Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A Snack For Europe

Ah,  the Eurovision Song Contest. Possibly the most confirmedly bonkers night in the TV schedules.  Masses of countries, many of which aren't even in Europe, competing to be chosen through arcane rules and cronyism as winners of a Song For Europe. Sometimes a pop song, sometimes an easy listening song, occasionally something truly demented. Scandinavian Death Metal band Lordi, I'm looking at you, lads.

When I first moved to the UK I was 16. I sat in the lounge of my Auntie Doh's house, utterly mystified by the relish with which she anticipated an over-long evening of crimes against music and taste. I was appalled. But sort of fascinated.

Within 4 years I loved it - sitting in Mark's student digs while housemate Dave wielded the Mop Of Shame. He was sitting in an armchair a mop's reach from the cheap second hand telly, mopping the screen whenever we wanted to banish a contestant. Many, many beers were consumed.

We never manage to pick winners, Mark and I. We tend to favour the madder-than-a-box-of-frogs entries, the crazy showboaters with a sense of fun.  France and Germany take turns being mentalists most years although Iceland does its share.

Anyway, because I had Very Important Work to do which demanded some truly momentous procrastination, I decided this year to make snack food from as many of the finalist countries as I could manage in 5 hours. You know, for fun.

I am clearly batty.  I know NOTHING about the cuisine of most of the finalists. Azerbaijiani and Armenian snacks are not amongst my repertoire. It was one of those "Google is my best friend" moments.

So here we go - our Snack For Europe menu:

First up, Ukraine. Their song was Tick Tock, which required a man flollop about in a giant hamster wheel for no discernible purpose. The item I cooked was Deruny: a grated potato and onion cake. I followed the recipe except I didn't peel the potatoes. I think a lot of the goodness is in the skin.

Next, Cheesecake from Belarus. Regrettably not the delicious dessert but instead a really awful song about wanting to be some girl's 'cheesecake.'  It included the line "I'm not Patrick Swayze and you're no Jennifer Grey." I think that much was obvious to us all, Mr Belarus.

Then Azerbaijian - Lass in a red dress accompanied by a woman on a trapeze. Or, in our house, a fresh cheese made from yogurt and dill. It's called Shuyudlu Suzme and I confess I reduced the raw garlic by two thirds. I quite liked it, especially spread on the potato cakes, but the others weren't sure.

One of my own highlights of the evening came next - Iceland. As I mentioned, they are often good fun (or off their heads mental. Which amounts to the same thing) and they didn't disappoint. This year they sent a bunch who had raided The Wiggles' wardrobes. In fairness, they sang better than The Wiggles; more akin to Imagination Movers, I think. Bright and daft and entirely fitting to children's TV. It was called No Prejudice and had the line "Perhaps you're thinner, Or someone who likes his dinner..."
I laughed and I nominate them for a guest appearance on Sesame Street.

Musically, quite a lull now. Norway fielded a bloke wearing Morten Harket's leather wrist straps from the mid 80s, but he was too husky for them and looked like they were cutting off the circulation to his hands while he sang a tedious dirge.
Romania sang something louder and with a faster tempo but all I can recall is a circular keyboard the male of the pair pretended (badly) to play (probably also badly).

Incidentally, it only hit me at 7:12pm that our friends were arriving from 7:30 and I hadn't got any bread for all these dips. A somewhat frantic recipe search brought me Armenia's entry: lavash, an unleavened flatbread cooked in the frying pan (because I don't have a tandoor). It was so quick and delicious I'll make it in future. Flour, salt and water can make wonderful things. Sadly, Armenia's song was utterly dire and so forgettable I could barely recall it even while their lounge lizard bloke was still singing it.
From this
To loads of this in under 15 minutes

Little Montenegro at least had the courage of its convictions and submitted a song in its native language. Bloke singing about something or other  - probably love or loss but it could have been about Torville and Dean - while a woman on roller blades dressed as an ice skater swooped around him. The floor lighting effects were cool - lighting up where she skated like Fantasia's Waltz of the Flowers - but the song was not.

 Poland decided to have some buxom woman in an undone peasant blouse "churning butter" and "washing clothes" into the camera while similarly clad women sang about shaking what their mama gave them,
 I'd say she was doing it suggestively, but that implies far more subtlety than the the 'here are my knockers, let this Pole rub your pole" soft porn approach she was taking. It was like a Benny Hill sketch from the 70s. Three of the six fellas watching it in my living room gave it top marks. The other 3 are related to me, so through being decent feminist types, prudes or just wisely knowing which side their bread is buttered, they roundly condemned it. Good lads. Miss B liked their skirts bought thought they should do their tops up.
I rather regretted buying Polish crisps and pretzels. because, y'know, ewww.

