nagoya trip day 08: flight

Checked out at 10am. We had loads of time, slowly wheeled our luggage across the station to catch the train to the airport. In retrospect we should have left our bags with the hotel and gone looking for chicken wings, but ah well.

ngo059sushi

The counter wasn’t open so we took our luggage with us to the food court. Had a decent local fish chirashi, then some shopping at muji and the pokemon store.

Flight was full, but we’d strategically picked aisle seats in the middle section and the seat between us was vacant, so yay. Watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which was very enjoyable. Too tired to get the bus home, took a taxi.

nagoya trip day 07: suganuma, nagoya

sug021village

Sniff sniff, our last full day. It’d been a hectic trip, we probably tried to cram in too much. But all of the places we visited had been worth it.

Went to a bakery café at the station for breakfast, bought additional bread and doughnuts for the road too. Went to the supermarket to get apples, and bought a small bottle of sake.

sug032roofworkers

The drive to nagoya was just over 3hrs so we had plenty of time, setting off at 10.45am. Around half an hour in, we saw the signs for gokayama so we decided to take the detour. Gokayama is another world heritage gassho heritage village like Shirakawa-go. Somehow we ended up at Suganuma despite following the signs. No matter, what a revelation. Smaller than Shirakawa-go but so much more peaceful and with only a handful of tourists. All the houses were concentrated around a small area and there were even workers working to replace the roof of one of the houses.

sug114camp

Lunch was soba, fried tofu, hida beef buns and unfiltered sake. All the delicious food we have been trying on the trip. The other side of the main village, through a short tunnel, were more gassho houses. Completely empty, until we noticed a map that said it was a youth camp. Probably the off-season and it seemed like a great place to camp in the summer. Both Suganuma and Shirakawa-go offered ryokan accommodation; next time it’d be something we will consider. Tha facilities would be basic, no air-con and likely shared bathrooms, but the villages offered tranquility and the opportunity to get away into nature.

ngo044hotel2

Long drive back to nagoya and the GPS took us to some odd building, not our hotel. Google maps to the rescue, it was just a few blocks out. The hotel was a higher class business class hotel than the no-frills one we were supposed to be booked into. Double the price. Really nice room with large beds, a sofa and a large bathroom. Top floor with floor length windows offering views of the city. Just a few minutes’ walk from the station. We went to the petro station, returned our car (882km total, less than one tank of petrol and an eye-popping ¥18650 in tolls), walked to Jins to get our glasses and did some drugstrore shopping.

ngo053wings

Seemed like the Chūbu region is more famed for cooked food than sashimi so we walked around the station looking for chicken wings. This izakaya we came across was cozy and had a great Friday evening atmosphere. Our new favourite drink was umeshu soda and we ordered 10 chicken wings, plus an assortment of other small dishes. Another new favourite was cucumber with miso, this we could make at home easily.

Last minute shopping at lawson’s then back to hotel to pack and rest for the night.

nagoya trip day 06: kanazawa market, kenrukuen, higashi chaya

kan342grill

At last, a leisurely day with no huge pressure to wake up early. First stop was the fish market, which after more walking than we preferred, we found a place that served sushi. We both got the tuna, ikura and crabmeat chirashi. Some Korean tv crew came into the restaurant whilst we were eating and filmed some tv star eating the restaurant’s largest sushi dish at one of the outside tables. It attracted a crowd, but we were never sure who the star was so we focused on eating our meal. The sushi was okay, nothing special. Had grilled eel and fish at another nearby stall and then we left for our next destination.

kan106garden

The highlight of Kanazawa was Kenrukuen garden, one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. It had all the elements of great garden design like tranquility, harmony, water feature. Although it was fairly crowded, we never felt bothered and we could always find a quiet spot. There was a beautiful lake, and the trees and flowers were in perfect harmony with each other. A great place to walk around, breathe in the fresh air and take in the features.

kan153kimono

Even the shops outside were nice, we bought even more folders and I got a salty soda which tasted like upmarket fizzy pocari. We saw a group of three women in kimonos, whether they were geishas or just women in traditional costumes we didn’t know.

kan231chaya

From the garden we drove to higashi chaya tea house district. Traditional wooden houses in a pedstrian district, the houses used to be inhabited by geishas, hence the tea house aspect. Lots of picture opportunities and we stopped at a teahouse–iced matcha for me, hot matcha latte for mm and we shared a tea-flavoured chiffon cake. One thing we did resist throughout the day was the gold leaf covered ice cream that seemd to be everywhere. Kanazawa produces the majority of Japan’s gold leaves and these ice cream are supposed to be unique. Problem was, gold leaves are tasteless and we didn’t see the point of trying plain vanilla soft serve. We had green tea and sesame ice cream near kenrukuen and it was much better.

A few minutes from higashi chaya across town was a shopping district. We hadn’t done much shopping on this trip so it was nice to stop by tokyu hands. Bought some stationery and mm bought more cosmetics. Looking at google maps we saw a nearby chicken restaurant. We were early so were the only customers. The chicken skewers and chicken wings were nice, but nothing to write home about, so we went back to the hotel for ramen, bath and dessert in our room.

Our travel agent had been in touch throughout the past two days, trying to find a hotel for us in nagoya. Not successful, so we’re keeping the one we reserved ourselves.

nagoya trip day 05: tateyama-kurobe alpine route

6.30am alarm, we set off before 7.30am. The destination was tateyama-kurobe alpine route 立山黒部, or alpenroute as they shortened it. This region of the japanese alps get huge amounts of snow every winter and the buildings at the top of tateyama are snowed in until they can get snow ploughs going in march. A narrow corridor gets opened along the road up to the hotel at the top and the snow can reach 20m. A few years ago they realised they could turn this into a tourist attraction, and in typical Japanese fashion, came up with a route that goes from Tateyama up the mountain, along the snow corridor, down via ropeway and cable car to Kurobe dam on the other side. Several different modes of transport on one ticket. There are also a couple of companies that lets people drop off their car and then pick it up on the other side. We opted for a return from Tateyama to Kurobe dam and I bought the ticket online earlier, with a specific start time of 10am.

The GPS guidance up to now had been stellar. The navi systems in Japan allows us to enter a phone number of the destination as well as name. There was a hiccup this time round to Tateyama, almost at the end it took us to a steep footpath with an abrupt dropoff on the driver’s side. I shouldn’t have followed it but I did. Luckily we got through and rejoined the road, but it was scary for a moment.

alp005cablecar

We had experience with a planned, organised route through a sightseeing area before when we did the Hakone loop, but that didn’t prepare us for the sheer mayhem that was the alpenroute. We joined the queue at 9.55am for the 10am cable car, which was completely full. It took us up a 24% incline to the next stop where we joined another queue for the bus, which was also full. So full that a few people had to sit on the additional tour guide seats that opened up between the regular seats. The bus trip was almost one hour, and it took us from temperate temperatures to snow. Then we drove through the snow corridor, literally a corridor opened up with walls of snow either side of the road.

alp043ropeway

We made an executive decision once we got to Murodo, the end of the bus leg and where the snow corridor attraction was. The place was pandemonium, people everywhere. The reason was it was around noon, and people who started their journey on both the east and west points on the route were converging at the same time on Murodo. Since we were going roundtrip as opposed to one way, we decided to get to our end point, Kurobe dam, then make our way back, to avoid the crush. So it was a matter of hopping on even more modes of transportation: a trolley bus that went through a tunnel in the mountain, the ropeway and another cable car.

alp064dam

It was a good decision. The dam was really peaceful and the weather was good. Took around 15mins to walk across to the other side and then it was time for lunch; I had katsu-don and mm had tempura udon. Probably the most disappointing food on the trip so far, definitely below par and tasting like fast food. Served its purpose, filled us up considering we didn’t have a proper breakfast.

alp153snow

Went through the clouds on the way back up and down the mountain, which was an interesting experience. By the time we arrived at the snow corridor it was around 3pm and the crowd had thinned out somewhat. The snow corridor was basically a stretch of road leading to the bus stop, with one side of the road roped off for pedestrians. A sign at the end of the roped area showed where the snow was highest, 16m this winter. People queued up for pictures and the gentleman who took our picture tried to get a bus in the background. As it was nearing the end of the tour day, there were plenty of buses along the road, which was the perfect way of showing how high the wall was. To be honest, at that point we were quite tired from all the travelling and found the snow wall a bit underwhelming. The light didn’t give pictures as good as postcards and the snow wall itself wasn’t pristine white. Still very nice and an interesting sight.

