soon – that’s another one.
Pedantry can be fun. I’ve always enjoyed it, even though I admit that the concerns of pedants are usually of no importance at all. Split infinitives don’t matter , for instance, though I do dislike them. But there are occasions when pedants are right, and a new common usage is wrong – wrong because it makes something unclear, or less clear it could be or used to be.
I’m thinking of may and might. They’re being abused. Using them the old- fashioned way is clearly better than using them as people increasingly do now. Increasingly, may is used where might would be clearer, and where sometimes may is actually misleading. At the same time the word might is disappearing.
This is almost self evident. Compare “If Hitler hadn’t shot himself in the bunker, he might still be alive” to “If Hitler hadn’t shot himself in the bunker he may still be alive”. The word may suggests an open ended, on-going possibility. Here its use suggests that Hitler may still be alive, which is clearly wrong. What’s more, if we didn’t actually know that he is long dead, its use would be misleading as well. The word might, as used here with if, suggests a possibility that has been cut short by what actually happened. To say might in this sentence is the only way to make one’s meaning clear.
That’s why for once pedants are right.
Many years before North African food became fashionable, I came across a recipe in the Telegraph for something I’d never heard of -dukkah For those who don’t know, it’s a mix, originally Egyptian, of ground, roasted nuts and spices. And it is so good that it’s tempting to use it far too much – dukkah with everything. It’s good sprinkled on vegetables, on mixed salads and particularly in grated carrot salad. It’s good to add some flavour to dishes made with pulses, over haloumi or feta cheese, and I even use it, just a little, for tagliatelle with crab and spring onions. It makes a very sober diet of plain fish and plain vegetable , like mine at the moment, – a lot more appealing, and it’s good for improving slightly dull vegetarian dishes for vegetarian guests. You can make it with any combination of nuts and spices, and it keeps very well in a jar. You need
3 cups nuts ( any combination of almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, hazel nuts or similar)
3 TBSP cumin seeds
3 TBSP fennel seeds
3 TBSP coriander seeds
3/4 cup sesame seeds
3 TBSP red pepper flakes, or less to taste
3/4 tsp smoked paprika, or more to taste
crushed sea or rock salt and peppercorns to taste
Pan roast the spices in a heavy preferably non stick pan for a couple of minutes until very lightly coloured. Cool Toast all the nuts in the same way. Cool Whiz the nuts carefully in a food processor, until roughly ground but not finely – avoid overdoing this. Finely grind all the spices in a clean coffer grinder ( or in a pestle and mortar) Remove, and then less finely grind the pepper flakes. Mix all together, and taste.
This is another dish which I’ve never eaten or read about in precisely this form, so I feel as though I’ve invented it. Crab mayonnaise is a classic, but not with celery and herbs like this. It’s very easy.
White crab meat
Best mayonnaise, made partly with lemon, only home made
Chopped inmost stalks of celery and leaves , preferably organic for the stronger taste
Chopped chives, dill, chervil, whatever you have – dill is very good
Pepper, tabasco or some form of chilli, lemon , to taste ( be careful if adding salt as picked crab is often quite salty already)
Pickled cucumber *
Mix crab with all the ingredients except the mayonnaise. Don’t break it up too much. Gently stir in a little mayonnaise, perhaps a bit more, avoiding too much richness. Serve on salad leaves, lambs lettuce, or endive. Serve with lemon slices, pickled cucumber and some more mayonnaise separately.
*( To pickle cucumber, slice some very finely, put in a small bowl with salt and best white wine vinegar or similar, stir and leave for at least half an hour, stirring again once or twice. You could add dill. Drain thoroughly and taste. It should help cut the richness of the crab).
There aren’t many things the domestic cook can imagine she has invented herself. But I do think I have made a discovery about roasting chicken: at least I’d never read about it or seen anyone do it. The problem usually is that breast and thighs cook at a different rate, so that if one is cooked perfectly,the other won’t be. It’s a choice between undercooked thighs or overcooked breast. The traditional answers – lots of basting, messing about with foil, putting liquid in the roasting pan and so on – don’t work and waste a lot of time.
The answer is simple. Cut the legs off .Roast them in the same pan with the mutilated body of the chicken. All you need is a little olive oil and salt on the skin. About 50 minute roasting in a fan oven at 175C, depending on size, will produce a chicken that is perfectly cooked all over. Basting is not necessary It will need at least 10 minutes’ resting. You can do this with any kind of bird, from a large turkey to small partridge. It also makes carving easier and quicker. And there’s nothing to stop you putting herbs or lemons in the cavity, or doing any of the other countless things that people do to add flavour.