December 2011 Archives

in being healthy |


Total 986.28km or 612.85 miles tracked on nike+. I knew at the beginning of this week that I’m close to 1000km, and if I did a few more runs, I would have passed it. But it doesn’t matter, I didn’t get the transmitter back till mid-Jan so I probably did go over 1000km. In terms of miles, 600 is a good milestone.

High points:

  • injury free — some small niggles with my back and knee, but those are par for the course
  • racing in London — first time doing smaller (a few hundred people) races and it was fun
  • having a track nearby, both Hyde Park and Regent’s Park within running distance
  • followed the novice 2 training plan pretty well, even got that last 20-miler done in atrocious conditions
  • another marathon done

Low points:
  • I miss the lake
  • too many pedestrians and tourists all over the place
  • racing in London —it’s different, sometimes I miss the slickness of Chicago races; the British 10k in July was a disappointment in terms of organisation and crowd, ie walkers obstructing the course, control

in eating and drinking |


Here’s a fun snack for new year’s eve: smoked salmon, vegetarian caviar, samphire. Strange, that the most common ingredient on this plate is the salmon (ignoring the lemon wedge!). I got the vegetarian caviar from a food show a while ago, I can’t find anything about it online and I’m wondering if it’s fake or what. Samphire is now available quite widely at the larger and better supermarkets, I got this packet at Waitrose. You’re supposed to steam or sautée it, but I had the oven on, so I just heated it up in the oven with a small knob of butter. Very nice, tastes a lot of the sea.

Happy New Year.

in photography is life |

Get the flash player here:

full set: flickr

This year I hardly did any artistic photography. I’d say the majority are food and travel pics. What I’ve chosen for the top 10 aren’t based on quality or skill. Each one has significance:

  • bbmm blessings rainbow — first of two rainbows that greeted us, just as one of us was feeling down, truly a blessing
  • Chicago marathon runner with US flag — I purposely ran ahead of him to get this, I”m not American but I was still moved
  • Diana’s beautiful garden — reminds me when Sis and my niece visited
  • bike at the Southbank — one of the many favourite places Mum and I discovered when she visited, this is a special shot cos it’s probably my only one that has king’s in the background
  • hot air balloon at Prague — the city is simply so pretty
  • people fising at St Ives — perfect memory of mm’s visit
  • roasted bone marrow at St John — epitomised my eating out culinary journey this year, tried many new restaurants and new dishes
  • sparkling cranberries — what can I say, simple to make and I’m very proud of the composition of this pic, even though yes I copied it
  • beet & sweet potato stack — yes, the second pic from just the past week, but another brand new recipe that will be in my portfolio for a long time
  • instagram kettle — my first instagram pic, to add a fun and techy element to the selection

in arts and media |

There is a flurry of activities planned to commemorate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens next year. In advance of that, or for other reasons, the BBC brought us a new adaptation of Great Expectations this week. Not sure why it’s on the week between Christmas and New Year, but whatever.

The most recognisable name on the cast was Gillian Anderson. I didn’t quite like her portrayal in episode 1; too young, difficult to shake Scully off my mind. One of the newspapers, Guardian, Indy or Telegraph, I can’t remember, likened her Miss Havisham to an adult Luna Lovegood and I thought it was fitting. She grew on me though, and by the end, I thought she brought enough lunacy to the role.

Young Pip played by Oscar Kennedy was my favourite. Amongst the adults the actors playing Magwitch, Joe and a special shoutout for David Suchet as Jaggers. Extremely disappointed at adult Pip and Estella. Neither had presence nor acting ability. Douglas Booth playing Pip was apparently a Burberry model and was too pretty and too wooden. Vanessa Kirby playing Estella looked too modern.