alp193snowroad

The map showed a trail to a small lake at the back of the building and we thought we might try going there. Problem was the path hadn’t been ploughed and it was slippery to negotiate. We needed boots and poles. Gave up after about 100m and took the bus and cable car back to the bottom of the mountain. I like this pic that shows a bus coming up through the corridor. When we got back down the mountain to Tateyama station we still had a 1.5hr drive back to Kanazawa but it was a good day out and we were back in our room by 7pm.

kan371wings

The hotel recommended a nearby izakaya, around 5mins’ walk. Unfortunately it was full and everyone was smoking so we left and went to one across the road. It was a good choice. I had a much needed beer and we ordered yakitori, chicken wings, chicken cartilege and a really yummy asparagus-mushroom dish. They were sold out of beef and gizzards, and chicken wings too when we tried to order a second portion. We went back to the hotel, went to the bath and had the hotel ramen. Did laundry too, the washers were free and the dryers ¥100 for 20mins.

nagoya trip day 04: shirakawa-go

tak453view

We asked for a window seat at breakfast and were not disappointed. What a view! The server told us that we were looking at umbrella mountain, the #1 mountain in Gifu Prefecture (Fuji is #1 in Japan, he acknowledged). The breakfast was even more satisfying than yesterday’s, if that was possible. The tray was positively brimming with smal dishes and we got to grill our own fish too.

shi043house

We set off at 10am to head to Shirakawa-go 白川郷, around 1.5hrs. The village is a UNESCO World Heritage site of gassho thatched cottages, or steep high-sided thatched roofs intended to withstand the heavy snowfalls in winter. The name gassho meant prayer hands, because of the shape the roof made.

shi056sake

The entire site was quite crowded with many tour groups. There was the inevitable commercialisation of the village, with the main street full of souvenir shops and food stands. Didn’t detract from its natural beauty though; after the region attained world heritage status, the houses had to be maintained using thatched roofs but we could see a few that had been modernised before they got the status. We stopped at one of the shops that had a sake bar and ordered one sake and one unfiltered sake. The unfiltered one was absolutely delicious. The intense taste of the rice that was still present in the liquid, so sweet and so satisfying. We bought a jar to take home with us.

shi092view

We didn’t go inside the houses that were open to the public. At the top of the village was a steep path that led to a viewpoint up the hill. Good exercise and worth the walk. Stunning views of the village, surrounded by green mountains and there was still snow at the top of the mountains in the background. I played around with the tiltshift app on my phone, the small lego-like houses were perfect for this purpose.

shi145house

Despite the commercialisation, it was still a working village. Away from the main street, villagers were farming the land or in greenhouses. It wasn’t as remote as it seemed–there was no part of Japan that was truly remote–the villagers went about their business, there were plenty of cars around and we saw the post being delivered throughout the day. Lunch was soba with a small bowl of flavoured rice. The cold, refreshing soba dipped in sauce was the perfect lunch, not too heavy and no need for meat.

shi178teacoffee

Explored the lower end of the village and stopped at a café-shop. I had iced matcha latte and mm had coffee. The matcha latte was just like green tea milkshake and better than ice cream. The shop sold cute accessories and stationery; I bought a couple of notebooks for my niece. We’d been stocking up on folders along the way and I had a good selection already.

shi222museum

The last stop of the day was the open air heritage museum. By the time we got there we were the last people to enter and the place was completely empty. Didn’t think the tour groups went there anyway. There were around 20 thatched houses that we learned were transported from the village to the museum and faithfully reconstructed. The interiors were large and open plan. We ventured up to the first floor of one but didn’t go to any more because the stairs were pretty steep and precarious. A couple of houses were showing videos of the village’s history and there was one video of how the thatched roofs were made. Very manual and intensive. Takes a lot of skill and knowhow to add the thick layers in the right way to ensure support and protection. Thick ropes and needles secured the bundles to interior beams.

From Shirakawa-go we headed to Kanazawa for the next 3 nights. When we got to the hotel we discovered to our horror that our agent had booked us on the wrong dates (June instead of May). The hotel front desk staff were wonderful, they got the manager’s approval to let us have a vacant room they saved for emergencies even though they were officially full. Additional cost, but we would claim this from our agent. We discovered the next hotel was also booked for the wrong date and the staff called for us, even though it was a different chain. Unfortunately there were no rooms so first thing we did when we got to our room was hit up hotels.com. Pretty full but I was able to find a room near the station. It was nice to have a bigger room for 3 days, the room was probably saved for VIPs as it was on the top floor and larger than the usual rooms.

Pretty tired after the long day so we walked to the station, found a supermarket and bought sushi to eat back in our room. The hotel had a sento, aka public bath. A small indoor pool, an even smaller outdoor pool and a sauna. The water didn’t feel like onsen water, we could smell chlorine. The sauna was great and much needed after a long day’s walking and driving.

nagoya trip day 03: takayama

tak404miso

Breakfast at this hotel was served in the restaurant, which was a change. A nicely presented selection of small dishes, with fish as the protein. What was outstanding was the miso heated over shiso leaves: a combination of salty, sweet, smoky. Yum.

Drove out to Takayama, parked in town today. Typical efficient Japanese carpark, only a few spaces with automatic sensor. A ramp comes up underneath the car when it senses movement, when we leave we pay at the machine and it tells us how much. The ramp lowers and we have 3 mins to move the car. We had been noticing yesterday, so were on the lookout for cheaper hourly places.

tak221coffee

The destination this morning was miyagawa morning market by the river. Mainly stalls selling fruit, vegetables and some craft. A mix of local and tourists. We bought really huge juicy apples and sake from a sake shop. Stopped at a coffee stall run by an elderly lady. Two things on the menu-coffee and iced coffee–I was even okay with the coffee provided I added lots of cream. There was a sign that the stall had been in business since 1975. We felt proud to be part of its history.

tak253beeflunch

Lunch was at a butcher shop-restaurant. Weekday lunch special, A5 hida beef that we grilled at the table, this time cut in cubes. The best beef on the trip so far in my opinion. Polished off with a bottle of cold sake.

tak046street

There was more time to walk around Takayama old town, and by the end of the afternoon we had covered almost all of it. It being a monday, there were definitely fewer people than yesterday and we were able to spend more time exploring the souvenir shops, sake shops or take pictures of the traditional wooden houses.

tak023house

There was even a visit to a miso / soy sauce shop and they were serving samples of miso soup. Discovered the souvenir find of this trip–plastic folders! We’d gotten to the point of not wanting to buy too many souvenirs, and tired of always buying the same mochi or sweets. Folders are cheap, useful and make great souvenirs.

We saved enough time to drive to a drugstore we saw yesterday. Bought tea and mm bought some cosmetics.

tak292deck

Time for onsen before dinner, and a little time to sit at the rest area to have a cup of tea or coffee too. The rest area looked out onto the deck, if we had more time at the hotel it would be so peaceful to sit out there and absorb the mountain view.

Kaiseki dinner started with a really refreshing yogurt liquor. The starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling. Hida beef was cooked as a shabu shabu, and the soup was used to make udon at the end. We were both full by then but the udon was so good we managed to eat a bowl each.

Time to pack and sleep.

nagoya trip day 02: takayama, onsen

Our hotel included breakfast. It was pretty much a mad scramble with around a hundred people in a canteen-like dining room with long tables and everything self-serve. Curry, rice, scrambled eggs, sausages, heaps of salad, fruit. I made tea from hot water. Even though it was a mad scramble, everyone was well-mannered and organised. No shouting, no pushing, no cutting in line. There was even a queue to return dirty trays and people wiped the table after them using the cloth provided. This is what I love about the Japanese people.

