yorkshire pudding pizza

yorkiepizza

To coincide with yorkshire pudding day, Morrisons has launched a yorkshire pudding pizza. The base is a 6.5-inch yorkie, and it’s filled with tomato sauce, mozzarela plus one of two fillings: pepperoni or meat feast which is meatballs, pepperoni, spicy beef and jalapeño. Seems to be quite small, and will be sold at 491 morrisons for £3.

This is also not new, a diner in yorkshire did it first.

The trend of food mashups continue but this one should work. A base that is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, filled with traditional pizza ingredients. It’s not unlike Chicago deep dish pizza really, if you think about it.

coastal foraging

This is a great video I discovered via bb. Craig Evans from forages along the beaches in Pembrokeshire and he has a whole youtube channel of him finding the freshest seafood then cooking it there and then.

He looks under large rocks and in pools, moving from spot to spot so as not to take from just one spot. He puts back anything that is too small and only grabs what he needs, which is really ethical and sustainable.

coastalforage

What he got that day: edible crabs, velvet swimming crabs, bearded rocklings, winkles and whelks. Cooked simply in water, may be seawater? The water was then flavoured with seaweed he called dulse plus garlic and powdered lobster shells he probably made himself then used to make couscous. A great idea and so easy for outdoor cooking.

In this day and age, living purely on foraging isn’t possible unless in rural or almost uninhabited areas. It seems to be a nice hobby providing not too many people do it, and they all respect the need not to deplete the ecosystem.

monthly whisky subscription

whiskyme

I’m not in alcohol-drinking mode right now, the last alcoholic drink I had was the local lager at the treehouse in Bangkok two weeks ago. If I were in a whisky-drinking mode and if I were back in the UK, I’d totally sign up for the whisky of the month subscription offered by black rock whisky bar. Google maps tells me that it’s up the road from where I: a) went to school and b) worked when I was last in London, haha.

For £7 (when paid annually, or £7.99 paid monthly), subcribers get a 50ml sample of whisky every month. Launched in November, they’ve had Macallan Fine Oak 12, Royal Lochnagar 2000, and Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 18 so far. It’s around the cost of a dram in a whisky bar, so not too bad. I don’t know what will happen if people like the whisky and want to buy more, probably go to TWE.

The whisky is shipped in what vinepair called capri sun pouches. I guess it’s a good way of shipping, much safer and cheaper than small sample bottles. I’ve seen single serve wine pouches before, so it’s not a big leap to think about whisky transported this way.

picky eater quiz

pickyeater

Spotted this on social media recently. One point for each food I don’t eat.

Certain 2 points for me: eggplant (aka aubergine) and grapefruit. I dislike the taste, smell and for aubergine the texture too.

Another one point made up of half a point for onion and half a point for coffee. I’ll cook with onion, provided it ends up in a form that is incorporated into the dish. So as mirepoix whenever it’s needed. I’m okay with onion soup too, because it’s cooked down. If it’s raw, or barely cooked that I can see it, I’ll pick it out. And for this purpose, I include spring onion and leek. As for coffee, I rarely drink it and if I do it’s with mm and either iced or it’ll have to be a bean that is quite mild. I don’t hate coffee, I simply have no affinity with it.

So, total 3 points.

Everything else on the list, I’m perfectly fine with. Even controversial food like snail, oyster, liver. There are some foods on there that I absolutely love, like avocado, strawberry, tea. Such a large proportion of the list is fruit and veg, i hope most people don’t pick up points for those.

p.s. I’m giggling at how this was probably typed on Word, with the autocorrect formatting on nutella and the wrong spelling of brussels sprouts.

bird’s nest soup

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A lifetime ago when I was doing the 101 tasks in 1001 days challenge, one of the tasks was make a list and photoset of 101 bucket list food items I’ve already tried. Food and drink like absinthe, century egg, deep dish pizza, insect. I had 101 items which I’ve tried but there were a handful of pics pending because I ate them so long ago, before the age of taking pics of food. Imagine having food in front of us and not taking out a camera or phone, quelle horreur!

One was bird’s nest soup.

And finally I’m able to add to the photoset; we tried it at the streetfood market at Bangkok Chinatown.