Greece was the family favourite, hummus. Ah, hummus. We can never make enough of it. Then, because it goes so nicely with hummus, I made baba ganoush. 
I know, I know,  I was going off piste a little but it's my party and I'll dip if I want to.

Incidentally, Greece's song was a boy band with a trampolinist behind them. No one is sure why.

Then came Austria - bearded drag queen singing a Bond theme was their musical entry; no food from me as it's either meat based or a complicated dessert. No time to spare for Sachertorte and the like, it's a procrastination too far. 
Germany - big cheer form the sofa as Z is studying German and is off there in October while his pal Tom got them in the sweepstake. Blonde lass with a quiff, accordion. I rather liked it, but I was a minority. Again, bad wine and too many sausage based foodstuffs so I skipped over them. Germany seems no place for a wine-drinking pescatarian.

Sweden - tipped as the favourite, this was a lovely ginger and cardamom cake from my Nordic Bakery book.  I mean, it was a dull ballad thing in true Eurovision tradition. A millions of ABBA fans cried out in anguish and were suddenly silenced. Or it could have been terror.

I just likened Euroviosion to the Death Star, didn't I. Hmm, does that make Terry Wogan Grand Moff Tarkin? Is Graham Norton a camp Vader leprechaun? Disturbing images...

Back to the food. 

Some chèvre flew the flag for France, except I forgot to put it out on the table so I had a lovely goat's cheese omelette for lunch the next day. Win!
In retaliation, a pack of lunatic Frenchmen capered about singing of their earnest desire to grow a moustache. Full points for insanity, null points for musicality.

Russia - pfft. Can't be bothered investigating recipes from Russia. Not in the current political climate.  They sent a poor pair conjoined twins - the first case recorded of twins being joined at the ponytail. Very odd. 

Italy - yay! Salad! I did a quick caprese salad of mozzarella, baby plum tomatoes and home grown basil with olive oil. It was a nice accompaniment to all the dips and flatbreads. 

I enjoyed the Italian entry's commitment to white leather, metal embellishments and over the top 80s styling. Just demented.

No dishes for the next lot - Slovenia (jazz-flute woman); Finland (indie pop boy band, I rather liked it. I was slightly embarrassed by this fact); Spain (Good lord, someone we actually knew! Ruth from the only series of X Factor we ever watched. Still rubbish); Switzerland (he whistles! he has a bloke on banjo! His lyrics are a bit sex-pest!); Hungary (cripes. Song about being a victim of child sex abuse. That was unexpected.)

Malta was a challenge. All the recipes I found on assorted Maltese or ex-pat websites were recipes I associate with different countries. I realise this is true of many countries - food doesn't respect political borders - but I had still hoped to find at least one thing I didn't already associate with somewhere else, even if I didn't actually cook it.
In the end I made "Black Olive Pate" which was really tapenade. Looks sludgy because it's made from black and grey and green things whizzed together, but as an olive-loving soul I enjoyed it very much.

Denmark flew the flag with a 2 minute blue cheese spread - just Danish Blue let down with some soured cream until more spreadable. In retrospect I'd have made it thinner still and dipped veg or crisps in it.  Truly AWFUL song called Cliche Love Song. It wanted to be Axis of Awesome's How to Write a Love Song but wasn't.

Then things got better. THE NETHERLANDS! Yay! An actually tuneful country song performed by  a competent duo without howling, whistling nor grandstanding.  It came as a relief after the previous noise. 
The Netherlands won our Eurovision Food Competition too, as the new dish of the night with top marks from Mark and Russell. It was Bruine Bonen Salade (brown bean salad). The beans were tossed in a dressing of minced red onion, mustard, red wine vinegar, oil, parsley and tarragon. I took down the tarragon amount by half and would have reduced it still further for my own taste as I don't like aniseed, so I bumped up the flat parsley.  I love flat parsley.

The kids, obviously, voted "crisps" as the winner. I'm ignoring them.

The final two songs were something forgettable from San Marino - a place I couldn't even start to find on a map - and the UK's entry with the cringingly awful title Children Of The Universe. It was like watching a less energetic Shakira.  I'd decided that should we require food from Britain we could open the pack of custard creams. The kids were too busy eating crisps to care.

All in all, it was a great night. Mates, chatting, bad music to disparage, funny things to applaud, masses of new things to try.
The final score, the one that would count the most the next morning, was this:

Number of garlic cloves used to prepare the food: 9

I apologise to anyone who came into contact with us on Sunday.

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