bbmm at travel agent

okinawa

Met mm at the travel agent’s to get some information about cruises and resorts. Her mum’s doc says she can go on short breaks and it will likely be beneficial. But she can’t go too far away and preferably as little travel hassle as possible. It was the doc who suggested cruises. There are definitely advantages, mostly it’s the minimum amount of travelling and yet she can enjoy going away.

We’re limited by the total number of days, preferably under a week. There are only a few itineraries that fit the criteria. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan. And the Japan one is only as far as Okinawa. I knew Okinawa is south of mainland Japan but I didn’t realise it’s that far south. It’s nearer to Taiwan. From brief research, it’s mainly a beach resort type of destination.

The Okinawa cruise is on the huge Ovation of the Seas. Over 4000 passengers, 167000 tons. One day at sea, then arriving at Okinawa at 1pm. Stay overnight then leave at 2pm the next day. Another day at sea. Truth be told, it’s an odd itinerary and doesn’t give a lot of time on the island.

We’ll see.

day out with sis

Sis and I went to the computer area to hunt for various gadget-related stuff for her. First, lunch at the vietnamese stall in the cooked food market above the market. Street food inside with air-con. The pho was good, and it came with a drink. We also ordered chicken wings, prawn cakes and vietnamese 333 beer. On the way out we saw several large tables with what looked like freshly cooked delicious food.

I bought a few small wicking towels and some superglue. She bought belts, straps, replacement sponges for headphones, hand-cranked survival radios, and all sorts of other fun gadgets. It’s okay to go on a weekday, still crowded but manageable compared with the weekend.

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There was still time and we wanted some drinks. Nothing in that area so we went back to PP and found a japanese restaurant. I had a sawa or calpis cocktail. It was surprisingly refreshing although there wasn’t much alcohol flavour. Calpis is actually one of my favourite drinks, slightly carbonated yogurt flavour a bit like yakult. Hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

meat index

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Interesting article about meat prices around the world, based on a a study by a UK b2b catering company. The study itself is a huge table that looks a lot like airinc goods & sevices tables.

meatprices

The Eater graph shows the top and bottom 10 countries in the study in terms of meat prices compared with the average global price. Switzerland is way out front with meat prices almost 1.5 times that of the global average. The US comes in at only 17.94% and the UK actually below average at -3.06%. Meat in Switzerland and Norway is expensive because they are expensive countries. Meat in HK is expensive because everything is imported. Which is why I don’t buy minced beef–there is not that much difference per kg between minced beef and braising beef like cheeks and oxtail. I already know meat in the US and UK are not that expensive, especially if cooking at home.

It’s not very useful to simply compare prices. A more indicative index is affordability. The study also indicated how many minimum wage hours will be needed to buy 1kg of meat. In Switzerland, that comes to 3hrs. The US comes in at 2.67hrs, UK 1.42hrs and HK around 5hrs. The most expensive, in terms of number of hours needed, is India at 27.38hrs.

There are also other areas of consideration like regulations, trade tariffs and cultural differences. All in all, an interesting area.

uncle H (2)

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The actual funeral for Uncle H. Only Mum and I went, it’s a school day for G so Sis couldn’t come.

After a short service led by the same priest as yesterday, we went in a coach to the crematorium. The priest talked a little about green burial (yay us) and how our bodies and physical objects will remain, only in different states. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The lunch afterwards was at one of Uncle H’s favourite restaurants. Auntie F says there are fixed dishes that had to be eaten, and fixed number of dishes too. She had been heartbroken the past 2 days and I’m glad to see her smiling, joking and talking to everyone. All her siblings were there (except those in other countries). I sat next to her sister and they were telling stories of when they were kids.

A family kind of day.

uncle H (1)

psalm23

We said goodbye to our family friend Uncle H today. He’s not actually related but we call each other uncles and aunties out of respect. Both our families moved to the UK at around the same time; they are just a few years younger than us, not so much younger that we couldn’t play together as kids.

We went with Uncle H and Auntie F on our first ever cruise to the Mediterranean, so they are the “guilty” ones who introduced us to cruising. I won’t say I was impressed with that particuar cruise, but there were some new experiences. The last time I saw Uncle H was about a year ago when mum and I met them for lunch.

Their son J used to be this nerdy kid we made fun of. He is now owner of his own architecture firm and he has won numerous prizes. He looks exactly the same as Uncle H. It occured to me that we are now older than my parents and J’s parents when they moved to the UK with their young families.

There were many people paying their respects for Uncle H. A priest and a group of kind volunteers from their church came to conduct a service. It started off with a reading of Psalm 23, always appropriate. The choir sang Amazing Grace and a few other hymns.

Sad all around. Sis and I agreed we did the right thing not having this for Papa. It probably gives people closure and comfort, but we would have hated it.

bbmm saturday

Went with mm to buy a new fridge. She’s needed to replace her existing one for a while, but the available dimensions in her kitchen really limited her options. In the end there were only 1 or 2 models that fit the space. Seems like fridges have become deeper and less wide than before.

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After getting the fridge we went to PP where we were supposed to have dinner with her family. It was only 4.30pm so there was time to walk around or find somewhere to sit. Surprised to see bizou had happy hour. On a saturday, that was unexpected. 2-for-1 plus a small snack selection. Salad, cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, pineapple. We were both careful not to eat too much because of dinner. I had a few plates of just salad after my first plate with cheese and prosciutto. She had a tempranillo from australia and I had a petit syrah from new zealand. Two unexpected origins for these two grapes. No complaints.

Dinner was in the usual restaurant. Excellent ordering by her mum, there was a perfect amount of food and very little leftovers. I left with an orange.

Typhoon coming again–we had T10 on wednesday already. By the time I was at the bus-stop it was T3 and the wind was definitely picking up when I got home.

you must be offline to read this

offline

A thoughtful bit of cleverness from Chris Bolin, you must go offline to view this page (or click on the image).

