Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good for what ails you


I've been thinking a lot about beer over the last few weeks. Not just on an amateur level, either. The new beer blog (still not finished, but getting there) gives us plenty of opportunity to increase our knowledge. Of course, when you dabble with the drink, it can come at a price. Hangovers - or 'vesalgia' to give it the proper medical term - are never fun, and yet many of us are happy to take the trade-off they involve to have a decent night out. Several times a week, if they are students. But how to combat them? Wiki has a list of possible remedies that vary from the reasonable - drinking water and taking paracetamol, to the bizarre - eating cactus fruit, swimming in cold water, masturbation (the old 'It's for my hangover, dear!' excuse).

Scotland has it's very own ready mixed Hangover cure, of course - the mighy Irn-Bru. Due to a high sugar content and freakish combination of minerals and who-knows-what, it does help with the headache and dehydration. But it's not enough, so it's advisable to combine it with that other great British invention, the All-Day Breakfast. I love the introduction to it's page on the aforementioned Wikipedia - 'Fry-ups are no longer an everyday occurrence in most British households although they occupy an important place in the English concept of the morning meal. They are the predominant business of many greasy spoon caf├ęs as well as generally being offered to tourists as traditional fare in hotels, guest houses and Bed and Breakfasts.' Quite.

A proper home-cooked fryup is a joyous thing - golden free range eggs, perky mushrooms, thick floppy bacon. The list of alternatives is almost endless, and up here you have the added complication of haggis, black/white/red pudding, potato scones and so forth. Take the time to find the right ingredients and cook it yourself, and it's a world beater - and not necessarily unhealthy. But what if you don't have the ingredients to hand, or an easy shopping trip away? Bearing in mind that with a pounding hangover you aren't likely to be down the local organic market sourcing fresh produce. You need to turn to convenience, to the easy option. And what could be easier than having the entire fryup pre-cooked, and in a tin?

Hunger Breaks - The Full Monty just screams out from the supermarket shelf, with the fake tablecloth pattern and glistening photo of goodness within. Produced by HL Foods of Spalding, Lincolnshire, it falls under the considerable umbrella of Premier Foods, who seem to manufacture almost everything for sale in the UK - they own Cadbury, Sharwoods, Hovis, Mr Kipling, Branston, Oxo, and many others. But Hunger Breaks is surely the jewel in their crown - just a quick glance at their product range and you can feel your arteries harden. They have five tinned delights - All Day Breakfast, Chicken Curry, The Big BBQ, Sausage n' Wedges, and The Full Monty. Yes, you read that right - tinned sausages and potato wedges. Lovely.

So what wonderments make up the latter of these? The enticing blurb on the back of the label reads - 'Baked beans in tomato sauce with large sausages, potato chunks, button mushrooms, mini bacon steaks and a mini chopped & shaped beef & cereal cutlet.' In reality, this consists of - baked Beans (22%), water, tomatoes (15%), pork sausage (13% - themselves made up of a whopping 49% pork), potato (9%), button mushrooms (6%), bacon slice (5%), beef chop (3%), sugar, and then various flavourings and extracts. Polishing off the 410g lot will rack up 340 calories, 16g of fat and 3g of salt. The first thing that happens is the 'chopped & shaped' beef and cereal cutlet dissolves under the most gentle of stirrings, so small pieces of mince fragment into every mouthful.

This is a pity, as it makes it all taste very similar and limits the fun of plucking out the 'bacon slices' - which have indeed been chemically formed into the shape of a rasher of bacon (it must be the Sodium Diphosphate 'stabiliser'). After the first few forkfuls, you can feel it sitting there in the stomach like a lead weight - but picking at the bits becomes addictive, and soon the whole thing has gone. The best bit - probably the sausages, which of course don't taste like anything else. The worst bit - the feeling of creeping dread that you've just done something very wrong, something that you really shouldn't have. As you waddle back into the kitchen with the plate, the authors of your fresh and exciting cookbooks look down on you from their sea bass and endive-pictured covers, with a look of disgust. That's the worse thing. Oh, and the nausea.