It’s been a while since I read the book or watched any adaptations so it was good to refresh. It was strictly an adaptation, there seemed to be bits missing from the book version. There is a film version coming out next year, it’ll be interesting to compare.

p.s. People forget that GA, though American, went to school in the UK. She does both British and American accents, speech patterns and vocabulary like a complete native. Amazing.

in being healthy |


3 sets of 8: db shoulder press 2x40, squat 20, bent over row 20, lunge 2x20, 24 pushups, 2x1min plank

I haven’t done any weights in over a year. Took me long enough to assemble the bench and I had to get SM’s help to unstuck the weights. There is way less room here, I don’t even have space to use the barbell, but I managed okay with the bench and the small space next to my bed. Wow, so out of practice. Almost couldn’t get to the last rep of the db press, and at only 40lbs. If I want to get better with my marathon training, I have to do more cross training. Those weights need to be used more.

in easily amused , eating and drinking |


Traditionally the boxing day sale is the biggest shopping day of the year. This year, with both Monday and Tuesday being bank holidays, it means record breaking sales at all the retailers. I had debated whether to join the madness, I don’t really have anything to buy; may be some new plates if I see good ones. Then again, I should go out for a little bit, just so I can say I ventured outside during the 4 days for something other than running and taking the rubbish out.

Wasn’t sure where to go, so I just walked over to the bus stop and waited for the next bus. Normally #6 (to the West End) is the most frequent, but I had a premonition that it would be the 187. And I was right. 187 goes to Swiss Cottage and the O2 centre. No big department stores but there is a Habitat. I bought a box of Christmas cards there, then ambled over to Sainsbury’s. Oh yes, my big Christmas sale shopping was at…Sainsbury’s. I got sprouts on the stalk and celeriac for 30p each, huge bargain. Also got small planters, a set of table mats and adjustable spanners at Homebase. Shampoo and laundry detergent at Waitrose. Kinda boring, but useful stuff. Pretty pleased.

in eating and drinking |


Something simple and vegetarian for Boxing Day. This is from thekitchn. What caught my eye was that they could be made in advance, although I don’t see why they can’t be made on the day. I actually did make them yesterday, roasted the beets and sweet potatoes at the same time I was making that massive christmas feast. I managed to get 3 large beets which cut up into nice rounds. I used the larger ends of the sweet potatoes and the rest went with the roast.

To assemble, start with a slice of beet, then goat’s cheese, sweet potato and top with beet greens. Repeat to make a stack. Reheat in the oven for about 15mins. I made a vinaigrette from orange juice, mustard, balsamic and EVOO to go with it. Very simple, and tasted great. The sweetness of the potato and the vinaigrette plus the beets and everything held together by the goat’s cheese. It was difficult to eat the stack, I ended up breaking them into 4 smaller half-stacks.

Visually, it’s pretty stunning. If only I were able to get better produce. The beets were okay, but i ended up with white sweet potatoes which, while tasting sweet and wonderful, have a tendency to go grey and woody. I probably should have soaked them in water when I was prepping them. Sigh. Imagine if I was able to make this dish with yellow beets and purple sweet potato, what a switch up, wow. And then serve with something a little crunchy: the recipe had toasted walnuts and fried onions, so obviously I omitted them. Could probably have done with a sprinkling of panko, or to be real fancy, some sort of tuile on top. You know, just to be chef-y.

in eating and drinking |


I did cheat, yes, with a store-bought roast. I got from M&S a guinea fowl, duck & pheasant ballotine — it’s not something I would get normally, nor would I have been able to make it myself, so I consider it my Christmas indulgence. It came out of the packaging all ready for the oven, all I needed was to prep the veg — new potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sprouts (on the stalk). The ballotine was supposed to take 2hrs at 180°C, so I timed the veg so they were ready at the same time.

Skyped sis and mum around 1pm, and by 1.45pm the food was ready so I signed off. While the ballotine rested, I reheated the veg and made the gravy. Boneless meant easy to carve and I generously gave myself 2 thick slices. Served with cranberry & port sauce and lots of gravy. Bear in mind that there’s how the picture looks (before) and how the plate actually looks (after) — I add food and literally poured gravy onto everything after I took the pic. The ballotine was good, although I couldn’t quite tell the difference between each of the meat, all I could see and taste was that there was some dark meat and some white meat. The potatoes were good, good, good. Everything was delicious. It didn’t feel strange to be eating at almost 2.30pm.