So I did as asked, went to offline mode. Short article; I agree with everything he said. We suffer through so much external distractions that we have begun to internally distract ourselves too. Try this experiment, imagine having to be still for a few hours, a few minutes, and simply focus on doing ONE analogue thing–read a book, bake a cake, file paperwork. How long will it be before we reach out to our phones and check for a non-existent new text, glance at an inbox with no new emails, or refresh fb only to see the same political article shared by half a dozen people.

There has been plenty of articles about the benefits of unplugging and examples of people saying how great their life is when they go offline for extended periods of time. Many people announce that they deleted twitter, or facebook, or snapchat. I shrug at those announcements, because they will usually come running back in a few weeks.

What I’ve found works for me is, instead of deleting those apps (and of course dramatically announcing the act), simply engage less. There is no need to read every single post of every single person I follow. I read my close friends and family and people whose posts I found valuable in the past. My approach to social media is that it’s a place for me to curate the things and experiences I find interesting. Not to mindlessly, constantly, share. Curating implies putting more thought into each post. I know that I am still learning and I have a long way to go. My weakness is way too many poorly photographed food pics on instagram and after almost 15 years I’m probably still not doing this blogging thing right. But at least I’m aware.

I’m not techy enough to know how the page was coded, a script I think. When I went to see page source firefox tells me it can’t because I’m in offline mode. Snerk.

I’m still offline, so I went back to read the post again. How often does a second reading point us to something we missed upon first reading? Or we see more depth in the words? Here’s parting thoughts on the inevitable complaints that going offline doesn’t work:

I don’t care. Make time. I bet the thing that makes you valuable is not your ability to Google something but your ability to synthesize information. Do your research online; create offline.

≺/offline≻

slow cooked duck legs

duckleg01

Recipe from Mark Bittman at the NYT. He was writing this week on grubstreet about grilling duck legs too, although the only grill I have is the one at the top of my oven and isn’t the bbq grill he was talking about.

Anyway, the method we see people on cookery programs most of the time is confit duck legs. I don’t really want to waste a bottle of oil so this slow cooked method is better.

In a cold pan over medium heat start browning the duck legs, skin side down. In the meantime, prep carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe has onions but I ran out so I used extra celery and 4 cloves of garlic. Added potatoes for a true one pot meal. I chopped the veg into larger chunks than the recipe to give more bite.

Once the duck skin has crisped up, turn over and brown the meat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Pour out almost all the duck fat (I have an old peanut butter jar I use to keep my duck and bacon fat). Sauté the veg for about 10mins, transfer to baking dish with duck. Season with s&p, rosemary, thyme.

Heat chicken stock in pan to deglaze and bring to the boil. Pour into baking dish until most of duck legs are covered, making sure the skin isn’t covered. I didn’t have enough stock, it was perfectly fine to top up with boiling water.

Cook at 200ºC for 30mins, then turn oven down to 180ºC and continue cooking for around 1hr until duck is tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

duckleg02

Very, very good. There was just about enough sauce to cover the baking dish, and it had a nice intense flavour. The recipe says use homemade chicken stock and I agree, it makes all the difference. The duck was fork-tender and had lots of flavour.

We are lucky that we can get duck breast and leg fairly inexpensively, perhaps because the locals don’t know how to cook them. It’s frozen and definitely not gressingham duck we get in the UK, but with the right cooking method, is one of our staples. Easy to make too. Total cooking time around 2hrs, but mostly unattended.

what Ken Cheng thinks about the new pound coin

Dave’s funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe was awarded to Ken Cheng. The prize, now in its 10th year, is awarded to the best one-liner. Ken’s winning joke:

I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change


Ken studied at Cambridge and was a finalist in the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy award. Found an excerpt of his Fringe act. I thought it was…okay. I preferred his set at the NCA finals. Perhaps it’s the subject matter. Talking about ‘Chinese Comedian’ is not as funny as dissecting the phrase ‘Two Birds One Stone.’ The bit about laundry and the South African cricket team was funny, although it sounds funnier when delivered by a professional comedian.

poundcoin

Anyway, what’s up with the new pound coin. The specs, according to the Royal Mint:

  • 12-sided so easily recognisable
  • made from nickel-brass and nickel-plated alloy
  • has an image-like a hologram that changes from £ to 1 when viewed from different angles
  • very small lettering at the rims
  • grooves on alternate sides
  • a hidden security feature

The design combines the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle, and the Northern Irish shamrock which is pretty representative.

Reaction to the new coin seems to be mixed with most people, as Ken said, hating change. I think it’s quite cool, and if it stops conterfeiting, I’m all for it. I remember when the pound coin first came out and how people didn’t like how heavy it was. We’ve all gotten used to it. I checked my wallet and I have £6 in pound coins. Beyond October 2017 I’ll have to change them at a bank. Since it’s such a small amount, i may keep them as souvenir. I have some old 10p and 50p coins somewhere.

pub party

ashleyrdpub01

Sis, Rob and I went to the first anniversary party of one of R’s friend Andy’s pub. R is an investor there also, like a few others that Andy has opened. It’s a nice little pub in a central area but on a street that is less crowded. I’m glad to have found it, sometimes I have a little time to spare and nowhere to go to, like a pub. Of course I can find a fast food place and sit for a bit, but honestly who wants to sit at Mcdonalds, having to share a filthy plastic table with others.

ashleyrdpub02

The party was between 4-9pm, so they could still take in customers. They had beer, rosé and red wine, all served in a plastic beer cup. Snacks too like chicken wings, salad, pasta. R’s friend Patrick showed up and he somehow snagged a bottle of prosecco for our table. Yay for young Patrick. We left at around 8pm, I got home with enough time to shower and watch MKR.

100 trips everyone should take

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Usual travel bucket lists, the ones that are called something like 101 places to see before you die, incude items like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or visit Angkor Wat. It’s almost a cliché now.

