Whisky Advent Calendar 2: Port Askaig 8

This entry is part 4 of 16 in the series Whisky Advent Calendar

It’s day 2 already, and I eagerly opened the door to today’s whisky to reveal a whisky I haven’t heard of before. It’s called Port Askaig and it labels itself as an Islay 8 year old.

Fiddling off the wax seal on the bottle and opening it, I got an immediate whiff of peat. Looking at the bottle, the whisky is extremely pale, and holding it up to a white surface this whisky is very, very lightly coloured.

The taste is surprisingly mellow given the peaty, smoky nose and the pale colour. This may not be a very old whisky but it’s got a character to it that is more than just smokiness. But it’s not much more – a hint of toffee, perhaps, and something in the background struggling to make itself noticed. But it is a sippable whisky, and I enjoyed the fact that it doesn’t cram peat down your throat. It does make me think that with more age it might get interesting.

Adding a drop of water to it didn’t actually change much. It perhaps brought out a bit more sweetness to it, but not really noticeable.

Ultimately, a clean whisky with a touch of smoke and some possible interest in the background…but not one I can get behind in any strong way. 5/10.

Huel bars

So I’ve already blogged about the fact that I use and enjoy Huel, the powdered fuel replacement. Indeed, I’ve had it basically every day since September 2016, with the exception of Christmas and a month in May.

There are times, though, when I need something as a bit of a snack, and again to avoid the dangers of unhealthy snacking, I’ve turned to Huel. They have released a bar (only one – cocoa flavoured), which I am now trying.

The packaging contains a humorous warning that it’s a bit dry and that it’s best with a glass of water, so I’ve got one handy.

Opening it up it lookss pretty solid – more like a biscuit than a traditional ‘bar’. It’s a bit bendy though, and actually feels a bit like an old cookie.

Biting into it, that feeling carries on. The texture is really unusual, and this is combined with the fact that the taste is a bit savoury. Only two bites in and I need a big gulp of water.

Ultimately it feels like what it is – something healthy to fill you up and stop you from snacking. It puts me more in mind of nutrition bars than a snack bar (which is of course what it is).

While I finish the bar off (with some difficulty – it really is rather dry), the nutrition is as follows:

  • Energy 250 kcal
  • Fat 6g (2.5g saturates)
  • Carb 26g (8.2 sugar)
  • Fibre 15.1g (possibly why it’s so dry?)
  • Protein 15.7g
  • Salt 0.2g

So when you break it down by calories, the ratio is 36:104:64 approximately, which is a pretty good ratio for a recovery bar.

By the time I had finished writing that I’d finished the bar. And by the time I’d finished it, I’d also had about 450ml of water to drink. Scanning the ingredients, I’m reminded as to why I like Huel – the ingredients are all natural (oats, brown rice protein and so on).

Having finished the bar I’m feeling distinctly full, which is really good, but not as if I’ve had a lovely snack. The lack of flavour may play to its advantage for me, as it is with regular huel; the fact that there is no real flavour means that there is less potential for preference.

In the end: it wasn’t great, but it did the job. I could see this being a good substitute for a chocolate bar if I have a mid-afternoon lull. I don’t know how much energy it would give me (it’s not quite a sugar hit), but it’s better for me.

It’s pretty expensive, though – 5 bars was £12, which at £2.40 each makes them extremely steep. Buying more saves a lot of money, but even buying 30 or 40 of them means that they’re more than £1 each. Hopefully they get cheaper over time.

New England food: Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series New England Food

The summer holiday this year was to the USA – specifically New England. I was excited not only to see the States, but to sample the food. New England is famous for seafood, and I was absolutely determined to enjoy as much as I could, but also try some variety. On my radar in addition was to have some good old fashioned favourites, like pancakes, burgers, fried chicken and pizza.

This series of posts will take each day individually and focus on the meals in the day. As I go through I’ll update this post to keep it like an index. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed eating the food, and please do comment on your thoughts!

Taste Test: Try Using Chopsticks


I’ve always been interested in understanding and experiencing food from other cultures in an as authentic a way as possible (albeit no doubt through the heavily filtered/hampered(?) lens of a British set of tastebuds). So when, a few years ago, I was given a nice set of Chinese chopsticks, I decided to learn how to use them and attempt make the action as intuitive to me as using a knife and fork. Why not make it second nature to eat eastern dishes with eastern cutlery?

