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eat the cup 2018, part seven :: oh, lionheart

it all seemed so magical: england's fresh-faced youngsters marching all the way through to a semi-final for the first time since 1990. everywhere, the delirious chants of "it's coming home". and then, deep into added time, the sad realization: it's not coming home. oh england, my lionheart.

now, if we're being really strict about things, my scottish ancestors would probably disown me for supporting England, because those are the bastards who drove them off their land and sent them packing to this country that's too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. and indeed, shops in scotland have sold through their entire stock of croatian jerseys, as the natives rallied behind england's opponents in the semi-final. however, a few generations before they were starved and hounded from the lands they'd occupied for centuries, my particular brand of scottish ancestors would have encouraged me to support england [assuming that national football had even existed at that point], because supporting england meant opposing the kings of scotland, who were the real enemy.

all that is a very long way of justifying the fact that i was cheering for england in today's world cup semi-final, while at the same time explaining why i wasn't crushed by the loss. another way of putting it would be that i was inspired by the performance of england's young lions and shocked that they found ways to persevere as long as they did, while at the same time tipping my hat to a croatian team that has dug deep, very deep, at every stage of the knockout round and found a way through. i would have been bummed to lose to colombia, although it wouldn't have been surprising. i would have been furious had they lost to an incredibly lucky sweden. i can't feel bad about losing to an incredibly gutsy, determined croatian team.

it does, however, make for an awkward eat the cup post, because my most recent culinary tribute was entirely english in character. in fact, it was the first english meal i've cooked in eath the cup history. seriously. over four world cups in twelve years, this is the first time i ever prepared an english dish. and indeed, it's the first time that england have ever gone this far in a world cup competition in that time. the last time they made it to this stage was in 1990, during the time when i made my first ever visit to england. i didn't know what was happening at the time. it was just a terrifying source of roars coming from pubs, especially in liverpool.

it did occur to me that i should write this post up last night before the big semi-final game, but i'm both lazy and busy with work, which means that everything else pretty much gets pushed to the side. nonetheless, i was pretty happy with the way that may england 2018 dish worked out.

to honour the warriors of st. george, i went with one of the true classics of english cuisine: the shepherds' pie. you can bitch about the horrors of english cooking all you want. there are lots of good reasons why it has a horrible reputation. but at the end of your rant, i'm just going to shove a plate of shepherds pie in your face and you're going to take it all back. whatever else englands sheep herders might have gotten up to [you know the rumours], the fact is that they made a mean pie and it is perhaps the ultimate comfort food. it's also a remarkably well-rounded meal, containing meat, vegetables and starch. what more could one ask for?

well, if you're a modern type, you could ask for something that's not as high in fat. sherpherds' pie is supposed to be made with lamb [what exactly did you think the shepherds were guarding?], which is just about the fattiest meat you're going to encounter. even when made with beef [which makes it a "cottage pie" rather than a "shepherds pie"], the fat content can still be high.

you could also ask for it to have a bit more healthy fibre in it. potatoes are great for filling you up, but they're not the best thing for your body, especially in an era where cheap starches are used in everything.

given that this year's england team are notable not just for their play, but for their youth and given that they've found new ways of pushing through to the very late stages of the cup, i thought that it would be a fun idea to come up with a fresher take on the classic shepherds' pie.

for starters, i opted not to use lamb or beef, but tvp: texturized vegetable protein. gasp. that's right, i made a shepherds' pie with no meat whatsoever. if you've ever used tvp, though, you'll know it's no great loss. being made from protein, the stuff is extremely similar in both flavour and texture to ground meat, so if you spice it in a similar way [i used worcestershire sauce, soya sauce, salt and pepper], you're not going to miss the meat.

second, rather than just going with plain mashed potatoes for the top layer, i opted to combine the potatoes with turnip and parsnip. it's a way of encorporating healthier elements [no disrespect to the potato, but there are healthier options] and at the same time jazzing up the flavour a little. i used a hand blender and some cream to get all these elements working together and found that, once spread on the upper layer of the casserole [it's not really a pie, face facts], they browned and crisped up just the same as regular potatoes. [i used about one-third potatoes to two-thirds turnip and parsnip in my mixture. that could be adjusted according to the flavour you're looking for with ease.]

so there was my great tribute to england: the totally modern take on shepherds' pie. and what do they do in response? they lose. they cede an early advantage and are eliminated from the tournament by a team that looked exhausted at the idea of facing them. maybe i should have just stuck with tradition.

all of this means that the final is set and a lot of people are looking at betting stubs that are pretty worthless; who had a france v croatia final? anyone? anyone? bueller? england still have the chance to finish third and to do so, they would have to defeat the one team [other than croatia] that defeated them in the tournament: belgium. it's not the cup, but it is a reason to stand up, brush yourself off and make a go of it, england. think of the scots and all the hits they've taken over the years. let that be your inspiration.

man candy of the match

i like to muse about what europeans who oppose immigration [either because of refugee status or through other existing channels] do during the world cup. because they sure as shit can't support their domestic teams. europe's powerhouses are a like a talent show of what immigrants and their children can do, which leaves the likes of ukip and the front national with the choice of cheering for teams from countries whose people they want to ban from entering fortress wastern europe [like croatia] or pretending that racism isn't part of their politics and supporting the home team. one player who must cause great frustration for the brexit brigade is england's dele alli.

the son of a white english mother and a yoruban father from nigeria, he was raised in both countries, but plays for england, where he was born and where he did spend most of his childhood. his mixed heritage is obvious even at a quick glance, with his fine, almost delicate bone structure and perfect cafe au lait skin tone. [in some lights, he even looks freckled, although i couldn't find photos to back that up.]

dele is a prodigious talent, an example of why england has much to look forward to in future competitions and a truly modern beauty. a total package. [just stop with the diving.]


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