Here’s a slightly different list of 100 trips everyone should take in their lifetime. Compiled by Business Insider who asked 20 travel writers for their top 5. And it’s all about experiences in the less touristy destinations. I do okay in the more “normal” travel lists, but some of these locations I haven’t even heard of. Not in any particular order, I think they grouped the top 5 of each writer, which is why some places and activities repeat. The Indy warns:

[f]rom off-the-beaten-track hidden gems to well-recognised yet stunning locations, prepare to get hit with some serious travel envy

  1. See mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
  2. Visit the chocolate box fishing villages of the Lofoten Islands, Norway
  3. Pretend you’re on a desert island at Motu Tiapaa in Maupiti — TIL that’s one of the remote island in the south Pacific
  4. Explore the sci-fi landscapes of Cappadocia, Turkey
  5. Camp in the Caucasus Mountains in Kazbegi, Georgia
  6. Chill out in Levi, Finland
  7. Have a star-gazing sleepover in Tuvalu
  8. Try the nightlife scene in Accra, Ghana
  9. Watch a world-renowned sunrise in Kiribati
  10. Travel back to Babylon in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  11. Look down into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA — this is the first realistic destination for me on this list, and even then I have to plan a winter trip to the US
  12. Surf at Point Roadknight, Melbourne, Australia — Melbourne I’ve been but I’ll never go surfing
  13. Explore London’s edgy urban scene — I’ve possibly done this. This was on the list for Daniel Houghton, CEO of Lonely Planet, who said:

    Hampstead Heath is a beautiful spot to take in the sheer size of the city

  14. Get to know Hawaii’s islands — I don’t think the one trip to Hawaii when I was 16 with my family counts, I barely remember it
  15. Be inspired by the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia — another realistic location
  16. Take a road trip around Louisiana, USA — been to New Orleans, haven’t done the road trip
  17. Build an igloo at Kamakura Festival in Yokote, Japan — this sounds great, need to do research
  18. Be rendered speechless by Tsingy Rouge, Madagascar — I posted about this recently
  19. Light a candle at Birgufest, Malta
  20. Cycle through the air in the cloud forests of Ecuador
  21. Take on Britain’s toughest trek at Cape Wrath, Scotland
  22. Reach Norway’s peaks, stopping off at Gjendesheim cabin
  23. Venture up the Alps, stopping off in Arolla, Switzerland — that’s in the Matterhorn area and I’ve been there
  24. Backpack through Lairig Ghru’s sub-arctic plateau in Scotland
  25. Stay in the Loch Ossian Hostel, Scotland– the third Scotland hiking destination from Alex Roddie, Sub-Editor of Sidetracked Magazine, this eco-hostel is 85 years old and located in the Highlands
  26. Scuba dive in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
  27. Be one with the animal kingdom in the Galápagos Islands
  28. Discover the lesser-known isles of French Polynesia
  29. Road trip through Namibia
  30. Take in some magic—and food and wine—in South Africa
  31. Immerse yourself in the culture of Moscow, Russia
  32. Get to know the different sides of Hi Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  33. Grab a coffee in Sydney, Australia — I haven’t grabbed coffee, but I’ve grabbed breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m glad Sydney is on the list, albeit as one of the more touristy destinations, it has a lot going on and is lovely to experience
  34. Stay in a homestay at Lake Toba, Indonesia
  35. Party with the best at Rio Carnival, Brazil
  36. Scuba dive off of Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
  37. Visit post-earthquake Kumamoto, Japan — another Japan, adding to research list
  38. Tour the rosy mountains of Petra, Jordan
  39. Take in some history—and sample smoked chocolate—in Lviv, Ukraine
  40. Scuba dive in quiet northern Bali
  41. See the “Big Five”—black rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and African elephants, lions, and leopards—on a South African safari — I’ve seen all these, in Kenya not South Africa, does that count? I’m guessing 0.5 points
  42. Get lost in the tangled streets of Barceloneta, Spain
  43. Attend a whisky tasting in Mechelen, Belgium — so Belgium has beer and whisky, wow
  44. Fly over England’s Wiltshire countryside like you’re in ‘Top Gun’​
  45. Explore local sites in Bamiyan, Afghanistan
  46. Witness the piled-up houses of Palangan, Iran
  47. Trek to India’s best kept secret — Mechuka
  48. Stuff yourself with street food in Lahore, Pakistan
  49. Traverse Goris’ mountain trails and stay in a cave home in Armenia — I have to admit that none of these last 5 from travel blogger Sebaastian Rijntjes hold any interest for me
  50. Hike up Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  51. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Faroe Islands
  52. Observe the wildlife in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
  53. Delve into the hidden side of Madeira Island, Portugal — have to go to Lisbon first
  54. Explore the Arctic Circle, Norway
  55. Unwind in Bozcaada, Turkey
  56. Wade through the Amazon Rainforest
  57. Ride rickety buses through Tunisia
  58. Experience the warm hospitality of Muscat’s locals in Oman
  59. Take part in the masked celebrations of Carnevale in Venice, Italy — been to Venice but Carnevale is way too crowded
  60. Visit the steaming mountain geysers of Kamchatka, Russia
  61. Celebrate New Year’s Eve at Shwegugi Pagoda temple in Bagan, Myanmar
  62. See Tokyo’s cherry blossom season in the flesh — photographer Murad Osmann says:

    Japan isn’t just a country, it’s a whole new universe!

