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An Anti-Beige Salad, A Sixteen-Year Whisky, and A Californian Chip Butty #FoodieReads

Earlier this year I came across a book by George Mahood when I read Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America. Find my thoughts about that book in my post - Road Trip Food + Jake's Scrambled Eggs. In any case, that cemented my admiration of Mahood's writing and when Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood* popped up in my Kindle suggestions, I ordered it immediately.

On the Page

This is another hilarious travelogue of Mahood's; this time he recounts biking from Land's End in the southern tip of England where he and his friend Ben started off with only their Union Jack boxer shorts. No clothes. No shoes. And, definitely, no bikes. They were relying solely on people's generosity to get them from one end to the other.

"'We started this morning at Land’s End in a pair of boxer shorts and we have to get the entire way without spending a single penny.' 'Ok?' replied the man behind the counter. 'And we were wondering... ' continued Ben, 'if you had any food that you were about to throw out that we could perhaps have?' There was an uneasy pause as he looked around to see if he had any senior staff to check with. The kitchen was empty. 'How does a coffee and a bacon sandwich sound?' he asked. It was as simple as that. We had got our first free meal. We were expecting some half-chewed bread at best, or maybe an old lettuce, but we were soon presented with a huge steaming bacon bap and a mug of freshly brewed coffee" (pg. 12).

Over the course of three weeks - with a pledge to spend no money in their journey -  they forge North on their quixotic quest. Through charm, fast-talking, and a willingess to do menial tasks for their hosts, they acquire clothes (albeit sometimes inappropriate weights and sizes), food (not always the most appetizing), bikes (not always fully functional or properly sized), and lodging (think barns, boats, and university students' floors). It's a great adventure and Mahood is, as I have discovered, a fantastic observer and witty writer.

This is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time and I love that it celebrates the kindness and generosity that exists in the world. That is a much needed reminder in these times of political strife and conflict here in the United States. If I ever have the chance to meet Mahood, I'm definitely buying him a drink and dinner!

An Anti-Beige Salad

Colorful salads often land on my table. This one was particularly vibrant and inspired by this passage. "If a nutritionist had analysed what we ate during the bike ride, I think they probably would have concluded that we should not be alive, let alone fit enough to cycle. I read somewhere that beige food is bad for you. Almost everything we ate was a shade of beige; bread, pasta bakes, chips, pasties and bananas. Anyway, all I'm saying is that peas and carrots taste unbelievable if you only eat beige food for 17 days beforehand. Give it a try." 

Beige food definitely lacks nutrition and table appeal! No recipe here, just as many colorful veggies as you can manage.

A Sixteen-Year Whisky

At the end of their journey, they tour the Glenmorangie distillery. He writes, "To be fair to Glenmorangie, their whisky was definitely the least offensive that I had ever tasted. I would not go as far as saying that I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make me gag and I managed to finish each of the three shots" (pg. 290). And though Mahood doesn't appear to be a whisky fan, Jake and I definitely are. He did approve when he messaged me - "Haha, I like what you've done but you over complicated it. The beauty of a chip butty is its simplicity. Chips, bread, ketchup (butter optional). Tastes even better after half a bottle of whisky!"

Okay, so there's the whisky tie-in. This was a bottle that friends gave us: a sixteen-year Lagavulin which is aged in oak casks for at least 16 years and has an intense smoke flavor that Jake and I both adore. It's peaty and powerful. Just our kind of sip. And it made the Californian Chip Butty tolerable. I'll get to that now...

A Californian Chip Butty

There was an astonishingly amount of food mentioned in the book. Maybe that's because they were laser-focused on getting room and board at the end of every day's pedal. Here are some of the meals they acquired...

"It was time to delve into the ice-cream container. Ben ripped the top off the container and we were presented with a huge pile of cold roast pork, a heap of stuffing, an enormous lump of cheese, several pieces of crackling and a stack of thick brown bread with some sachets of butter. We could not think of a single sight in the entire world that would have looked more alluring" (pg. 28).

"'Thank you so much,' said Ben, 'Is there any cleaning or washing up we can do in return?' She smiled for the first time. 'No,' she said. 'Five minutes. I bring it over to table.' And so she did. Two huge plates of steaming Chicken Chow Mein were soon sitting in front of us and we gratefully devoured every last noodle" (pg. 53).