We checked out and crossed the street to pick up our rental car from the toyota rent-a-car office. Spending time on research means picking the correct location. Our car was a blue Aqua, which is the local equivalent of a Prius C so basically we were renting Ryan for a week. Added ETC card rental because we knew there would be lots of tolls.

tak176sake

Attempted to go to the central market but it looked closed so we headed straight onto the motorway towards Takayama. Easy 1.5hr drive. We drove around the town, through the middle of the mass of tourists at the old town area and ended up at a shopping street 10-15mins’ walk from the station. Parking there was free, ostensibly for the shopping street only so we made sure to visit there first. Already we saw stuff we love: Japanese sweets and local sake. The nice lady gave us samples and we tried valiantly to communicate with each other using broken English and copious domo arigatou gozaimasu.

tak243hidabeef

We walked around the old town quickly to find lunch. We knew we wanted hida beef, the local speciality that has similar marbling to kobe and matsuzaka beef. We chose the grilled thin-sliced A5 grade hida beef rice set. It was served hitsumabushi style, with condiments and broth. Fantastic. Tender and juicy beef and everything so well balanced.

tak011river

We had around 2 hrs after lunch to explore around town. Saw part of the old town main street, bought cute ceramic ornaments, sampled more sake. Ate green tea ice cream that was disappointing (too icy). Bought fruit and tea at the supermarket. Walked back to the shopping street to buy souvenirs and a bottle of sake from the nice lady.

tak321room

We were on a schedule. It was around 1hr’s drive to the onsen hotel and we wanted to get there before 5pm. It’s a big sprawling hotel with several wings. Luxurious lobby and an entire shelf of yukatas so we could pick the pattern we liked. We found out our dinner slot was at 8pm so that meant we had time to rest. Our room was absolutely wonderful and totally exceeded our expectations. It was a suite! The bedroom was tatami, with low mattresses and more than enough room to lay our suitcases out. Then there was a sitting room with sink and fridge, and a massage chair. The view from the sitting room out to the garden was spectacular, there was a small stream and daffodils just beginning to appear. Best of all, we had our own onsen bathtub, wow. Everything was clean too, so it wasn’t a case of not wanting to touch or use the tub.

There was time before dinner to go to the onsen. There was a large indoor pool, a couple of tubs outside and an outdoor pool. Not too crowded and all very nice. Oh, a low temperature sauna too. We needed the relaxation of an onsen, it was great to just soak in the hot water. Fresh milk was available for free in the small sitting area outside the baths, we shared one bottle so as not to ruin our appetite.

tak377hidabeef

The restaurant was quite posh and as usual the kaiseki menu had lots of courses. Started off with an alcoholic aperitif, then starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling before the main course. It was the local attraction, hida beef, which we grilled ourselves at the table. Really yummy. Finished off with beef pot, rice and dessert.

tak343bath

Even though we’d already used the onsen, I wanted to wash my hair because of the grease and smell from dinner. So I used our private onsen tub. It was okay, took a long time to fill, by then I was bored so I only soaked for a few minutes.

Long day travelling, picturesque traditional town and an outstanding hotel room. Totally worth it.

nagoya trip day 01: flight, nagoya

Early start, 5am alarm because mm was setting off before me and I wanted to make sure she got up. I was planning on catching the 6.30am bus, managed to catch the one before that. It was standing room only! Seemed like I was sharing the bus with airport workers going to work and a few travellers catching early flights. Since I was early I went to get the pocket wifi before meeting mm. Check-in was easy and we were inside quickly. Breakfast was eggs I made yesterday (perfectly soft boiled if I may say so myself) and sandwiches mm made. The alternative would have been Mcdonalds and we only got tea and coffee from them.

The flight was almost full. I got us adjoining aisle seats when I checked in, on purpose. Watched La la land which, for all the hype, was a little disappointing. Not the sort of film I watch on planes.

ngo001train

The plane was a litte early. We checked the transportation board and confirmed that the limited express train was the best way. The information centre had a helpful hand-drawn leaflet too, so cute. Only 30mins to Nagoya main station. Our hotel was around 10mins’ walk and the only difficulty was figuring which direction. Pocket wifi and google maps took care of that. We were only there for one night, so the no-frills business semi-double room suited our purpose.

ngo003tower

The area around the station was full of modern buildings and posh shops. Our first destination was Jins glasses shop. My research showed us it was at the station mall and we found it easily enough. Quite comical, trying to get my eyes tested and barely able to communicate with the optican there. I have the frame which I bought in Tokyo and it’s ¥5000 per feature–I needed graduated lenses and I added UV-sensitive coating. Economical price, and I’ll get the new glasses in 1 week.

ngo017hitsumabushi

More research told us foodwise we should be trying the unagi hitsumabushi. The eel in Nagoya are fatter and tastier river eels and they grill the entire fish instead of steaming then grilling in other locations. The idea is to add flavour and smokiness. Hitsumabushi means to sample three ways: plain, then with condiments, then dipped in a dashi broth. We found a restaurant in a mall next to the station and gave it a go. It was definitely tasty, as expected from well executed unagi. Plain, with wasabi and with broth were all great. I ended up mixing the eel and rice with wasabi then eating with the broth.

On the way back to the hotel, we visited drugstores we noticed earlier. Bought snacks and a 2l bottle of tea for travelling. We only started noticing drugstores last time in Tokyo, turns out they have an enormous selection of toiletries, cosmetics but also snacks, household goods, gadgets and interesting stuff.

tv day

TV catchup day. 2 eps of masterchef australia at lunchtime, followed by australian bake-off. Regular 2 eps of masterchef again at night then TAR. In between, I finished packing and did a load of laundry. I’m sad that I’ll be missing an entire week’s worth of masterchef, especially since we’re now in top 9. Ah well. May be I can find old episodes online somewhere. May be I’m getting older and more out of touch, I don’t know how to find stuff as easily as I used to.

mum birthday

mumbday01dinner

Mum’s birthday! We went out for an errand, had tea at mcdonalds. I left mum with her cheesecake and met sis for an hour at a wine tasting event. It’s an english sparkling wine company that is expanding and they had 4 different wines for tasting. I focused on the drinking and eating some of the canapés while sis was busy socialising. I did some small talk but found the posing, invisible social jostling and marketing speak way too fake for my liking.

Picked mum up from marks where she went after she fnished at mcdonalds. Dinner was at Jimmy’s Kitchen, an old colonial era restaurant. Except for my niece who opted for pasta, we all had the set menu. I had tuna tartare as starter, mum and sis had roast beef salad which sat on top of a chewy, hard cold yorkshire pudding. For mains sis and mum had rainbow trout and I had slow cooked lamb shoulder.

Sis ordered a baked alaska for dessert and they wrote happy birthday on the plate. Nice meal, predictable food.

which big tech to drop first

tech5

NYT asked which of the 5 tech giants would we drop.

If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

My choices are in a different order than a typical American, I suppose. Here’s my order, with explanations:

  1. amazon — I order from amazon once a year, when I go to the US. I’m not a prime member, I don’t read using a kindle, I have no intention of getting an echo and I don’t use any of the services owned by amazon like goodreads, audible, zappos. So it’s a no-brainer to drop amazon first
  2. microsoft — the NYT warns that dropping microsoft means no windows and I’m like, I don’t care. Not having ms office is a pain but there are alternatives. I skype with Carleen almost weekly, but we can switch to another service
  3. facebook — not because of facebook itself but because of whatsapp and, to a certain extent, instagram. Whatsapp is how almost everyone in my RL communicate with each other, so we’ll have to switch to something like line–and have to educate mum
  4. alphabet — obviously losing google, google maps and gmail is a big deal so I’ll try to keep google products as long as I can, the alternatives aren’t up to scratch
  5. apple — on my desk within easy reach: mba, ipad, 2 iphones. It’s not just the hardware, it’s ibooks, which is how I read

Poor yahoo, not in the cool 5 club. Which is a saviour in this exercise, because it means I still have yahoo mail and flickr.

trip errands, happy hour

Went to the bank, changed some yen for our trip. Then met mm at the transport department to get our international driver’s licences. I’m so used to using either my UK or US driver’s licence to rent cars that I almost forgot Japan didn’t accept them. They do accept, amongst others, Swiss driver’s licence but I’ll have to get a certified Japanese translation. Less trouble to get the international one. We tried making an appointment online but couldn’t get one so it was walk-in. Argh, there was a loooooong queue. As usual, it involved queuing up for ages to go to one counter to hand in our application and another queue to pay. At least we got the licence there and didn’t have to go to a third counter. Government bureaucracy. Took 1.5hrs.

tequila

Went to happy hour at the place sis and I went to in April. Two-for-one drinks plus a small cold buffet bar with proscuitto, cheese, bread, olives, fruit. Instead of wine or beer or even whisky (they only had Chivas and Jack Daniels) we ordered tequila, after our experience at frites. The drink came with salt and lemon.