  63. Tour the “true face” of Xingping, China — no
  64. Be transported back in time by Cuba’s capital—Havana
  65. Explore the Cuban countryside in Vinales
  66. Dance around the evening bonfires in Lijiang, China — no thank you
  67. Take a beach trip to Quepos, Costa Rica
  68. Watch eagles hunt amongst the Altai Mountains, Mongolia
  69. Watch the flames of “The Gates of Hell,” Turkmenistan
  70. Sail to Pulau Lapang, Indonesia
  71. Take a dip in the clear waters in Sumba, Indonesia
  72. Sample the street food in Hanoi, Vietnam
  73. Ride the Tha Khaek Loops in Laos
  74. Navigate the sunken pathways of Shwe Ba Taung’s sandstone labyrinth in Burma
  75. Take part a hot air balloon safari over a nature reserve in Tanzania — we had the opportunity in Kenya, but we passed
  76. Take a Robinson Crusoe-esque excursion to Tapuaetai in the Cook Islands
  77. Stay in a designer cabin in Comporta, Portugal
  78. Visit a Thai architect’s edgy cluster of designer warehouses in Bangkok, Thailand
  79. Shop in Het Industriegebouw in Rotterdam, Netherlands — two shopping activies from blogger Pauline Egge, meh
  80. Spend the night in a glamorous bed and breakfast in Knokke, Belgium
  81. Dine in the glass houses of Cape Town’s wine estates
  82. Island hop on an expedition in Palawan, Philippines
  83. Indulge in pintxos plates on a bar-hopping evening in San Sebastian, Spain — two key words here: pintxos and bar, yay
  84. Wander until you’re lost in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Turkey — I’ve seen Grand Bazaar on tv, and visited souks in Tunisia and Dubai, a bit of a tourist trap
  85. Take an Ayurveda retreat in the central jungles of Sri Lanka
  86. Immerse yourself in Oia’s artistic community in Santorini, Greece
  87. Hunt for pirate treasure in Providencia, Colombia — pirate treasure, how fun
  88. Trek through Brazil’s bed sheets in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
  89. Explore Ireland’s ancient history in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay
  90. Sail through the valley of Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, Vietnam
  91. Go for a cocktail in Yukon, Canada’s ghost town — Dawson City
  92. Watch out for wombats in Cradle Mountain, Tazmania
  93. Stand under the bone chandeliers of Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
  94. Ski through four countries on one trip in Zermatt, Switzerland — the Matterhorn again
  95. Walk through the wild-meets-landscaped gardens of Sintra, Portugal
  96. Explore Carmelo’s quaint horse country, Uruguay
  97. Sit on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s beaches in the South of France
  98. Witness the sunset at Goðafoss, Iceland
  99. Heli-ski through Haines’ breathtaking landscapes in Alaska, USA
  100. Fly over Russia and witness the Earth’s curvature

I’ve been to 3.5 (not counting Hawaii) — London, Sydney, Matterhorn and the 0.5 is safari. TBH I don’t have a pressing desire to visit or experience all of these. Some countries are too dangerous; others like the Pacific island of Maupiti is simply too far away; some activites like scuba diving has no appeal. I still have my own travel list to work through. Actually, looking through that 2014 list, I can check off 8, which is…neither here nor there.

mm family dinner

Dinner again at mm’s parents’ place. Her mum had a return visit to the doctor’s in the morning and it’s continuing good news, so we are all very glad. I met mm near the market to go shopping for some small stuff. I gave her a jar of her favourite peanut butter that I found in our cupboards so we went to get her favourite marmalade too. Got some medicines and toiletries from a small drugstore and two fish for dinner.

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Simple, healthy food again. Lots of veg, steamed fish, bbq pork from metropol. Even the lotus root that was used to make soup was tasty. Auntie was teaching us how to select the best food from the market, she really knows good quality.

Auntie’s doctor suggested that if they wanted to go on holiday for a few days that a resort or cruise will be most suitable because of the low stress. I was telling mm a little about cruises, cruise ships and how they work. Let’s see how it goes.

Dinner was early so that the elders could start getting ready for bed early. Instead of taking the train (meaning a long walk home) i took 2 buses. Probably around the same time but air-conditioning. I was home by 9.45pm.

gary the gurnard cake


I have a busy tv watching schedule, almost all cookery programs. Masterchef Australia, My Kitchen Rules, Bake-off UK and Australia, Bake-off Crème de la Crème (the professionals), Big Family Cooking Showdown. And now to add to that, Extreme Cake Makers. I don’t usually like programs that focus on cake decoration (can’t stand either Buddy the Cake Boss or Duff Goldman) but this one from Channel 4: a) is short at only 30mins and b) showcases really awesome cake decorating skills.

It’s not just cake making, it’s real artistic flair. Seeing the sketches made by some of the cake makers is wondrous. They are able to sculpt realistic models of animals, flowers, feathers and someone even made a chandelier cake that was upside down and hanging from just a hook.

gary
© Peboryon

The one that had mum and I watching with our jaws open was an almost 5 foot long cake called Gary the Gurnard by Phil & Christine Jenson of Penzance-based Peboryon. They made the cake under commission from the Great Cornish Food store. Gary is supported by a curved metal frame made by Phil himself and actually looks like he’s swimming in front of an ocean wave. The colours really pop and it seemed like he had a personality.

I’m looking at other samples of their work and they are so amazing. A Wallace & Grommit cake factory that makes cakes, a wedding cake that seems to float in thin air, a desk-sized desk cake and, oh, Mel and Sue! They have half day beginners classes for £60 and a two day advanced class for £650. Something like Gary would probably cost in the region of £1000-2000, but the amount of expertise involved, it’s no wonder they are expensive.

big family cooking showdown

bigfamilyshowdown

I have to watch it again, but it looks…okay and very BBC-like. I’m talking about the Big Family Cooking Showdown that may or may not be a Bake-off replacement. It has a similar format–two presenters, two judges, amateur family cooks, a cosy environment. It even has Nadiya Hussein, Bake-off’s season 6 winner.


The trailer has a Saturday Kitchen meets Ellen vibe, with people looking happily cooking and dancing. Who dances while cooking? Weird. And the shoutouts don’t end there. The competition is between 2 families of 3, and takes place over 3 rounds. The first is to cook a meal for 4 people for a tenner, like Ready, Steady, Cook with inflation. [Aaaand, here’s our second James Martin shoutout.]

The next two rounds take place at the contestants’ own kitchen, with the final round called “Impress Your Neighbours” with shades of Come Dine with Me. Honestly, all these shoutouts and programs are favourites, there’s no denying it. So why not emulate them?