Waited till nighttime for dessert. My downstairs neighbour invited me for tea so I had to stop by for an hour. Plus getting dressed and combing my hair, heehee. Dessert was stollen which I bought in Prague. Had it with the sparkling cranberries and a dollop of marmalade. All in all a very filling and unhurried Christmas feast.

in eating and drinking |


Some recipes, you see it for the first time and you know you have to try it out. This was the case with this 101 cookbooks recipe for sparkling cranberries.

Time consuming, but extremely simple. Macerate fresh cranberries in simple syrup (same volume sugar and water as the cranberries) overnight, which for me turned into a few days in the fridge cos I didn’t have time. Drain the cranberries and toss in caster sugar, let dry on a baking sheet overnight, toss again in granulated sugar. Mine didn’t turn out as picture perfect as Heidi’s, but I’m happy. They are delicious, with the sharpness of the berries contrasting with the sweetness of the sugar. And very, very Christmasy.

in evidence of my insanity |

I’m not Scrooge or the Grinch or the grumpy non-Christmasy person, really. I was able to leave work relatively early today, and whilst the rest of the country, if not the world, scrambled around fro last minute shopping, I ambled on home. There was a mild panicky moment when my neighbour left me some really nice biscuits, so I had to go get something in return. But that didn’t take long, I got some nice biscotti from Patisserie Valerie. That’s it. No shopping, no gift-wrapping to do.

in easily amused |


Coke brought north pole to us today, this truck took up residence outside the office together with singing santas and photo opportunity — note the woman with dog at the right hand side in front of the truck, the camera is just outside the frame.

in photography is life |


This is an old picture from 2007, taken uring my epic 28 day trip to the US and Chile. This was when I visited my friend Doc K and was taken at Valparaiso on day 25. It’s a favourite, because of the blue sky, the moon and the position of the 2 trees. I’m using this as a cover pics for my fb accounts.

in outside interests |

I went to the Christmas concert at Westminster Cathedral earlier this evening. There are 2 concerts, tonight and tomorrow night. I just got the £10 tickets, and ended up sitting at the last row. Doesn’t matter, I could still hear the choir and the readers.

It wasn’t a mass, just the cathedral choir and a few readings. No communion although there was a Blessing and the Archbishop of Westminster said a few words. Finally I’m beginning to feel a little Christmas-y. Most of what the choir sang I didn’t know, although I liked them (except the Bach one in German that went on and on and on). There was audience participation with a few traditional carols like Once in Royal David’s City and O Come All Ye Faithful. One of the best readings was Peter Bowles reading the poem Christmas by John Betjeman.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

in eating and drinking |


Oxtail soup to chase away the blahs, it being so cold and gets dark so early. Been on a soup kick lately, but there is something about homemade soup. The oxtails were very lean, from the market only £5 for the whole tail. Browned it with garlic and red onion, added carrot, potato, celery, tomato, tomato paste and fresh thyme. Just water, no need even for stock. 3 hrs at a gentle simmer, then stand overnight to skim off the fat. It’s thick, it’s warm and it’s filling. Perfect.

in eating and drinking |


seabassfresh seabassfilet

I bought a couple of fresh seabass when I was at Brixton market yesterday. The fishmonger cleaned them, but left them whole. I debated whether to cook them whole or to filet them and decided that I really don’t like eating any fish that still has bones. I have a fish knife, and I know how to take the skin off, but I’d never really tried fileting before. It wasn’t too difficult, although there was more wastage than I would have liked. I even managed to get rid of the pin bones, luckily it’s a fish that doesn’t have bones that are too small or fiddly.