There are right and not so right ways of drinking tequila. The clichéd method is salt on back of hand, shot in one then lemon wedge. Or neat, as zagat suggested in the video. We sipped it like whisky. Added a little salt and a drop of lemon juice, but mostly as a slow drink to enjoy the taste. We’re not yet at the point where we know what is good tequila, and I didn’t make a note of the brand. No wonder people get drunk off it, it’s so easy to drink. Good thing there was food. That was my dinner, I didn’t feel like eating anything else; mm had a meeting so I walked with her part ways until my bus stop. I was home by 7.30pm.

ronnie o’sullivan 147

elonex

I was reading a post about Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fastest 147, which may have been even faster than recorded. To remind ourselves, he made his first 147 at the Crucible at the 1997 world championship, at the record-breaking time of 5:20. Apparently the time is wrong. Going back 5 minutes 20 seconds from the end of play, ie when the last black was potted, gives a point when the other player was still playing. Which means the actual 147 took less time than 5:20:

  • 5:05 if the clock started when he hit the first white
  • 5:15 if the clock started when his opponent’s ball came to rest

Technology wasn’t as sophisticated in 1997. There at around the 3-minute mark is the Elonex logo, so the BBC must have been using Elonex computers then. Not the computer’s fault, it’s likely a human operator had to start the clock. I’m just blown away by seeing Elonex. It’s a name long ago buried in the past, like Amstrad or Sinclair or Commodore. I can’t remember if I ever bought an Elonex; they were good computers for that time. I wonder if they’re still in business.


It doesn’t matter whether it’s 5:05 or 5:15 or 5:20. The break is still worth watching. Deadspin positively gushes about Ronnie O’Sullivan, comparing him to Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Brian Lara, LeBron James, and Mozart:

when in the zone, he seems to have mastered the natural universe around him. His play is symphonic, orchestral, balletic, majestic, beautiful.

In the days of only 4 terrestrial tv channels, I grew up watching a lot of afternoon sports like cricket and snooker. Ronnie O’Sullivan brought a lot to the sport, and is still going strong, winning the 2017 Masters.

almost #breaking2


2:00:25.

So close. Eliud Kipchoge almost succeeded in Nike’s #breaking2 marathon challenge at Monza F1 course. Even if he had gone sub-2 it wouldn’t have counted as a world record because he had 30 pacers and a lead car. Plus Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes and sports drinks delivered by moped were questionable against IAAF rules.

The amazing thing is, he was on pace until around 30km, when he dropped back. Regardless of whether it was a staged event, and regardless of the fact that he didn’t go sub-2, it was still, as the Guardian said,

the most glorious of failures.

breaking2split

Just look at his splits. Wow.

symphony for a broken orchestra

We can do with as much good cheer as possible right now. NYT has a page of 12 great stories that have nothing to do with politics. Between US politics, the French and UK elections, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve stayed off fb mostly. I understand my American friends’ frustration with the recent healthcare situation, but I only have so much empathy to share. UK elections is no better, I used to lean Conservative, but I can no longer stand them. The problem is there is no alternative.

brokeninstruments

Anyway, one of the great stories is about symphony for a broken orchestra. It all started when Robert Blackson of Temple Contemporary, a part of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, learned that there are over 1000 musical instruments in the Philadelphia school system that are broken but can’t be repaired due to lack of money. Mr Blackson collected the instruments for an exhibition and is planning a performance of a piece, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. The composition

is written specifically for the sounds these instruments can only make in their broken state

They are still looking for volunteers to play the instruments, help with aspects of the performance and to repair the instruments. People can donate and adopt an insrument: after the performance the instruments will be repaired and given back to the schools so young people can learn and enjoy playing music. Here’s some more information:


gelato university

siena018gelato

I saw an article about a gelato university in Italy, of course.

A little googling reveals that it’s a combined museum and school in Bologna, offering different courses in 4 languages:

to assist all those entrepreneurs throughout the world who want to open gelato shops, as well as those who are already working in the sector but seek to strive towards gelato excellence

Courses range from casual one day tasting at €100 to a fully immersive 4 week course that combines their basic, intermediate, advanced and internship courses for €4000. Students learn techniques, recipes, recipe design, flavour balance and the business aspects of running a gelato shop.

Sounds fun. €4000 is a lot, and here are also accommodation, airfares and daily expenses to consider too. In comparison, the 9-month pastry course at le cordon bleu in Paris is €22800. Guess it’s a matter of supply vs demand. There are people who want to open gelato shops and they may see the course as investment.

And talking about gelato and ice cream, here’s a sort of related but not really sandwich alignment chart that was on twitter:

I’ve had ice cream in a sandwich made with bread. I’ve had sandwiches made with waffles. So ice cream between waffles is definitely a sandwich. Anything between or wrapped in an edible container is a sandwich.

vlm2018

vlm2018

I’ve gained all the weight I worked hard to lose, and then some. I’ve lost every scrap of fitness I also worked hard to get.

I’ve made a couple of pathetic attempts at running in the past 13 months but currently I’m unmotivated, lethargic and alternate between having zero interest in or mildly angry at the world around me.

It must be some sort of pavlovian response. See that it’s the week VLM lottery is open, click on the link, fill in the form.

Sod’s law means the year I’m in no shape physically or mentally to train for a marathon is the year I’ll get in the lottery.

lunch platter

lunchplatter01

Lunch today consisted of food Lily brought plus other ingredients from all over the world. Smoked eel, reypenaer cheese and foccacia from the Netherlands. Brunost brown cheese from Norway I’ve had in the fridge for a while. Coppa from Italy. Grilled asparagus from…the supermarket (I think they’re from the US). Leftover hollandaise from the other day. Apple & plum chutney from Bosham church fair–that’s West Sussex, UK.

I only have a small wooden chopping board so I couldn’t serve it Jamie-styled. I used my large chopping board instead, the effect isn’t as pretty but it got the job done.

Nice lunch. I’m reminded how I love cheese. The smoked eel was as spectacular as expected. We finished one packet, there is only one left. 🙁

bbmm+dutch friend

kowlooncity2017

Our friend lily is visitng from amsterdam, we met for lunch today. The consensus was for thai so mm and I searched and decided on the area near the old airport that has a lot of thai restaurants. Google map tells me it’ll be 37min walk or 35mins by bus so I decided to leave earlier and walk there. I can cover the parks between home and there and do some pokehunting. I walked past what used to be the infamous walled city, which was bulldozed in the early 1990s and is now a park. The streets nearby haven’t all been developed, although patches now have tall apartment blocks. How much longer will these old houses last?

We went to a casual restaurant called mini bangkok that is #2 on the tripadvisor list (#1 is in the food court of the wet market and we disregarded it as we wanted somewhere we can sit longer). We were too busy eating to take pictures; plus casual food never look good. We had pomelo salad, greens with balachan, grilled squid and oyster pancakes. The two veg dishes were outstanding and the oyster pancakes (more like battered oyster omelettes) were filling.

We decamped to dan ryan’s to chat and take advantage of their happy hour. Mostly, mm and lily talked about cosmetics and occasionally our upcoming trips to Japan. I had a couple of beers and watched the football on the tv.

reypenaercheese

Lily brought tons of goodies for us. Last time she brought this brilliant dark bread, this time she brought herb & pepper flavoured foccacia. Smoked eel, calvé peanut butter (head and shoulders ahead of skippy), seasoning to make herb butter. And a huge block of reypenaer vsop cheese, a gouda using milk from grass-fed cows and matured for 24 months in 100 year old warehouses. It’s an artisanal cheese from a family business that has been making cheese the traditional way. We’re so blessed to have such a thoughtful friend.

braised pork rib tips

braisedribtip

The small supermarket is having a chain-wide 30% off sale on all items until Monday. The aisles, usually choc-a-bloc with boxes and goods, are already clear and some shelves are almost empty. There are also more people than usual.

I bought wine, water, noodles, cheese, ice cream and saw rib tips at a low, low price. Easy to cook, just stew in the vacuum pot overnight with mirepoix, chicken stock and a glass of red wine. Had half a lemon left over from cooking salmon, added that. Some sweetcorn, added that too at the end.

Served with bulgar wheat. First time cooking bulgar wheat (though not first time eating), I think I like it better than couscous. Same cooking method: simmer in water till absorbed, turn off the heat and sit for 5-10mins.

What’s great about the rib tips, aside from tenderness from braising, is that there are lots of soft bone, or cartilage, in with the meat. It’s the white tube-like nub at the tip of the bone, it doesn’t have much flavour and is chewy and crunchy. It’s one of those food items like offal or fish cheek, that are revered by people in the know but most lay people will spit it out.

salt

The NYT had an artlcle on the single most important ingredient in cooking.