It all makes for a program that is safe and underwhelming. The chemistry between the presenters haven’t developed, although the Indy gives them credit:

that took a while before the public noticed [Bake-off chemistey] and it started clocking up more than 10 million viewers an episode

The second BBC prong of attack will be Britain’s Best Cook with Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman. It may take two to beat Channel 4’s version of Bake-off. Oh, let’s not mention Mel and Sue taking over the Generation Game. Waste of their talents.

My niece once suggested that when I’m back living in the UK I should enter Bake-off. I said I won’t get very far because I’m not good with bread and pastries. The families on the Big Family Cooking Showdown do look like they know what they are doing. Both families competiting in ep 1 have their family recipes and can draw on dishes from their heritage. I can never imagine cooking with my family. We have very different styles and TBH skill levels. I cooked Christmas dinner last year with sis and she’s the only one I can imagine cooking with. Even with mm, we have different ideas and styles.

Jay Rayner recently talked about cooking with friends during a large group holiday. He’s right,

you can learn more about a friend by cooking alongside them, than through almost any other common pursuit

He talks about trustworthiness, reliability, lack of drama, attention to detail. For me, it’s simply about being on the same wavelength.

giant mango drink

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Mum and I went to the warehouse outlets for a looksee. I was able to find a pair of crocs to replace the ones I’m wearing at home. It’s the last one on the shelf and I think they call it aquamarine. Considering the current one is bright green, and I’m only wearing it inside, I’m not that bothered about the colour. Pink, no. Any bright blue or green colour, okay.

On the way back to the station, I noticed a young woman with a giant cup of mango. A few steps later I saw the entrance to a small arcade, the sort that is in old buildings and a tiny bit crappy. This stall sells mango drinks, located amongst several other fast food stalls selling noodles, fishballs and the like. I ordered this one that comes in a big gulp size cup with mango juice, whipped cream, mango shaved ice and fresh mangos. The girl there says there is one full litre of mango juice inside. Mum opted for the small size but that one still had mango juice, whipped cream and fresh mango.

The mango juice tastes diluted even though the stall claims it’s not. May be it’s the type of mango they use. I wish they’d leave out the whipped cream, may be if I order it again I’ll tell them to leave it out. The fresh mango is from large mangos and was the best part of the drink.

We stayed and finished it, although we could have asked for a lid. We were going on the train so we didn’t want to (no eating and drinking on the mtr).

Good value, Large came to equivalent US$5 and small just under $4. We have a few frozen giant mangos in our fridge, we can probably make this ourselves. I’d replace the cream with ice cream, that’ll make it a proper dessert.

happy birthday, papa

westvleteren12

Today would have been Papa’s 80th birthday. We met at the foodcourt for lunch–korean food at 1/10th the price of jinjuu and the bibimbap actually had crust. The cemetery was very quiet, we were the only people visiting while we were there. Must have been papa looking out for us, our taxi driver was actually waiting at the taxi stand when we were about to leave. He claimed he was taking a break but he did let slip that he figured we would have problems getting a taxi. Smart of him.

One of my regrets is I saved up a bottle of westveleteren 12, the best beer in the world, for a special occasion and never got to share it with papa. Westvleteren has the smallest production of the Belgian Trappist monasteries and sale of this beer is limited to one crate per buyer who had to call ahead to reserve their purchase (if they get through on the phone). It’s been described as the holy grail of beer. This one treasured bottle I managed to find in Brussels five years ago during my chip- and chocwalk with my friend A.

Papa would have loved the beer. It’s dark and strong, at 10% alcohol. Rich, smoky, creamy. Tons of fruity, caramel notes–like it’s been soaked in dried fruit. It’s definitely one for sipping slowly. It’s a small 330ml bottle; but the complexity and higher alcohol content makes it more staisfying. It would have been great shared between the two of us.

Happy Birthday, Papa.

low volume hearing

nosound

Allergies have been bad. More than the usual itchiness and sneezing, it’s graduated to my eyes hurting and for the past few days, one of my ears is blocked. I’ve tried the usual methods, irrigating it and adding oil.

It’s my left ear so it’s the less dominant one. I guess I’m just an average person in peferring to listen with my right ear.

I suppose I should go to the doctor’s to have it looked at, since I’m experiencing small headaches like if I clench my jaw too tightly. I’m sort of enjoying the lower volume though, less ambient traffic sounds, and I can use it as an excuse not to talk.

lunch at jinjuu

jj22meal

Met with sis and gis for lunch at jinjuu. Korean place with ayce starters and we can choose one main dish. They gave us one of each of the starters and then we can order extra. Sort of fusion korean food: beetroot cured salmon, dumping soup, chicken skewer, grilled corn with sweet spicy sauce, kimchi arancini, grilled prawn. The salmon was too tart, too much vinegar in the cure. The dumpling was good, with a little bit of theatre as the broth was poured in from a teapot. i thought the chicken was tastless but gis liked it. I liked the corn but since they didn’t like it I ended up eating their portions so I didn’t have to order extra. The arancini and prawn were the two better starters.

For mains I chose barley bibimbap and I had may be 3 spoonfuls. The taste was okay, but nothing spectacular, underseasoned. The greatest thing about every bibimbap is the crust, and this one had zero crust. I didn’t mind that it was all vegetarian but the execution was disappointing. Sis had ramen and she said it was boring. Gis had a rice doughnut filled with bulgogi beef that she said was okay. Mum had the best main dish, of fried chicken.

Dessert was one plate of a mixture of ice cream, sorbet, and two cones. The ice cream was meh, the sorbet was okay, it was all a melting puddle when it reached our table.

For an additional charge sis and I had the 2hr freeflow drinks package. I started with a spicy kimchi mary which was a bloody mary with kimchi flavours and pepper flakes stuck to the outside of the glass. The flakes were useless and I could barely taste the kimchi. Not bad as a bloody mary. I moved to prosecco and ended up drinking quite a few glasses. They ran out of prosecco and for my last glass they gave me champagne, moët too. I liked the prosecco better.