Bird’s nest soup is made from the solidified saliva nests of swiftlets, and expensive due to the rarity and difficulty in harvesting the nests. With all these weird foods, it’s supposed to be good for health. Usually eaten as a soup flavoured with a little rock sugar, the nests pretty much have no flavour. Texture like soft gelatin, or as the marketing folks say, caviar-like. The overwhelming taste is the sugar syrup. The last time I had it was probably 10+ years ago and I think the frequency of once every 10 or so years is enough for me.

bangkok eating out

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More Bangkok prep. We booked sunday lunch buffet at the colonnade restaurant at the sukhothai hotel. It’s supposed to have one of the best buffets in the city. Just look at the pics from gourmetbangkok. There’s all manners of seafood, roasts, sushi & sashimi, Thai food, cheese and dessert.

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Apparently they have weekly specials and some diners have enjoyed kangaroo buritto and foie gras. Price is ฿3000 (around US$95), which is on the pricey side for a buffet but we thought we’d splurge out. They have an option of adding ฿1900 for unlimited champagne, which translates to $60. So we’d each have to drink at least one bottle equivalent, and we’d still be out of pocket. It’s a no brainer to decide against it. We can spend the ฿1900 on massages, or go to one of Bangkok’s many rooftop bars. Our hotel is supposed to have one, but not sure if it’s open because the hotel is still in the soft opening stage.

Other than the buffet, we haven’t booked anywhere else. The plan is eat wherever and whenever. Hopefully there will be lots of local and street food. Even food courts are supposed to have good food, so we’re not worried, and we don’t need to spend our effort finding fine dining or Michelin starred restaurants.

Talking about Michelin stars, the first Michelin guide to Bangkok was published in December. 3 two-star restaurants, one of those is Gaggan, which serves modern Indian food. The other 2 are French or European cuisine. Of the one-stars, there’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and a number of French or European restaurants. Pretty disappointed in the Michelin inspectors actually. I mean, I like L’Atelier and all, but I’m not going to go all the way to Bangkok to eat there. There are 6 one-stars serving Thai food, including David Thompson’s Nahm.

jayfai

The one surprise (in that there was only one) is the star for Jay Fai, a streetfood vendor famous for crab omelette and crab curry. The place isn’t exactly street food, in that the restaurant is located in a shop house and not a cart on the pavement. It’s run by 72 year old Supinya Junsuta, who is better known as the eponymous Jay Fai. She cooks her dishes wearing full make up, a beanie and ski goggles to protect against the fiery heat of her woks. Before it received its Michelin star, it was already famous as a go-to eatery. After Michelin, queues of 2-3 hours formed around the block. Now Jay Fai wants to give up her Michelin star because of the attention.

Many people come just to see and take pictures and not necessarily to eat

And she’s had to buy more, and higher quality, ingredients to keep up with the demand, not necessarily increasing her revenue. The constant interruption from journalists and people wanting selfies is taking a toll on her too. Even though it may be fun to visit, and I bet the food is good, we decided to skip it because of the long wait. There’ll be other good food, equally tasty too.

#fonduegate

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Ben McPartland, from the local in Paris recently tried to buy cheese for a fondue. Being in France, he went to his local fromagerie (so lucky!) and asked for a combination of Comté, Beaufort and Appenzel. Here’s what happened when he tried to get Beaufort:

Monsieur: “No it’s too good for a fondue. It’s so tasty. It would pain me (faire mal au coeur) to see it melted.”

Me: “Ha ha, OK that sounds amazing. I’ll have 400 grams please.”

Monsieur: “No, no. It would be a waste. This is a 2015 Beaufort. And at €39 a kilo. It’s too expensive for a fondue.”

Me: “Ah that’s OK I don’t mind paying.”

Monsieur: “No, No. I’ll give you some Abondance. It’s a similar cheese and cheaper.”

Me: Errrr. OK, but can I have some Beaufort too.”

Monsieur: “Are you going to put it in the fondue?

Me: “Errrrrr (I can’t lie), oui.”

Monsieur eventually relented but not before making his customer promise that the Beaufort won’t be grated or melted. The fun part is this saga got twitter’s attention and most of the responses were on the side of Monsieur Fromage.