Salt.

Salt obviously adds saltiness. It also reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness and brings out aromas. There’s science involved.

There was a time when I undersalted everything, and my dad used little or no salt when cooking. I’ve changed it up a little now, and have stopped worrying about the amount of salt I use. Yes, I’m aware of all the health warnings about salt’s effect on blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and all that. But as the NYT article says,

anything you cook for yourself is lower in sodium than restaurant food.

On average I eat out once or twice a week, so around 10% of my meals are higher in sodium and potassium. My theory is, the rest of the meals at home will balance it out. I enjoy eating out, but honestly I prefer cooking at home. Outside food is too salty, too oily and there are certain cuisines I rarely eat because I can cook it at home. Two lamb chops in a restaurant cost the same as two racks from the supermarket; most pasta we can cook ourselves; steak too, even though I will splurge out and go to Hawksmoor or a good steakhouse.

The trick to using salt is to use it better. There are so many different types of salt, it’s a poor excuse to use table salt. Table salt is the worst, a teaspoon of it is much saltier than, say, a teaspoon of sea salt or herbed salt. Here’s some of my salt collection:

salt

Left, from back: plum salt from wakayama, japanese sea salt, korean sea salt, himalayan pink salt, good-with-everything salt, truffle salt, regular sea salt, french flavoured sea salt.

I don’t think I even have common table salt at home. If I need to use plain white salt, it’s from the mill. My day-to-day salt is the blue tub front left, lakeland’s good with everything salt that is mixed with herbs. This means if I take a pinch, it’s not all salt. I’m so used to flavouring with this that I know how much to use and what it will taste. The NYT article again:

what matters most is that you’re familiar with whichever salt you use.

I’m also keen to use other sources of salt. Soy sauce, cheese, bacon, duck fat. Anchovy is expensive here so I rarely use it. When I was around 10 years old my parents told me to marinade some pork. Young me discovered marinading with worcester sauce and I’ve been adding it to everything that needed flavour since then. Even at 10 I knew about umami? Probably not, but it’s a cute story.

I can’t remember which tv chef–I guess it’s all of the–who told us to season and taste each stage of cooking. I never add salt when I’m making stock and anything that needs to cook for a long time, I salt at the end. As for how to salt, Jamie Oliver tells us to sprinkle from a height; Emeril does his ‘bam’ routine. And of course there’s salt bae aka chef Nusret from turkey:

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flounder spinach rollups

flounderspinach

I bought a couple of packets of flounder filets at the supermarket. Mum and I aren’t very good at fish with bones so I prefer to stick with salmon or white fish filets. This is the first time I tried cooking flounder. The first batch, I pan-fried them but it wasn’t successful. The filets were too fragile and difficult to keep whole. Plus I couldn’t find much flavour to them.

For the second batch I decided to roll them up and bake them. It was dead easy. Cooked some spinach, rolled in filets, secure with toothpick. Baked in 180ºC oven for 15mins. I served them with hollandaise sauce which shamefully I have to admit came from a packet. I can make my own, but we had the packet so it’s best to use it up before it expires.

Since I was turning the oven on, I made sweet potatoes too. I’m so much happier with the rollups than the pan-fried version. I’m sure I can cook the rollups in a pan, either pan-fry them or poach them. Oven seems the best though, to keep them whole.

loremflickr

I discovered loremflickr and have been having a lot of fun with it. What is loremflickr? It’s a free random picture generator. In the same vein as lorem ipsum for text, it posts

placeholder images for every case, web or print, on almost any subject, in any size

Images are sourced from flickr that are marked creative commons and the user is acknowledged. Just enter the url including size, colour, subject. Let’s call a 500×375 pic of food, so the url is loremflickr.com/500/375/food:

loremflickrfood

How about same size, red, shoes: http://loremflickr.com/red/500/375/shoes

loremflickrredshoes

It does multiple searches too. So I may want a random pic of car or train: http://loremflickr.com/500/375/car,train/all

loremflickrcartrain

This is fun. And the best part is, I have literally no idea what will show up on this post.

trip research: food

For our nagoya-takeyama-kanazawa trip (read the first post, there are beautiful pics) there will be the usual sushi, sashimi, seafood, ramen, izakaya food but on top of that the region has speciality food that we will want to try.

hida beef

hidabeef

Kobe and matsuzaka beef are famous all over the world for their tenderness, marbling and, well, high prices. Hida beef, or hida-gyu, is lesser known but have the same high quality taste and marbling. In order to be labelled hida-gyu, the meat must come from black-haired Japanese wagyu cattle bred in the Gifu prefecture and fattened for at least 14 months. The meat must be certified to be graded 3, 4 or 5 by the Japan Meat Grading Association. They take their meat grading very seriously in Japan.

Gifu cattle first started being reared as meat as opposed to use for work in the 1980s. Hida beef has won numerous awards in the Wagyu Beef Olympics. Yep, they do take their beef seriously in Japan.

The onsen hotel in Takayama where we will spend 2 nights includes the typical kaiseki dinner. The dishes page has numerous pics of hida beef and we think we’ll be able to enjoy at least one meal with hida beef shabu shabu or grilled. I’m sure we’ll want to try it more than once ao I’ve been doing research on other restaurants in the area that also offer hida beef and have a list.

There are also street stalls selling hida gyu-man or hida beef buns. These will be nice snacks. Or we may even be crazy enough to buy some to bring home.

hitsumabushi

hitsumabushi

Nagoya is one of the top regions for producing river eel. Hitsumabushi is a style of unagi-don that is ubiquitious to the nagoya region. The difference is in the preparation: the eel is grilled vs in other regions it’s steamed then grilled. I can just imagine how much more smoky flavour there is in the grilled eel.

The most well known hitsumabushi restaurant in nagoya is atsuta horaiken; they have been preparing eel over charcoal grill for 140 years. And being Japanese, they have suggestions on how to savour the meal:

  1. taste the eel as is
  2. taste the eel with condiments served (spring onions, ginger, nori)
  3. add green tea
  4. eat as you like — ie whichever favourite from the last 3 methods

Unagi has gotten expensive over the years, especially wild river eel which is fattier and more tasty than ocean eel. We’re thinking this will be dinner on our first night.

gold leaf ice cream

goldice

Kanazawa produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaves. The latest craze is wrapping soft serve ice cream in gold leaf.

Seems more of a gimmick. To me, edible gold is one of the Stupidest.Ideas.Ever because it’s literally flushing money down the loo. Gold leaf ice cream is around ¥1000, or US$9. Normal soft ice cream is probably 1/4 or 1/3 the price.

But we may still give it a try, if only for the instagram moment.

p.s. again, not my pics. Google image. No copyright infringement intended.

next trip: nagoya region

alpenroute

We just finalised our next trip. Mid-May, to Nagoya. We’re excited because it’s a new destination in Japan. We’ve been to the Kanto area (Tokyo), Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto) and Hokkaido; the central Chubu area is a natural progression to add to the list.

We only have 8 days and poor Nagoya is basically going to be overnight stops at the beginning and end of the trip so we won’t get much chance to explore the city. We will be spending most of our time in the GIfu prefecture, at Tateyama 高山 and Kanazawa 金沢.


There are a number of absolutely stunning attractions in the area. In the Mt Tateyama area is the Tateyama Kurobe alpine route 立山黒部. This area is called Japan’s northern alps, and it gets a massive amount of snow because of the winter monsoon phenomenon. Atlas Obscura explains:

Frigid Siberian air streaming south and east across the relatively warm waters of the Sea of Japan generates snow clouds, which unleash their flakes as they approach land. The phenomenon is similar to lake-effect snow in the U.S. But while the Great Lakes can freeze over, effectively shutting off the snow machine, the Sea of Japan stays open all winter long. Coastal mountains such as Mt. Tateyama amplify the snow.