Pan frying took about 1 minute each side. I served it with the vegetarian caviar I got a while ago, sauteéd prawns, scampi, roasted baby potatoes and asparagus. It was a running day, so I had a cider with it too.

in eating and drinking |


I met SM and his wife for lunch at franco manca, which I have now decided is the best pizza in London. There are other great pizza places of course, the thin and spare ones in Rome, the deep dish Chicago pizza pies that make me homesick, even the by the slice one we got at the neighbourhood place in NY. But in London, this place rules. It’s a small joint, hidden inside Brixton Market, one of the many modern eateries amidst the older styled fish, vegetable and bric-a-brac stores.

What makes franco manca pizza special is their base, made from sourdough that had been slowly rising overnight and baked in a wood-burning brick oven made all the way in Naples. Ingredients sourced from organic farms all over the UK. Can’t get more authentic than this.

No reservations, the place opens at 12pm and we got there at 11.50pm, they let us sit looking at the menu while they prepped. Needless to say, the place filled up quickly. There are only 6 pizzas on the menu, plus 2 daily specials. I had #4: gloucester old spot ham, wild mushroom, mozzarella and ricotta. We shared a salad and had one beer each, the bill came to £11 per person. I’ll definitely come back.

in about me , evidence of my insanity |


It’s coming up to one week till Christmas. Everyone is busy with buying presents, ordering turkeys, getting their tree up. I don’t need to worry about any of that. I can’t quite remember if I’ve ever spent Christmas on my own — I don’t think so — but that’s my plan this year. Oh, I’ll email greetings to friends, call mm and skype my parents, but that’s probably all. I don’t have anyone to give presents to, I’m not cooking turkey (although I do have something special ordered) and I never have a tree. It’s been stress free so far. I just have to make sure I have enough food for the 4-day weekend. Well, I never need to worry, there is plenty of food in my kitchen at all times.

People always say “you shouldn’t spend Christmas alone.” It’s okay, really. Last year I had the best Christmas present ever when mm came. It’ll be different this year. Not worse or better, just different.

in objects of desire |


It’s getting colder, and there is a small threat of snow at the weekend. I found a pajama shirt at the bottom of the t-shirt drawer and I’ve been wearing it to bed instead of what I usually wear. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve worn a long-sleeved something to bed. It’s a blue flannel shirt from Old Navy, it’s nice and fluffy and warm.

in arts and media |

Staying in Japan, and casting back to a cartoon made 25 years ago. The amazing and wonderful Laputa was recently aired on Japanese TV and it completely broke the tweets per second record. 25,088 tweets per second, annihilating the previous record held by Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement, which had a mere 8,868 tweets per second.

in arts and media , eating and drinking |

Can’t believe that a generation ago, Japanese food was not very well known outside of Japan. Now, it’s so widely available that it’s hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know how to use chopsticks.

That said, Japanese food outside of Japan suffers the same fate as any other world food that is transported out of its origin country. It becomes bastardized. Which is why I’m so looking forward to this forthcoming documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi,

the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review.

Just watch the trailer, and make sure you have a napkin handy.

in being healthy |


April seems so far away, especially since it’s cold, windy, grotty and it’s already dark at 3pm. But it is true. Training starts today for the brighton marathon, 18 weeks away. Since it is a week before the VLM, I expect to see people start their training next week.

Following Higdon’s novice 2 again. I wish I have the discipline to move up to Intermediate 1, but I don’t want to spend the time. It’s hard enough to train through the winter for a spring marathon anyway. Supposedly the plan starts today, and it’s a rest day. But there are work dinner functions this week, so I took advantage of a work-from-home day to do Wednesday’s 5-miler today. It’s supposed to be a pace run, although I don’t see my pace being any different from usual. Hmm.

in eating and drinking |

applecrumble20111211 lambchop20111211

Try again. No lamb shanks left, so I grilled a couple of lamb chops. Served with super delicious roasted potato wedges and gently grilled baby gem lettuce. The crumble was a single portion left over from yesterday, I added tons of balsamic vinegar and did a modern-ish presentation with a shot glass of custard. Better.

in eating and drinking |

lambshank201112 applecrumble201112

My guests were late and I was in a hurry to serve the food before they dried out in the oven. As a result, I almost forgot to take a picture. The food was good — the lamb shanks had fallen off the bone, the roasted vegs were soft and crunchy and the mashed potato smooth and creamy. If only I took a few more pics.