Even France’s Ambassador to Sweden got involved:

The commenters on mefi, where I spotted this initially, had more diverse opinions. The ones supporting the fromager:

I agree with the cheese monger, if you go to speciality shops part of the experience is getting to lean on their expertise.

I’m on team cheesemonger here, in that truly good cheese is a magical thing and doesn’t deserve to be wasted in fondues.

The cheesemonger indicated that he would rather sell that particular cheese to someone with less money but more appreciation.

and the ones who are more on the “the customer is always right” train:

If I know how I like something because I like it that way, then anyone who tells me I am wrong is not, in fact, correct. They are wrong and stupid.

I don’t have a lot of patience for gatekeeping. I do like that he took the time to explain why though. But honestly if I want to scrub my floors with champagne or feed foie gras to a spoiled cat then I’m going to do so, and there will always be someone else willing to take my money.

The customer is always right, even when they are dead wrong. Be sure to smile and nod when you take their money. You are there to relieve them of their excess cash, not to educate them.

And more quotes, one from an American living in France that sums up the cultural difference:

Being a customer in France means you are asking someone to help you, and so you have to deal with them as a person, not a service robot…This cheesemaker is a perfectly normal Frenchman who thinks that being respected in his work is more important to him than making more money or always having to be “nice”.

French food has been seen in recent years as snobbish and over-complicated. But for every unfashionable roast saddle of rabbit wedged between crisp layers of rösti potatoes and a thin disc of Parmesan there is the delightfully simple fougasse that you buy at a street market and tear off a scrumptious piece as you walk around.

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One of the differences between food shopping in a place like France and countries like the US, is that there are specialist shops that sell cheese, meat, bread, wine where most people usually buy their food. Supermarkets exist in France, but are for mass produced goods like tissues and bottled water. Provenance and quality matter a lot. Even McPartland, the Beaufort criminal, admits that he respects the fromager and reiterates that the French are generally more knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. I can understand his frustration though, and may be irritated if I were in his shoes, although I’d like to think I have better sense than to put a €39/kg Beaufort into a fondue. I did some reading and Beaufort is probably the most difficult of the Gruyère-style cheeses to produce, and the 24-month and 36-month ages are especially rare. I’d grudgingly do as the fromager says, make a solemn promise and then go home to try that 2015 Beaufort to see what the fuss is all about.

Of course people can do whatever they want with their food and other purchases, but some common sense should prevail, n’est-ce pas? Other examples that cropped up in various discussions of this #fonduegate: well-done steak, cheese with seafood pasta, mixing a 21-year old whisky with coke, using $100 notes to light a cigar, entering a rare antique car into a demolition derby, buying a Stradivarus to smash it to pieces. Yikes. Shiver. I’ll stop here before my head explodes.

shackleton whisky

It started with one of those trying-to-be-smart-but-comes-across-as-naff lifehacker posts, this one telling us how to graduate to better whiskey. It pains me to type that ‘e’ especially since some of their suggestions are not American or Irish. Basically they’re saying if you like a certain whisky, then you may want to try another, hopefully better, one:

  • like bulleit, try michter’s
  • like bulleit rye, try whistlepig farmstock
  • like jameson, try green spot
  • like laphroaig 10, try octomore
  • like macallan 12, try yamazaki 12
  • already like yamazaki 12, try amrut cask strength

I can’t comment much on bourbon or rye, because I don’t have enough exposure to them and basically my suggestion centres around blanton’s. At the risk of offending my friends who like jameson, I won’t drink it because it’s pretty terrible. I agree with green spot, and I’d go as far as saying move even further up and try redbreast. I love laphroaig the distillery but for peat monsters I prefer ardbeg any day, and yes octomore certainly.

I think the trend to like/buy/order japanese whisky by certain people is a fad. These are the people who queue for hours for the cronut, go gluten-free because goop says so, and are currently coughing up $37 for 2.5 gallons of raw water. Cough is the right word, because said raw water may come with a bunch of unfriendly friends. An anecdote is one of mm’s relatives, who went hunting for japanese whisky during their latest trip to hokkaido, when we’ve never seen him drink whisky or express any interest in whisky before. He says he’s looking for it because “everyone else is” and may be he can find a rare bottle to sell. Argh!! These people jumping on the bandwagon is the reason why there is zero supply of non-NAS japanese whisky.