Parts of the region gets up to 40m (1500 inches) of snow a year. During winter, the area is closed. Every March, they start the arduous job of clearing the mountain road. Heavy machinery is employed and snow blowers blow snow off the road. By mid-April the road is clear, with a narrow path wending its way up the mountain surrounded by very tall snow walls. A few years ago, the enterprising local council had the brilliant idea of making this snow corridor a tourist attraction. In true Japanese fashion, the visit to the national park is well organised and there are a series of connecting transportation across the area: cable car, ropeway, bus. The stopping points include Murodo, which is 5mins walk from the snow corridor and also has great views of the surrounding mountains. The route ends at the eastern end at Kurobe dam, and there is the opportunity to walk across the dam to view the reservoir.

shirakawago

Another must-see destination in the area are the remote villages of Shirakawa-go 白川郷 and Gokayama 五箇山, famous for their distinctive farmhouses constructed gassho-zukuri styled, which means “like hands in prayer.” The sturdy structure and steep thatched-roofs means the houses can withstand large amounts of snowfall. They are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites:

The large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Despite economic upheavals, the villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura and Suganuma are outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstances.

kenrokuen

The third notable attraction would be #1 on any other trip. Kenrokuen has been described as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens. Set in what was the grounds of Kanazawa castle, its name means “garden of the six sublimities” or spaciousness, tranquility, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and magnificent views. According to traditional landscape theory, these are the essential attributes of a perfect garden design.

We realise we do not have enough time. The trick is to enjoy the trip, try not to rush and spend more time in fewer places rather than trying to hit everything.

p.s. these are not my pics; I haven’t been there yet. Gakked from tourist information sites.

pointless tech

We keep hearing that the age of the internet of things is coming. Wifi-enabled fridges, smart TVs that spies on us, buttons that orders replacement detergent with one single press.

But are these really useful?

juicero

Here’s the Guardian on five most pointless tech solutions to non-problems, inspired by the recent juicero fiasco. To recap, a ickstarter campaign raised US$120m brought its users a $399 machine that dispenses DRM-ed (think Keurig coffee pods) juice at $5-8 a cup. Supposedly it’ll text you when you’re running low of juice packs. And then someone discovered it’s just as easy to squeeze the juice by hand.

In other words, “entrepreneurs” making us spend our hard-earned money on over-priced products that have no meaningful justification for their existence.

The list includes a startup that sends its customers a bag of 80 quarters ($20-worth) to be used at the laundrette for $27; a £130 plant pot that regulates the amount of water for houseplants and texts you when you’re running low on water; food startups like blue apron and solyent.

I’ve written about the iphone case that is an andoid phone before. TIL I learned the product has been named the Eye.

The most hilarious pointless tech solution in the article is the space pen, a $35 pen that can write under any angle, zero gravity, under water, at any temperature. Originally developed for astronauts to overcome the difficulty of ink not flowing under gravity, which is how ball point pens work.

The Russians used a pencil.

allergy alert

pollution
photo courtesy flickr user darkwood 67 under cc

I got hit by a massive allergy attack today. Non-stop sneezing, out of control runny nose, and itchy nose, sinus, throat. It is spring weather, but it’s cloudy, breezy and cool, which normally doesn’t suggest a high allergy day. Then again pollution is largely invisible. I don’t know what exactly I’m allergic too, seems to be pollution, some plants, cats.

In total I took 3 claritins, equivalent to 30mg, over 12 hours. I know, recommended daily dosage is 10mg but it’s never enough. I’ve had to take 2 tablets a day almost daily since March. There was one day a few weeks ago I took 4 during the day and it only started working late into the evening.

In the end I had to take another medicine I got from the ENT doctor last year, to stop the runny nose and be able to sleep. Trying zyrtec tomorrow.

cruise refund

cruiserefund

I emailed my travel agent chasing the cruise refund; it’s been over 2 months since the day of the azipod failure. She emailed back that NCL has processed the cruise part of the refund as well as the future credit. I have a suspicion that she forgot to follow up and only after I prodded her that she contacted the cruise department; or the cruise department dropped the ball. Anyway the refund is for the value of the cruise, just over USD1,000 per person. The disappointing thing is that they didn’t refund port fees, which to me smacks of corporate greed. We didn’t go to those ports, so why do we have to pay the fees? My travel agent agrees too, but short of a class action, there isn’t much I can do about it.

The refund goes towards the additional hotels, car rental and other expenses in Melbourne and New Zealand. I can do the calculation to see if we came out ahead, since I kept track of our spending. But I can’t be bothered. Money spent is money spent. I also have a bunch of credit card points from the original payment; I wonder if I’ll lose them because of the refund.

Mum and I have USD500-ish each to spend on a future cruise, valid for 5 years. It’s not a huge amount, in the scheme of cruise cost. No point booking a cruise just to use it up. We’ll see. I will likely never go on the Star and will recommend no one else does too. Other NCL ships, may be. The service was good, the food was good.

They are still processing the Auckland flight refund, hopefully that will be soon.

things i’ve stopped doing

ynp205moon

Things I used to do and feel important that I do them and now I don’t anymore. Some are good and some are less good.

  • keep track of food eaten — I’ve tracked calories on TDP, now livestrong, since around 2008. Seems to be increasingly pointless. So what if I met my calorie goal, or was under, or go over
  • eating healthily — I had 4 timtams at teatime today and yesterday, that’s way too much. I can’t seem to stop if I’ve opened a packet of something
  • running and exercise — it’s marathon season and I’ve mostly avoided reading and posting about them. I know I need to run, but there is zero motivation
  • sleeping well — I either stay up too late then wake up late; or I wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep
  • listen to music — not getting much enjoyment out of
  • i stopped reading for about a month, recently started again — quite relieved
  • I average one coke zero or diet coke once every a week or less frequent — there are times when I want fizz or fizz with taste, I drink sparkling water and have discovered a stash of cranberry satchets in the fridge so I don’t even need to buy iced tea when I’m out and about
  • care about…anything

I don’t want to self-diagnose but typical depression symptoms include:

  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • overeating or appetite loss
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping

Sigh.

flickr explore | old websites

Tim Carmody who is standing in for Jason Kottke this week has been asking interesting hive-mind questions, like best wesbsites that are gone, hidden gem websites and best things in the history of the internet. The hidden gems list is interesting by itself.

Matt Haughey, in response to the best historical internet questions, wrote about flickr explore. Flickr has been through a lot, especially since it was bought by yahoo. Most of it negative as users abandoned it for other sites that offered more instant gratification. As an image repository, it’s been overtaken by facebook. As a social app, it’s been replaced by almost everything–snapchat, instagram, facebook again. The flickr explore page isn’t perfect, there are too many landscape pics, too many macro pics, and too many overly HDR pics. But there’s at least one that is inspiring and unlike instagram, no one is trying to get me to follow them or sell me something.

flickrexplore2017

I just clicked on the page. Random pics and I daresay I find something pleasing in every single one.

p.s. he also asked about great websites that are gone and the top one is google reader. For me, it’s google reader too, but I won’t forget about harpold.com

snap general election

parliamentunionjack

The Prime Minister has called a snap general election on 8 June. What on earth? Most of us kept hearing her say no, there won’t be a general election soon. Clearly she’s changed her mind or is plotting something.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Some analysts say she’s done it to clarify the Brexit mandate. She inherited Cameron’s mess and this is her way of stamping her own authority. Basically it’s a threat, vote for me on my merit or suffer the consequences. She’s also likely to be taking advantage of a big lead in the polls. Labour isn’t an effective opposition party and hasn’t been for a while. The Lib Dems are still too tiny and the SNP is stuck north of the border.

It’s Hobson’s Choice for the voters. One of my fb friends said it best:

would I rather have an incompetent prime minister with his heart in the right place, or one who I disagree with 75% of the time, but who has the ability to deal with foreign leaders, internal dissent, day to day chaos

As disillusioned as I am with the Tories, I cannot stomach voting for Corbyn. Like my fb friend said, nice guy but no presence.

I’m glad I renewed by voter registration. Let’s see if this time roung I get a ballot paper.

spring marathons #bostonstrong

It’s spring marathon season. Brighton was last weekend, Paris was yesterday, London is next weekend. Today is Boston, which is an anomaly in world marathons in that it’s run on a monday.

I’m mesmerised, watching how they let pedestrians cross the street in the middle of the marathon course. Effective and using low tech ideas. Just a few officials, a couple of signs, rope and a rectanglar box in the middle of the street. Very clever.

switzer

And talking about Boston, it’s the 5th anniversary of the bombing so #BostonStrong. The biggest finisher wasn’t Geoffrey Kirui or Edna Kiplagat (yay for Kenya) but bib #261, Kathrine Switzer, aged 70. Ms Switzer was the first woman to officially run Boston in 1967, having registerd as K.V. Switzer. The iconic photo of the race director trying to grab her mid-course seems so ridiculous now, but what she did for women’s sports was set a fantastic example and role model. 70 years old and she finished in 4:44:31. Amazing.