"'Ham, egg, chips and peas,' said Siobhan the barmaid, as she placed two huge plates of food in front of us. 'The chef heard what you were doing and thought it sounded very funny so wanted to spoil you.' It was our best day’s eating of the entire trip; a fry-up for breakfast, lasagne, chips and salad for lunch, and ham, egg and chips for dinner. We would not have eaten so well had we had our wallets with us" (pg. 98)

There were lots of foods with which I am not familiar - Cornish pasties and sausage baps - but it was the Chip Butty that intrigued me.

"'That’s perfect. Thanks very much,' I said. 'We managed to get some chips down the road, so we’re going to make chip butties.' 'What a good idea. You certainly are on an adventure. Do you have any butter and ketchup?' 'No. Thank you. We’ll be fine with just chips and bread,' I said. 'Don’t be silly. You can’t have a proper chip butty without butter and ketchup. Can you?' 'No, I suppose not. 'Wait there, I’ll be back in a minute.' She returned a minute later with a packet of butter and bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup" (pg. 171).

And I love his sidenotes; I definitely have wondered this, "If, like me, you were curious about the origin of the word 'ketchup' (No? Just me?), I will fill you in. It is thought that the word comes from the Malay word kēchap, which was also a sauce. But rather than being tomato based, it was made from fish brine, herbs, and spices (not so great in a chip butty). In the 18th and 19th centuries the word was used as a generic term for all vinegar based sauces and it was not until the 20th century that the word became synonymous with the tomato sauce that we know today. Thank you, Wikipedia" (pg. 172).

Little did I know that by making and sharing my version of a Chip Butty I would inspire so much social media interaction. A British blogger with whom I'm connected replied to me - and Mahood because I had tagged him in my photos - "God love you but that's not a chip butty..." And so it began...

You can see it there, but Mahood replied, "Yours was a Californian chip butty! The bread is not usually toasted (although I'm tempted to try it). That looks more like salsa than ketchup. And you did cook the potatoes, right?" I admitted that I have rolled my potatoes smoked paprika before roasting them and used a harissa-ketchup blend for my sandwich.

"Haha, I like what you've done but you over complicated it. The beauty of a chip butty is its simplicity. Chips, bread, ketchup (butter optional). Tastes even better after half a bottle of whisky!" Yeah, over complicating things is my superpower.

Lucy gave me even more directions. "Ha ha. Okay first off you need deep fried chips (fries), squished into buttered white bread - the cheap kind. Or a bap/barm tho regional wars have broken out regarding that. Salt mandatory, vinegar usual, ketchup/curry sauce or gravy to personal preference."

I still need to clarify baps and barms. But that caused my husband to laugh uproariously and chime in. "Yes! You should definitely try it with fries." I did. "No, as in really fried, actual fries." Not oven-fried?! "You are aware that there's no such thing as oven-fried, right? Those are just baked potatoes, no matter what shape you've made." Whatever...

Cat shared: "Had a few chip butties in England growing up. As well as beans on toast, toad in the hole, mushy peas, fish and chips, scampi, shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pie, soft boiled eggs with soldiers, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef, milk in bottles with the cream on top, wall’s ice-cream, sweets out of waxed paper bags from the glass jars at the corner store (humbugs were m’y Grandad’s favorites!) and lots of veggies out of the garden including new potatoes (jacket potatoes) and for dessert, trifles, or fresh fruit and cream in a pitcher."

Jeff wrote: "15 minutes before reading your post, I was reading an article on AC/DC and it mentioned Angus’s favorite food was a chip butty. I was going to ask Jenn to make me one. Never heard of it, and now twice in 15 minutes. Weird." That's a sign, Jeff! Definitely can't wait to see Jenn's interpretation. I'm sure it will be culinary genius.

Another American friend commented, "That looks way more appetizing than any chip butty I had when I lived in the UK lol." Thank you, Laurel! My inner culinary witch needed a little compliment after the bashing my butty took. Still, I'm sharing my Californian Chip Butty as Mahood dubbed it...

Ingredients serves 4

  • 4 to 5 cups sliced potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1 Tablespoon oil (I used olive oil)
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 8 slices bread (I used a soft potato bread)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon harissa
  • Also needed: baking sheet, butter for the pan, a griddle


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl toss the potatoes with the smoked paprika and flour. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Turn the potatoes out onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast potatoes for 40 to 45 minutes. They should be fork tender but crisped on the outside.

Stir the ketchup and harissa together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat griddle and run a stick of butter on the pan. Set the bread on the griddle and 1 to 2 minutes, until it's slightly toasted. Turn the bread over and smear it with ketchup mixture.

Place the fries on top of the ketchup and close up the sandwich. Serve immediately. 

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Click to see what everyone else read in September 2020: here.


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