So what’s for dinner tonight Killer casserole



21:49 GMT, 29 November 2012

Growing up, we used to play football in an alleyway lined with stinging nettles. If your ball went into them, it was a real nuisance. Now, they’re lunch.

Nettles are part of the foraging craze, along with wild mushrooms and other woodland delicacies.

Each weekend, a growing number take to the hills, wrongfully encouraged by adventurous TV chefs into believing the world is overflowing with edible bounty just waiting to be plucked, picked and chucked into a pot by complete amateurs.

Deadly: Death cap mushrooms are responsible for the majority of deaths caused by accidental poisoning

Deadly: Death cap mushrooms are responsible for the majority of deaths caused by accidental poisoning

Having allowed cooking to become the fastest-growing spectator sport in the country — kick back with a ready meal, turn on the box and watch someone else do it — we are now running loose in a field of death caps armed only with a vague memory of something the Hairy Bikers said on the BBC last week.

Christina Hale, 57, from Bridg-water in Somerset is the latest foraging fatality, having accidentally consumed death cap mushrooms found in her garden.

A death cap mushroom soup has claimed four lives, and counting, at a care home in California. In 2012, this really is avoidable.

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Death cap: there’s the clue. Anything with death in the name, you might want to step away from the saucepan. ‘What’s for dinner tonight, Mum ‘Death casserole.’ ‘Anyone fancy Mickey D’s’

No one should be playing mushroom roulette, even in a recession. Yet a quick look at the BBC website for foraging advice and the novice is recommended ‘apple rose hips rich in vitamin C and so soft you can eat them straight from the bush’. The advice continues: ‘Don’t eat the seed, it will upset your stomach.’

But if you are a first-timer with no real knowledge of rosa rugosa, how are you to prevent an accident

Himalayan balsam, apparently, contains ‘exploding seed heads, a perfect snack for an afternoon wander’. Alternatively, pack a sandwich like a normal person. People have foraged for years. Picked apples, plucked blackberries from bushes, those who really know can make a mean nettle soup.

The idea, however, that we move seamlessly from being a nation in which one fifth of dinner party food is bought in, and the numbers cooking a traditional roast dinner have declined 15 per cent in three years, to one that sweeps forests for delicious fungi with expertise, is just muddled.

We need to go back to basics. We need to re-engage with our food culture before embracing exotic expeditions. No one ever keeled over from a nice roasted parsnip. Death cap risotto can come later.

Traditional: The designer, pictured at his exhibition, laments the passing of strict dress codes as seen in Downton Abbey

Fashion legend: Valentino is right when he says that people have forgotten the fun of dressing up

Designer Valentino Garavani is 80. That makes him old school. Some would say old-fashioned. Bless his heart, Valentino thinks many people in Britain still wear a tuxedo at the weekend. He is right about one thing, though: in London and New York, men have forgotten the art, the pure fun, of dressing up.

Disturbed: Valentino Garavani, pictured with Liz Hurley at his Master of Couture

Garavani, pictured with Liz Hurley at his Master of Couture, is sad theatre-goers in London do not dress smartly

‘When I go to the theatre, I look around and see a person in a T-shirt, not very well cut, or Bermuda shorts and flip-flops,’ Valentino said.

He’s talking summer, presumably. But the premise is right. Few men put on a tie for the theatre these days or to take their partner out for dinner. Hell, a lot of weddings and funerals are casual affairs.

And with the passing of dressing up, we’ve sacrificed something. Not everyone can afford Valentino, but if you dress the same everywhere you go, then nowhere and no one is special. The theatre, the pub, Royal Ascot, Romford dog track, it is all one big downmarket denim-fest. People think suits are stuffy, but there’s more individuality in a choice of shirt and neckwear than in a whole dress circle of baggy jumpers and anoraks.

And if you can afford West End ticket prices, you can afford to dress in a way that says: ‘Tonight, darling, it’s different.’

Who's the real expert, Alastair

Alastair Campbell praised Lance Armstrong's honesty after he interviewed him in 2004 for The Times

Alastair Campbell praised Lance Armstrong's honesty after he interviewed him in 2004 for The Times

David Walsh is the Sunday Times reporter whose investigation, doubting and questioning of Lance Armstrong exposed the biggest drug scandal in sport.

Strict British libel laws came close to silencing Walsh after the publication of the book LA Confidentiel: Les Secrets De Lance Armstrong. Statutory regulation of the Press, with greater controls, might well have done the trick.

Yet the Leveson Inquiry did not consider Walsh’s views on the subject of Press freedom. It did, however, provide a platform for Armstrong cheerleader and fierce critic of the Press Alastair Campbell, who interviewed the cyclist for The Times in 2004 — the year Walsh’s book came out — and provided such insights as ‘If you ask Armstrong a question, large or small, he answers it straight out’. He must have asked some pretty lousy questions then.

Even when Armstrong was revealed as a cheat and liar in August, and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, Campbell was mealy-mouthed.

‘Did I like Armstrong when I met him Yes, I did. Was I impressed by his strength of character, his humour and intelligence Yes, I was. Was I chuffed that he gave me one of his Tour-winning shoes to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research Certainly,’ Campbell simpered.

Fortunately, Walsh was not so easily impressed. Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing interviews on all stations about Press regulation yesterday. Campbell was. Sounds about right.