The BAA has retired her bib #261, in her honour.

tabletop bbq

bbq15

Met mm and her brother’s family for bbq. This is a style of bbq we’ve never tried before–table top bbq. We’re all sat around a wooden bench and they brought a rectangular charcoal grill which sat on top of some bricks. The charcoal was already lit and ready for grilling immediately.

All you can eat for 3 hours. The ingredients are in an indoor pantry area, the meat in a large fridge unit and vegetables on shelves. Most food was skewered so the grilling was super easy and efficient. Much safer than the traditional bbq pit and so much faster; there was no wait for the food to cook unlike the pit bbq. We had king prawns, clams that cooked in a claypot, steak, ribs, tongue, chicken wings, fish balls, courgettes, mushroom, pumpkin, enoki mushrooms in aluminium foil. I got a bucket of beer.

Liking this style of bbq a lot, would want to try again.

burgers off- and on-menu

nyc082spottedburger

Interesting long read about the rise of restaurant quality off-menu burgers in the US. How a gastropub that usually served small plates was saved from the brink of failure by objectively the best burger in New York that the chef initially put on the lunch menu and was hesitant about putting on the dinner menu.

There seems to be two totally unrelated factors going on here. First, many of these good and “famous” burgers are not common and garden fare. Daniel Boulud’s db burger, made with sirloin and has fillings like black truffle and foid gras, debuted in 2001 at $27. It’s now $35. There is an emphasis on quality ingredients and care in cooking, partly to justify the high price and partly because we’re talking restaurant chefs, not Mcdonalds.

Second, the off-menu aspect. For example, In-and-Out’s secret menu isn’t a huge secret. There’s probably some psychological high reached when people perceive they are getting a better deal than other customers. Or it’s an opportunity for oneupmanship, to show off, or in general be cooler, hipper, than one actually is.

There is cultural currency in speaking the language and knowing how to get the good stuff.

That said, it’s interesting to read about the burger eclipse effect. Like

if you build it, they will come

the rule is, if there is a burger on the menu, customers will order it. It’s predictable, it’s familiar, it’s satisfying. But it also means customers are not ordering food that the chef may consider more special, more worthy, more interesting.

One chef who has a great burger on the menu is April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig, who another chef described as the queen of burgers. It’s been almost a year, I can still taste it.

bbmm day out

Day out with mm, she brought Ryan (after jumpstarting) and drove out to saikung. It being a public holiday the area was crowded so after one turn around the streets we decided to park at the car park instead.

Nice short walk along the shore front. It was low tide so some people had ventured to the rocks opposite the promenade. There were boats, fishing people selling seafood from their boats, people with their annoying dogs, kite fliers, a small craft market–the usual stuff.

bbmmthai201704

We had dinner at a nice thai restaurant. Whole fish in tom yum soup, green curry lamb, gai lan. The first time either one of us had come across thai lamb curry, it was good. Very coconut-y, not spicy at all. If anything, a tad too sweet. The fish in tom yum was great, especially the tanginess and spice of the soup. Quite a popular restaurant, it was full and lots of families there too.

While walking around afterwards we spied a supermarket with a poster that says they sell Tesco goods. Immediately crossed the road. Wow, lots and lots of Tesco goodies. And extremely reasonably priced too, cheaper than the supermarket and almost 759 level of pricing. We ended up buying a lot, I got museli for mum, canned tomatoes, olive oil, grapeseed oil and halloumi. If we had space I would have bought some wine too. It’s a bit far away, but if we’re there for a day out next time, we are sure to revisit this special supermarket.

ex-colleagues dinner

bdaycake02

Yesterday we met up with the ex-office girls for dinner at a thai place. There was a slight panic when we were told we can only have the table for 1.5hrs, but in the end it was an empty threat–there was no one in the queue after 1.5hrs so no need to return the table. Nice food, the place has the same name as a dingy, crowded place I’ve been a few times, wonder if they are the same.

Satay, spicy chicken feet salad, green curry chicken, pad thai, pineapple fried rice. We had beer and the girls had lime soda. I’d actually gone out earlier to run errands and attempt to pokehunt. Errands took quicker than expected, coudln’t lot into pogo and it rained very hard so I spent more than an hour at a happy hour place nearby and had 2 beers already. Too much beer!

The girls brought a nice green tea cake for dessert. Perfect small size for 5 people. Great to catch up.

make tea in microwave, outrageous

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Some scientists in from the University of Newcastle in Australia are claiming that making tea using a microwave is the best method as it’s supposed to release more of tea’s beneficial active ingredients. They placed a tea bag with water, microwaved it at half power for 30 seconds and let it sit for a minute.

No.

No.

No.

As the Independent said, it’s

likely to appall any self-respecting Brit to their very core

and there is an uproar on twitter about this.

I’ve learned to compromise when I visit friends in the US. Yes I have to use the microwave to heat tea and I’ve had to use…gasp…half and half when I had no other choice. But I didn’t expect this travesty to come from the Aussies. I remember thinking when we were in Australia recently thank god the Aussies know how to make tea. I’m so wrong.

But seriously, there are rules for tea making:

  • USE A KETTLE, water must be freshly boiled
  • under no circumstances is lipton acceptable
  • teabag in or out is personal choice
  • milk first only with loose-leaf tea, never with tea bags
  • USE A KETTLE

family day, happy hour

Bank stuff in the morning with Sis. Mum went to get a table for dim sum lunch. After lunch we went to visit Papa. It’s turned warm and humid and people were burning stuff so there was smoke all over the place. The taxi queue back to the station was very long, fortunately the wait wasn’t that bad.

Since we were out and there was time, Sis and I went to the probate office to file an amendment. Typical bureaucracy: queue up at one counter, queue up at another, then another, form filling, more queuing.

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We needed to sit down afterwards and went to a new restaurant-bistro type place at the spot that used to be grappas. They had two-for-one happy hour plus a small plates counter. We had wine: barbera d’asti for me and malbec for sis. The small plates counter was good: sandwiches, olives, artichoke-pepper, lots of cheese, two types of charcuterie, fruit and a nice selection of relish and chutneys. For some reason I totally adore chutneys and can eat it on its own. They also had a blackberry chutney that I also liked.

There was an app that kept track of happy hour places but they change to quickly the app can’t keep up. Stone Nullah Tavern that used to have $1 drinks that doubles in price every 20mins is now all-you-can-drink for a set price. The old reliable bars like Canny Man are pretty consistent, with 30-40% deals. Passion near the office was good, they do two-for-one but perhaps due to the inexperience of the staff they allow two people to share one deal vs most places the offer is per order. Increasingly, there is a tendency to serve snacks. The french place we were going to go to serves a small plate of parma ham and HMV has small plates too, though I haven’t been there for a while.

bbmm lunch

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Late lunch with mm, she had an appointment nearby so I walked down to the simplylife at festival walk. I’d already had lunch at home so we shared the meal. Spinach & mushroom pizza was nice, thin crispy crust and good flavour from the chanterelles. They initially brought us a chicken pizza and when we flagged a server down they realised it was for the table next to ours.

They have a really great selection of breads and cakes. It’s the same place I got the raspberry truffle cake and chestnut cake for mm’s birthday last week. Today we had a chocolate jaffa tart. Their chocolate pastries are good! The ganache was rich and the sweetness was balanced by real mandarin pieces. I found some frozen chocolate shortcrust pastry in the freezer the other day, I hope I can still use it, make chocolate tart.

Anyway, she wanted to go home to rest so we walked around the mall a little then she took the train. I stopped quickly at the supermarket and got tomatoes and carrots. I have an oxtail in the freezer, I want to use it this week.

the end of an era

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When I was at school, lower or upper fifth year IIRC, I entered a short general knowledge quiz. Those days, there was no internet so I had to write the answers on a postcard and mail it back to the organisers. I won £5 in a Lloyds savings account.

When I started at King’s, I opened a bank account with Barclays because they gave out all sorts of goodies for freshers and I didn’t qualify for those benefits as an existing Lloyds customer (I assumed, I didn’t ask). I closed the Barclays account shortly but kept the Lloyds account. I can’t remember whether I was already at Southampton Row when I was at King’s but definitely when I started working at Astra my branch was there. Even when I went to Imperial, changed jobs and left the UK I never moved branches. When I was back in London a few years ago, I still kept my branch there.