Five reasons as to why I decided to take on the chopstickery way of life:


1. Pragmatics and practicalities: It’s a good skill to have

From a Chinese friend’s New Year party to a pre-cinema pit stop at Wagamama, from time to time we’re issued with chopsticks, or at least the choice of sticks or forks. Facing this question and swaying by natural tendency toward the knife and fork, can generate within me a feeling of slight embarrassment or even apology. Maybe it shouldn’t and I ought to confidently and unashamedly opt for the western approach to eating. Rightly or wrongly, not choosing chopsticks conjures unease and forces me to sheepishly justify my selection of cutlery to the (probably totally ambivalent) waiter. Maybe the positive way of phrasing it is that choosing chopsticks (if only to myself) shows that I’m making the effort to join in with the culture, the cuisine of which I’m consuming.


2. Authentics: Eating with chopsticks provides undeniably a more bona fide experience

Okay, arguably at some less than authentic oriental eateries, I’m not really taking part in a faithful cultural experience, rather flavour that is tampered with and diluted for a British audience, so here I’m really talking about your more bespoke, less mainstream establishments. Wouldn’t it be a great, and would not my experience be enriched, when eating at a small family run Japanese restaurant, if I were to learn a few Japanese phrases, ask to eat something a little more unusual and eat with chopsticks? Taking a positive engaged approach to eating like this, leaves me feeling pretty good and the chopsticks played their part.


3. Speed of Eating: Very practically, chopsticks mean eating fractionally slower

Again there’s a caveat: lifting the bowl to the mouth and shovelling probably speeds up the process and although rather ungainly, is not a culturally illegitimate way of using chopsticks. However, I’m assuming that most of us would at least start with bowl fixed to the table, politely using chopsticks delicately and independently as ‘pincers’ rather than a ‘shovel’. When adopting this technique, the capacity (in comparison to that of a fork) is small and so I find myself eating at a slightly slower rate, particularly if I’m eating something like noodles or rice. There are a number of reasons pro eating slowly but from a purely experiential perspective, eating more deliberately in this way means I actually tend to enjoy the food more.


4. Taste: Using chopsticks makes food taste better

Does it really? Yes. Eat the same Chinese dish twice, once with chopsticks and once with knife and fork, and I’m convinced that the former approach tastes better. Everything else may remain consistent; ingredients, method of preparation, your tastebuds etc. but as the experience is different, at the very least chopsticks provide an enhanced taste experience. Part of it is a confidence/mindset thing, ie if you haven’t bought into using chopsticks regularly and stick to using knives and forks, then you might not be able to gain the experiential benefit and feel only the unfortunate sense of inconvenience when using sticks. Make using them habitual and I’m convinced you’re taste experience will be enhanced.


5. The bigger picture: Chopsticks are not merely cutlery, it’s what they represent 

An enhanced experience doesn’t necessarily mean a better taste you might argue. This is where I want to touch on a philosophy or theory which I’m convinced of by virtue of experience (if not via biological fact or by chemical formulaic reasoning):

Taste provides experience and experience affects taste

Few would argue with the first half; if something tastes good it follows that the experience of eating it is enjoyable. However the second part of the sentence is perhaps not so easy to accept, surely unless I’ve burnt my tongue or have the ‘flu taste is fairly absolute so how can it vary depending on what is essentially a feeling or state of mind? I see the reverse engineering behind this equation: I propose that my experience of or associated to a meal will feedback to the tastebuds almost physically affecting the taste.

Picture the scene; you’re at a dinner party, good conversation with friends, it’s Friday after a long week at work, your host cooked a range of tapas dishes to dig in and share. It tastes good right? Unless they’re a shocking cook or I’m being ultra critical. Conversely, I’ve had a rotten Monday, it’s raining and I’m by myself; the food is pretty tasteless, I certainly wouldn’t remember how good it tasted a week later. Surely that’s just an extension of what we already know about taste: it looks and smells great, so it tastes great. It’s coloured blue and usually it’s reddy orange; it tastes weird.

Good experience leads to better taste. Or at the very least the perception of taste is enhanced if I enjoy the experience more.

It’s quack medicine and at best and based on the musings of an experimentalist but embrace the chopsticks and eastern culture as you eat; enjoy learning how to use this form of cutlery, eat slow, enjoy the authenticity of the experience, ditch the knife and fork and you will tangibly taste the difference.

I have now got to a point where I am possibly using chopsticks as often as I would a knife a fork, or there abouts and although it has become a distinctly utilitarian part of my life, I genuinely believe that through the medium of chopsticks and what they represent, my food exploration has become much more varied, enriched and hopefully more authentic experience.