Same with the apple crumble. Tasted great, the crumble was crunchy and the apples tart — I didn’t put any sugar on purpose. Good contrast with the sweetness of the custard. Pic wasn’t good either. Sigh.

in eating and drinking |


I’m having SM and his wife over tomorrow, so I did as much food prep as I could tonight: cooked lamb shank, prepped the root vegetables, made the crumble. So tomorrow I need to: make the potatoes, set out the munchies, get drinks ready, slice the apples so when they arrive I put the crumble in the oven. Menu:

  • mixed nuts and olives
  • mulled wine
  • red wine braised lamb shanks with mashed potato and roasted root vegetables
  • green side salad
  • apple crumble with custard

in money business |

Ocado Sprinter
image courtesy flickr user kenjonbro

I got a £15 voucher for ocado so I thought, instead of zipcar, I’d have them deliver. The conditions were that I had to spend at least £75, so I trawled through their website looking for all sorts of household items. Ended up getting loads of coke zero plus toilet paper, comfort, shampoo and such like. There were legitimate things I got too. The good thing is that their delivery times are flexible, up to something like 11pm. Actually, during the course of one evening, I saw 4 different vans at different times and was wondering if they could do better at planning. Quite happy with the service, it’s an alternative to zipcar to Tesco.

in eating and drinking , workstuff |

teamxmas06choctorte teamxmas05beef

The departmental christmas dinner was at the dispensary which is about 15mins walk from the office. It being a work dinner, the atmosphere was quiet although everyone was quite relaxed. We’d chosen our menu before, so there were no surprises. I had pumpkin soup, roast sirloin with trimmings and chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet. A few people couldn’t make it at the last minute so their meal was shared between those of us who could manage a second helping, which is how I came to also finish a plate of figs & ham.

At best, I would describe the food as mediocre. We think it’s because we’d been watching too much Masterchef and gotten spoiled. Or that the menu for a large group is different (and more mass produced?) than for regular diners. But both SM and I agreed that we ourselves could cook equivalent or better. The problem was that the food tasted like they came from Sainsbury’s instead of cooked at the restaurant. I liked the pumpkin soup, but then again I like New Covent Garden soup, and the two were suspiciously similar. The beef wasn’t steak, more like a prime rib, tasted ok but the gravy was think and had no taste. The chocolate torte was definitely shop bought. SM had a creme brulee and it came with 2 bourbon biscuits, straight from the packet. Argh!

in in the news |


Been following the bbc’s live coverage of #crash24 today, in which a team of bbc journalists have joined London ambulance paramedics to get an insight into a typical day on the city’s roads. The field journalists shadow a paramedic, and there is also coverage from the control room. An average day has around 100 casualties, the latest on the map shows 60 incidents.

It is a fascination that is a tad inappropriate, because it is intrusive, to be reading about someone getting hurt. But the way it’s been covered has been superb, as expected from the bbc. Very moving to read about the professionalism of the paramedics, how they manage to negotiate London’s roads at high speeds (up to 100mph) in order to reach an incident within minutes. They patrol the streets rather than sitting around at the station. Many casualties are treated straight at roadside, so not all cases need to be taken to hospital. There’s been lots of fender benders, all sorts of pedestrian vs car incidents and way, way too many bike accidents that reaffirms my resolve not to cycle in London. Just last half hour the report has shifted to a serious pile-up on the M4.

Debabani Majumdar, one of the journalists shadowing the paramedics wrote,

It was an exciting as well as a humbling experience. The sound of the sirens and the rush of adrenalin as we sped through the capital is indescribable. It was humbling because we were racing against time to reach somebody who has been in an accident and the paramedic doesn’t know the exact condition of the patient until he reaches him or her. In addition to their medical training, they need presence of mind to calm agitated victims, at times explaining why their case is not treated as a priority, and try to forge a road through the solid wall of traffic during the rush hour.