Jinjuu is in london too and Jay Rayner described it as

glossy

and the brainchild of celebrity korean-american chef Judy Joo. It seems that neither Mr Rayner nor Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard were that impressed with the london branch.

Expensive too. Brunch for 4 people came to local$2200, or US$280. Okay, two of us added drinks but actually the drinks was the best value because we took full advantage. I don’t shy away from expensive meals, if they are good. I just don’t feel like this was value for money at all.

The silver lining I could muster is I was too full to have dinner so I can argue the cost covered meals for one whole day. Not very convincing, right?

mm family dinner

Went over to mm’s parents’ place for dinner. Her mum is looking better, more energy and alert and she’s up and walking around. They have 2 helpers now, one to take care of household chores and the other is a carer for auntie. The household helper apparently isn’t a very good cook so mm and auntie were supervising the cooking today.

Simple home cooked meal, limited by what auntie can eat. Steamed eggs, steamed pork, steamed fish, vegetables. Yes, mostly steamed but there was plenty for everyone, tasted good and everyone had a nice dinner. We opened a bottle of wine and shared with auntie’s friend. After dinner we played a game of checkers then it was time for them to get some rest.

Staying with mm tonight. Initially we thought we might chat but after showering we were too tired and went to bed.

yay, science

The spring issue of the Imperial magazine arrived in my postbox. So rare to receive an actual paper magazine nowadays. Lots of interesting reading.

you are your brain — the feature of this issue talks about how it is our brain that makes us who we are, it is

icmag42brain

the storehouse of personhood – of emotion, thought, memory – of all the things that make us the individuals we are

Several departments at IC look at how the brain works. Neuropathology looks at the structure of the brain; the Intelligent Systems and Networks group in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering studies how electric current from neuron to neuron which is how our brains process information; and the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology considers the changes in our brains when under the influence of psychedelic drugs. The research carried out by all these scientists go towards improving our knowledge of how the brain works, and more importantly, how we can better diagnose and treat brain disorders. For instance, a team at St Mary’s has developed an infra-red scanner that checks for blood clots and has a 90% accuracy in a hospital setting.

standard matter 3.0 — this article about theoretical physics and the large hadron collider at CERN is a little above my head. I’m fascinated by it, yet I always find theoretical physics (and chemistry) difficult to fully grasp.

icmag42matter

My takeaway is that there are 12 fundamental particles (including quarks and leptons) that are subject to 4 fundamental forces of the universe (eg electromagnetic). This is the Standard Model which has been accepted since the 1960s and confirmed by what the large hadron collider has found: nothing new. The concept of particle physics is so vast and so much of it is still unknown. Professor Henrique Araujo:

We know a lot about five per cent of our universe, and almost nothing about the other 95 per cent

blockchain — the price of bitcoins reached US$3500, so $100 invested in bitcoins in 2010 will be worth millions. Who was to know? Bitcoin has been lauded as the future, but the image is poor as it is the currency of choice for hackers and blackmailers. The technology behind bitcoin, blockchain, is sound and researchers point out, secure since all transactions are distributed amongst the entire network without a central server. Every computer in the network stores and authenticates the transaction in real time,

but once it is added, a transaction record is permanent and cannot be changed – it’s ‘immutable’ in blockchain-speak – because altering it would require access to millions of separate computers

Outside of the financial services industry, uses include any item or commodity that is distributed globally. There was an article in the NYT about how bananas are shipped to new york and this will be a good use of blockchain technology. At every step of the way, from the farmer who grew the banana to the ship that carried the banana to the supermarket that has the banana on its shelves, every party registers information about the banana and it makes it easy to collect and retrieve records of the banana’s production. Important if something goes wrong along the way, or someone is trying to commit fraud.


The magazine isn’t all about academics. Articles about student activities and alumni news too. Apparently alumni can purchase a lifetime membership for £40 and use all the union activities including the bar and join clubs and societies. If I’m back living in London and near South Ken I may do that. I should check out King’s alumni membership too.

hyde park relays — the biggest student race, a 5k team relay with representation from IC as well as other universities. Costumes optional. Past racers include Dave Moorcroft and Seb Coe, who helped Loughborough to victory.

the gliding club — formed in 1930, it’s the oldest gliding club in UK universities. Club secretary Amy describes the sensation when launching:

you go from 0 to 60 mph in a few seconds. And from the canopy it looks like you are going straight up into the air

I don’t even want to go parachuting but there’s something peaceful about gliding that is appealing.

tsingy de bemaraha national park

We had very tentative plans to travel later in the year, but nothing fixed. May be Japan again if we only have a week; Europe if we have longer. With mm’s mum’s health situation, those plans are probably out. I may still get to travel before the end of the year, but I’m not sure.

tsingy
© Dave Stamboulis, BBC Travel

I’ve been looking at the bbc photoessay about Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar, one of the most difficult UNESCO site to reach. First, it’s in Madagascar, already one of the world’s most remote location. Secondly, the national park is in the northwestern part of the island and accessible by a dirt road that is a muddy swamp 6 months of the year. When it is relatively dry to travel, there are still 2 rivers to cross, both crocodile-infested.

Tsingy is the local language for “the place where one cannot walk” describes the sharp limestone formations in the national park. A series of suspension bridges, steel cables, pegs and ladders together with train guides allows visitors to see the spiky formations up close. UNESCO describes this world heritage site as:

impressive ‘tsingy’ peaks and a ‘forest’ of limestone needles.

I usually do quite well in those global places I’ve visited quizzes. I don’t see this often on those list challenges and it should be. I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to go but looking at the pics is enough. Spectacular.

new look store room

edestoreroom

Mum’s friends introduced her to a part-time helper who can come once a week to help with household chores. We started with tidying the store room, aka the maid’s room that we have been using as store room. There is no ‘before’ pic because: a) I didn’t think of it and b) it was extremely horrible with stuff thrown all over the floor.