Lloyds, like many other banks, have been closing branches during the past few years. There was a big cull in 2016 and I wasn’t affected. Recently they announced 100 branches will close including Lloyds, Bank of Scotland and Halifax branches. This time I’m not so lucky, I just got the letter than Southampton Row will close.

Sigh. The end of an era.

It’s not so surprising, really. People hardly go to branches to conduct banking business anymore. Online banking, phone banking and simply using the cashpoint have all but taken over.

My account will move to 113 Oxford Street, with no change in sortcode. This is important as the sortcode is ingrained in my mind. According to google maps, the branch is at the corner of Wardour Street and Oxford Street. I can’t picture it, but it doesn’t matter. To be honest, I’m more likely to be in that area than Holborn so no big deal for me. It’s just for sentimental reasons that I lament the closure of the branch I’ve banked with for so many years. Best £5 they ever spent, all those years ago.

new books

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Favourite bookseller is having a sale: buy 2 get one free. I got caught up with some book shopping, got 7 books total for US$40. Good motivation to start reading again, haven’t read anything for a few weeks.

Finished one book in a few hours. An easy-to-read romance from an author who is consistent, reliable and I know it’ll be well written. While the premise is formulaic, I was still absorbed in the story. Our MCs meet, fall in love, some obstacle happens, they break up and get back together again. And lived happily ever after.

I always feel very sad when I read traditional romances. It’s so easy for them. Oh, there are always obstacles, but it’s a guaranteed happy ending so the angst never last long. Not real. You don’t look across the room and feel everything fade to the background with only your soulmate lit up like a spotlight. You don’t start finishing each other’s sentences after talking to each other for five minutes. Friends and family and colleagues and society are not that accepting. Life is not that smooth. It’s a fantasy. Sometimes I hate these characters; it’s so unfair that they get to find the one and spend the rest of their lives together.

What about those of us to struggle and know there is no solution, no happily ever after. The angst doesn’t get resolved. Problems build instead of dissipate. Mere living, the act of staying alive, is tough.

May be we put too much emphasis on love. After all, it’s just an emotion and we can’t live on emotions. It’s not like food, shelter, air, water. Argh, I’m too cynical and jaded. Jeanette Winterson was writing in the Guardian about how the concept of marriage has changed from ownership of women a thousand years ago to business and convenience a few hundred years ago to marrying for love, a decidedly Victorian idea. On the topic of love, she says,

love is like gardening, or writing, or working out, or cooking, or eating, or meditation, or reading – it’s an everyday activity that needs to be fresh and alive every day, tended, and with tenderness.

Pretty idealistic but practical too. What of marriage in the future? May be we move away from the boxes society places upon us. Some people want to be married to one person; some people don’t want to be bothered with the grand declaration; some others have no option to be with someone but need to escape loneliness. It comes down to the different types of love. Does romantic love have to be the ultimate goal? What about the love of family, good friends, close community.

I’m getting off-topic. The next book in the newly purchased stack I’m going to read falls firmly in the adventure category. No danger of becoming even more sad reading about perfect couples with perfect relationships.

birthday

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Sis treated us to lunch at ON dining. It’s busy at lunchtime, good to see that business is good.

For starters I had pork knuckle carpaccio, which is pork terrine sliced very thin with an emulsion of egg and herbs topping. Mum and sis got an amuse bouche of soup since they didn’t order starters; gis had onsen egg with black truffle sauce.

Mains Sis and I had pigeon with foie gras. Perfectly cooked pigeon, delicious. Gis had beef and mum had hake.

I got a surprise birthday cake, their raspberry & yuzu that was on the menu. Mum got the same cake for dessert. Sis and I both ordered cheese so we got a large cheeseboard of comté plus six strong, oozy, yummy, cheese.

Met mm after lunch. We were going to have drinks but I thought we could get haircut since that was our original plan for saturday. Even better, because sam said he was pretty booked on saturday.

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Early dinner at frites. It’s rugby sevens weekend and friday and we didn’t have a reservation. If we sat at a table we’d have to give it back by 7.30pm, but we were free to sit at the bar for as long as we wanted. So I picked the bar. We shared a plate of fried camembert and a pot of mussels. I had a beer and mm had a glass of red wine. Really lovely. The manager gave us each a complimentary shot of tequila for birthday, and I got a discount card too.

It was a nice birthday. Everybody made an effort and I felt blessed and loved. I just wish I felt better and more cheerful inside.

for sale: castle plus house £550k

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Savills has the smallest castle in the UK listed for £550,000. It’s called Molly’s Lodge, a Grade II listed building in Long Compton in Warwickshire. Lots of pics at Country Living magazine. If it weren’t for the turret, it’d be a pretty stone cottage, not a castle.

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Inside, it has one bedroom, one bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchen and a metal spiral staircase. Beautiful gardens that has fruits, vegetables, herbs and a chicken run to be self-sufficient.

What grabbed my attention, aside from the prettiness of the exterior and modern interior, is that there is a second house included on the property. Can see it perpendicular with the castle on the top picture. Called Molly’s Mews it has a one bedroom flat with open kitchen, double garage and an office. Perfectly livable, and the castle can be rented out on airbnb for income. The price tag of £550,000 seems too good to be true, I guess it’s because both houses are just one bedroom. Can’t even get a decent one bedroom flat in London for that price.

sleep on the sofa

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A creepy-crawly flew into my room and even though we sprayed like mad, we can’t reach it. Hopefully the spray did the job.

I slept outside in the living room. I don’t mind, I like sleeping on my sofa; mm too, when she used to come over she’d fall asleep on the sofa as soon as she sat on it. In fact, I think I slept better on the sofa than my bed. It’s also much quieter on that side of the flat.

Lately, I’ve found it hard to fall asleep. Or I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep at all. I guess I’m not alone. It’s likely sleep-onset insomnia, or I may have some negative associations with trying to sleep in bed.

It’s not ideal, to sleep on the couch. Softness of the cushions, the cloth material not suited to dissipate body heat, limited space to move are all factors that may affect the quality of sleep.

I’ll continue for a few more days, until mentally I’m okay with being back in my room. Soon it’ll get hot and I’ll have to go back to my room to turn the air-con on.

mm birthday

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It’s mm’s birthday. We were going to go have haircuts but it seemed our hairdresser is closed today for public holiday. She also seemed to be not answering my telepathic pleas to decide on when and where to meet.

So finally we fixed a time. I detoured to simplylife and bought 2 slices of cake: raspberry truffle and chestnut. They turned out to be very, very nice.

mmbdaysteak

Walked a little, then settled on dinner at the hotel near her. Semi-buffet. Salad bar was pretty good: salad, charcuterie, oysters, crab legs, mussels and a nice poached salmon that ran out way too quickly. For mains we shared the 400g rib-eye that came with shoestring fries and waldorf salad. The server tried to flambé the steak with a tiny shot glass of Jack Daniel’s and it was a pretty sorry sight. The steak was average, mm says I cook them better.

pillastro wine

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Normally when I drink wine at home I use a mug. Yes, it’s terrible.

So I opened a bottle of Pillastro Primivito 2014 that sis gave me. I thought I should do it better justice and use a proper wine glass. Okay, it’s still a stemless, not a fancy one but it’s an improvement.

Nice wine. Primivito is the same grape as zinfandel apparently. No wonder it was fruity and fragrant. Easy to drink too.

bones 12.12

I was flipping through channels and managed to catch Bones s12e12, the series finale. I hadn’t been diligently watching every single episode; I’d watch what I can when I see it’s on and usually on flights. I do know that it’s the series finale. Episode title “The End in the End.”

The body and villain of the week were dispatched quickly, it’s a continuation from evidently the previous episode(s). It’s hard to cram so much into 45mins, but they did a pretty good job. Everybody was there, including Caroline, my favourite character. All the available squinterns were there, and there were shout-outs to Mr Nigel-Murray and Zack. And Sweets, poor Sweets.

It wasn’t like they were closing down the Jeffersonian permanently. Bones and Booth still walked off into the sunset, the ending in the “and they lived happily ever after” vein. Hodgins got to be King of the Lab. There is the understanding that their lives will go on, it’s just that we the audience won’t be a part of that family anymore. Kinda sad.

Found a 21min retrospective featuring cast and crew. The family vibe was strong.