All I can do is tip my hat at the paramedics and thank them from the bottom of my heart at the great job they do day in day out. People take them for granted, but the service they provide to the public is priceless. I hope I never have to use them ever, but I know that if I do, then I’ll be in good hands.

in being healthy , how the day went |

I called up a local dentist last week for a checkup appointment. Just a random clinic I found on the NHS website. I chose it because it was nearby, it’s open on Saturdays and it has positive reviews. It’s at Harrow Road where I do my shopping, and I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. It’s really just a neighbourhood sort of place, not very posh. The people were very nice though, the dentist matter of fact and did a good job. Check up, X-rays and cleaning altogether cost me £65, which, compared with the unspeakable amount I spent last year on a crown, 6 veneers, new fillings and some flashy bleaching in the US, is an absolute bargain.

in eating and drinking |

lambkale01 kaletahini01

I’ve been wanting to try this kale with tahini recipe for ages. I’m not familiar with kale, but I have a good idea of how it could taste like. It’s very easy, just sautée garlic and kale until soft, then toss in a mixture of tahini, water, lemon juice (I used lime), sesame oil and salt. It’s really good. The kale never lost its vibrant green colour, and was cooked until just soft. I went running today, so I’m allowed lamb. Had a couple of chops with the kale and some grilled asparagus.

in going places |

brixton001village brixton003brixi

I was reading about brixton market and thought I should give it a visit to see what I can score. It’s a little far away, at the end of the Victoria line, but I left at 10.30am and it took me less than an hour. The market is just around the corner from the tube station, with busy street stalls selling fruit & veg, meat, electrical items and bric-a-brac. The usual £1 bowls of peppers, apples, lemons. But there were smaller packs too, and I bought carrots, parsnips and turnips for 50p a pack. Good size for me.

brixton007veg brixton006fish

The hidden gems are inside the market buildings. There are still the fruit & veg stalls, together with fresh fish and meat stalls. The meat stalls had cuts of meat that are not commonly available — pig’s tails, tripe, oxtail, salted fish, salted meat. I bought oxtail and neck fillets, £5 per pack.

brixton015brickbox brixton014toast

In amongst the older style stalls are the modern food places. Korean, Japanese, South American, Mexican, pizza, coffee shops, a place with DIY toast, chinese dumplings — all very artsy and full of people. Small places with a few tables, almost all were full.

brixton020honest brixton021honest

I had my heart set on honest burgers, which has had rave reviews all around. It opens at 12pm, and there was a queue 10mins earlier. A scant 5 mins after opening, it was full already. I was on my own, so I got a nice end bar seat. The menu is small, with burgers made from 35-day dry aged beef. There were other options with chicken, meat free and even gluten-free bread.


I had the cheeseburger with stilton, which came with onion relish (I ate that). Chips were thrice fried served with rosemary salt. Automatically they served ketchup and mayo. I even had a small beer to go with the burger, which was cooked medium and was perfect. At £10.50 for the whole meal, it is on the expensive side, although quality is high. I’d go back the Brixton Market no question, even take mm and Mum there when they next visit.

in eating and drinking |


I thought I’d try the new curious ciders from Magners, since it has become one of my favourite ciders. There are 3 flavours: spiced apple & honey, spiced apple & rhubarb and pear & ginger.

in arts and media |


Both Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly are in London and will be for a while. Ms Gless in A Round-Heeled Woman, which moved from the Riverside studios to the Aldwych this week (and with the 3 times price hike upon the move to the West End). Ms Daly will star as Maria Callas in Master Class at the Vaudeville come January. I’m really, really not a theatre person, so I’m not sure I will go to either. I went to Love Never Dies with mm when she was here, and I want to see if I can book Matilda for when she is here next summer.

Anyway, back to the inimitable ladies. They were also at the BFI earlier this week to celebrate 30 years of Cagney and Lacey. Ack, I missed that, would have been interesting to attend.


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