We threw away so much stuff! I’m so happy we can see the floor, albeit it’s 1960s style tiled floor. Most stuff we threw away are old or hasn’t been used for years. Organised other stuff that mum bought, put in a bag or box, and promptly forgot about it. That’s why we have so much toiletries, they were hidden in boxes and bags.

Next week, we’ll tackle the bridge and part of the kitchen.

less facebook; more reddit

As I become more and more disenfranchised about facebook (constant switch to top stories, ‘helpful’ posts I may like / friends I may want to add, same old posts I’m only marginally interested in), I only open it once a day. I think I’ve spent a total of 20mins during the past week, and most of that time was refreshing to get most recent, get rid of annoying stuff on the right column, hiding posts. Actual reading and commenting, hardly any time spent.

And as they announce that they will be adding stories to the desktop, I don’t forsee me adding it back to my browser home.

I’m back spending more time on reddit. Inc. quoted Obi-Wan when talking about how reddit isn’t as bad as everyone thinks:

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

But like the patrons inside the cantina in ep 4 or Maz Kanata’s tavern in ep 7, there is much good hidden underneath the scum and villainy. Isn’t that one of the takeaways of Star Wars? Recently, I read about good stealth trolls, who

hijack or preemptively create pernicious subreddits and turn them benign

Here’s where the term trolling means something wider on reddit. On a site like twitter, trolls are toxic. They abuse and doxx anyone they don’t like, if they think they are SJWs or simply by being a professor of classics at Cambridge. On reddit, the act of trolling is still undermining or derailing. But on alt-right, white supremist subs, trolling means taking over as a moderator and turning a hate-filled sub into one that, well, isn’t. An example is r/whites which used to be full of white supremist mumblings. After a white hat (pun intended) moderator took over, it now has posts entitled WHITE POWER showing a power generator that is white and a link to how white light can treat winter depression.

sf057paint

Here’s my contribution, a guy on the street of san francisco in a white shirt painting the outside of a house white.

climate change and the food of the future

It’s very, very hot. Climate change deniers may insist otherwise, but we are slowly and surely destroying our planet. I confess I’m also guilty of not doing as much as I can–I don’t sort my rubbish (we have no recycling collection separate from regular rubbish collection), I’ve been turning the air-con on a lot, I still eat meat.

That said, I take public transportation, I cook my own food from fresh ingredients, I try not to waste food and resources. I walk in the afternoon heat to the market before taking the shuttlebus home. It’s my reducing carbon footprint, getting exercise, and daily pokémongo activity. I’ve also been reading about how climate change affects food production and availability. Already, several food crops have been identified as being at risk:

  • coffee, chocolate, avocado — in 2016, Brazilian coffee farmers lost 90% of their crop due to drought and heat, many farmers in South American are turning to cacao. This drives cacao prices down and affects the livelihood of traditional cacao farmers in west Africa. Another knock-on effect is Californian farmers are now turning to coffee, which replaces their previous avocado crop. It’s simple economics. There’s a trend towards carob production, replacing cacao. The dessert of the future may be carob based
  • wine — as the world becomes warmer, vineyards will move closer to the poles. UK, Canada, China may be the wine producing countries of the future
  • honey and maple syrup — both very fickle products and at risk with changing climates
  • seafood — overfishing and pollution are two important factors in seafood production; as sea levels rise the type and location of seafood will change
  • sea vegetables — seaweed, kelp and sea vegetables may be the food of the future, they are hardly in difficult water conditions, absorbing nitrogen from waste
  • red meat — will become increasing rare and expensive, alternate protein meat sources will need to be found

Artist Allie West initiated a project to bring to life a possible dinner party of the future:

visualizes the possible future effects of climate change on our food system

All images below © Allie West, Heami Lee, C.C. Buckley, and Rebecca Bartoshesky.

seafood

The starter will be from the sea. Mussels and seaweed are both easy to grow and can survive in different conditions.

main

There will be no meat for main, because of rarity and price. Instead, it will be foraged vegetables such as burdock and mushrooms.

dessert

As mentioned above, carob will replace chocolate.

I don’t mind all these food. I love shellfish and can’t get enough of sea vegetables like samphire. I’ve had carob before, and although I’m not so keen, I’m okay with it taking a larger part of our diet in place of chocolate. But it’s not about me changing my palette to carob, or eating more oysters and mussels. Those are #firstworldproblems compared with actual suffering in regions that have been ravished by drought, or the refugees fleeing to Europe because They.Have.No.Food.

President Obama, writing about food and climate change says he will devote time to create a global network of activists to tackle climate change. But he also says he wants everyone to be involved–young people, families, people in developed nations and in developing nations. Make what we do on a daily basis matter:

It’s millions of decisions that are being made individually that end up having as much impact as anything

two contests

A couple of contest winners, can’t be more different.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

I can’t get into the natgo website, but the Atlantic has a great gallery. I’m also including the photographers’ captions.

natgopowernature
© Sergio Tapiro Velasco, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

The Power of Nature – Grand Prize and 1st Prize Nature Category. Powerful eruption of Colima Volcano in Mexico on December 13th, 2015. That night, the weather was dry and cold, friction of ash particles generated a big lightning rod of about 600 meters that connected ash and volcano, illuminating the dark scene. In last part of 2015, this volcano showed a lot of eruptive activity with ash explosions that raised 2-3 km above the crater. Most of the night explosions produced incandescent rock falls and lightning not bigger than 100 meters in average.

Or as kottke called it, Mount Doom.

A couple of others caught my eye.

natgoforest
© Yutaka Takafuji, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

Forest of the Fairy – Honorable mention, Nature. This photograph was taken in the evening hours of a humid early summer day in the forest of a small remote village in the Tamba area of Japan. It beautifully captures the magical atmosphere of princess fireflies carpeting a stairway leading to a small shrine revered by the local people.

