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

inst001kettle

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.

hh20170411

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

simplylife20170410

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

lloydsbranchclose

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.

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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.

random instapaper

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For some odd reason this pic appeared on my instapaper saved feed. I have no idea how it got there, I haven’t looked at this for ages.

I’m happy to be reminded of much, much happier times though.

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.