I love this, dream-like and surreal.

natgotrain
© Moin Ahmed, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

The Man’s Stare – Honorable mention, People. The photo was taken on July 23rd 2016 at Tongi Railway Station in Gazipur, Bangladesh. I was there taking photos and waiting for a moment. A train from Dhaka toward another district stopped at the platform for 5 minutes for lifting passengers. It was raining a lot. Suddenly I found a pair of curious eyes looking at me through the window and on his left an umbrella has been put to protect from the rain. I got the moment.

This is almost like a painting.


The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

This is for the WORST opening sentence. Not in a real novel, but participants try to write the worst opening line. Kat Russo was the winner for:

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

Pam Tallmann, in the Crime/Detective category:

As hard-boiled detective Max Baxter ate his soft-boiled egg, he thought about the gorgeous dame he’d found last night lying in a pool of her own blood—it being inconvenient to lie in a pool of someone else’s blood—and wondered how she liked her eggs.

They even have a Purple Prose category. Tyson Canale won with:

A sweaty Hector threw off his shirt, passion burning, skin glistening, his deodorant congealed to little chunks ensnared among the matted jungle of his armpits like so many crumbles of pungent blue cheese over a bed of sprouts, moistened with a dressing of perspiration, and lustily asked, “Are you as hungry as I am?” to the confused busboy.

ravenhearst

ravenhearst1

I’ve spent the past few days playing the old Ravenhearst game. I got the original ten years ago, when for a short while I subscribed to monthly games. I still have 4 credits leftover at big fish games so I redeemed a credit for the sequel. And then they had a sale so I got #3 and #4.

I like playing these hidden object games on the mba, not so much on the ipad. Not merely because the screen is bigger so the great graphics can be seen better. There are too many ads and restrictions for the ipad versions–they make you wait for hours or even a day to replenish lives, or give hints, or other in-game features. There are no distractions or in-game cash grab for the mac games. The only problem is the mba heats up like crazy with these flash games. I can ignore it, but I make myself stop and logout after a while.

The first Ravenhearst game is pretty simple: mostly hidden objects with a few puzzles and solving the crime by completing jigsaw puzzles. Straight-forward gameplay and the puzzles are interesting. I didn’t pay that much attention to the diary entries that are supposed to be central to solving the crime; just finding the objects and finishing the crime computer jigsaw puzzles moved the game forward. The only notes I had to make was to remember the location of various keys in the different rooms.

ravenhearst2

Ravenhearst #2, or Return to Ravenhearst, is more sophisticated. Still hidden objects, but the crime and puzzle-solving elements taking more centre stage. Lots of rooms and areas to explore, I almost had to draw a map to remember all the locations; I’d go down to a basement and there is an entire street with shops and, hey, a dark cave. It’s fun to explore, and the puzzles were varied and challenging. One of my favourite games.

I’ve just started #3, Escape from Ravenhearst. It’s very different and I’m not 100% liking it. The hidden object element is now morphing objects: there’s no list of objects to find, we have to identify random objects that change form. After a couple of scenes, I have the hang of it and find that they are on par with traditional hidden objects. What I have trouble with, is the story and gameplay. As in #2, there are lots of different locations, some hidden, and it’s part of the puzzle to open up a new area. The problem with #3 is, I’ve found myself finishing a puzzle and then I don’t know where to go or do next. No new areas, no new clues.

The second complaint is the puzzles, they are not obvious. With the previous games, I could sense what I need to do to solve the puzzle. With #3, I’d open up a scene and have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. Give an example, in #2 there was a puzzle where I had to switch numbers on a dial so they were in the right order; there was also a whack-a-mole game and I figured out hitting red moles took away points. In #3, I zoomed into a dial that had 3 push levers and there’s nothing to tell me what I should be aiming to do. I’m also having to constantly write down notes of random numbers and letters I’m seeing, they aren’t stored in the casebook and there are no clues about where they may be used. Way, way too obscure. I don’t want to read through the walkthrough constantly, but that’s what I have been doing.

I’m only around halfway done with #3 and reading the reviews make me go ‘hmm’ because the storyline is dark. The locations include a creepy hospital, a horrible house and a mental institution. Not sunshine and flowers this one. There’s always been a supernatural element to the series but in addition to the macabre twist the ghosts who appear in #3 are not helpful, all they say are “don’t come here, you’re in danger!” Duh, yes. That’s why I’m playing the game, do they want me to hit the quit button? I’ll work on finishing it slowly.

bake-off channel 4


Ugh. Channel 4’s Bake-Off trailer is here. This is not the Bake-Off we know. Channel 4’s Jay Hunt:

It’s got a new tone to it.

bakeoffch4

If we get it here, I know I’ll watch it. But it’ll be accompanied by much hand-wringing that I’m somehow not being loyal to the BBC version. However good they are, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding are not Mel and Sue. Prue Leith is okay. I just don’t feel any warmth or cosiness in this group. Quite the opposite, there’s something creepy and off-putting. Sandi Toksvig is the only one who looks normal and approachable.

I’m looking forward to Mary Berry’s new show to find Britain’s best cook. Not that keen on Mel and Sue and the Generation Game though.

ingredient vs cook

lambrack04

The small supermarket had rack of lamb, buy 2 packets at 30% off. We don’t have room in the freezers for 2 packets so today’s lunch was rack of lamb #firstworldproblems.

From start to finish, 45mins. I seasoned with s&p and rosemary, browned in a pan then put in 180ºC oven for around 15mins. I almost overcooked them because I put the rested chops back in the oven (now off) to keep warm but luckily they were still pink inside. Making rack of lamb is straightforward for me, I consider it an easy staple. Occasionally I undercook or overcook slightly but I’ve always been happy with the results. Mostly, the lamb we get are frozen and from new zealand. I’ve also tried australian, welsh and scottish with good results.

It occurred to me that it may not be as simple to make for other people. How hard is it to ruin lamb? How hard is it to ruin good ingredients?

Which comes first, the ingredients or the cook. Difficult to answer. A good cook can make the most of poor quality ingredients: beef stew instead of steak, using vegetables wisely. But give a perfect wagyu to a cook who only knows how to boil meat or grill steak until well done and the meal is ruined.