/rant

The reason the lifehacker article caught my eye is the suggestion that if you like Johnnie Walker, try Shackleton. First of all, show me someone who likes JW, especially red and black. Last time I was served JW black I almost spit it out. So the suggestion to try Shackleton is interesting, because it’s an interesting whisky. I remember a little about its history.

In addition to the promotional video, there’s a good account in the NYT, even though there are passages that made my teeth grate. Read this about Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender:

the sight of someone dropping ice cubes into a whiskey glass or knocking back a shot without taking sufficient time to savor it makes him furious. The whisky he threatened to kill me over was not any old tipple, either.

Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh.

WHISKY.

W.H.I.S.K.Y.

THERE IS NO ‘E’ IN WHISKY. WHY CAN’T BLOODY AMERICANS EVER GET IT RIGHT?!!

/rant

shackletonwhiskynz

Anyway, in 1907, Shackleton and team tried to go to the south pole. Amongst the supplies they brought with them were 25 cases of whisky, 12 of brandy and 6 of port. Between four people. The expedition was ultimately a failure, although the team got to 112 miles from the pole, the furthest south at that time. When they turned back and sailed home in 1909, they left behind supplies that included cases of whisky and:

dried spinach, mint, stewed kidneys, oxtail soup, India relish, mutton cutlets in tomato sauce, Irish brawn, marrow fat, stewed rump steaks, tripe, concentrated egg powder, kippered mackerel, minced collops, and redcurrants.

Some of the stuff were pilfered but since 1990 the area around the hut where they stayed is controlled by the NZ-based Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 2007, three cases of whisky were discovered in the permafrost outside the hut; in 2010 these were chiselled from the ice and one case taken to Canterbury Museum.

The whisky that the Shackleton expedition brought with them was “Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. Mackinlay & Co.” Mackinlay was eventually bought by Whyte & Mackay, which was then sold to an Indian billionaire, Vijay Mallya. Mallya’s private plane brought three bottles “home” to Scotland in 2011, where master blender Paterson and James Pryde, Whyte & Mackay’s chief chemist, extracted sample liquid from the original bottles for analysis. After one hundred years, there was a possibility that the whisky had turned bad. But luckily no. They found that the whisky was a blended malt, most likely from the defunct Glen Mhor distillery, which was owned by Mackinlay. The team was also able to ascertain that the water was from Loch Ness, the peat from the Orkneys, and the whisky was aged in american white oak sherry casks. 47.3% abv.

To everyone’s surprise, the whisky was light and fruity, and not smoky at all. There was peat, but it was subtle. Even Paterson, writing beforehand, expected a a heavy, peaty whisky that was the style back then. Plus there’s the image of Shackleton the macho explorer.

Sir Ernest Shackleton occupies a similar place to another with the same name, Ernest Hemingway. Larger than life, big, brash. A womaniser. The intrepid explorer. The guardian described Shackleton as having the essence of:

death-defying, pipe-smoking, god-among-men masculinity.

There’s a certain romanticism associated with explorers of that era, and soon modern marketing came into play. It was decided to replicate the whisky, and use the story to sell it. Paterson found stock from Glen Mohr and blended it with Dalmore and more than 20 other whiskies and so the Discovery edition was born. £150 and it’s no longer available. The second edition, Journey, inspired by the 2013 expedition that retraced another of Shackleton’s expeditions, is available for £110.

shackletonwhisky

The one that I think lifehacker meant as a replacement for JW is neither of these, but the mainstream, more accessible, version. It still retains the notes of vanilla, honey and orchard fruits of the earlier editions, but possibly using younger whiskies. Introduced in 2017 initially as duty free only and now more widely available, it seems to be positioned neatly in the premium blend category and at £34.95 is something I’d try, if only once. I’d like to try it against Naked Grouse, as the JW black step-up. At £27.95, it’s at a sweet price point. Then again, HP12 is around £30, and wins everything.

food in appalachia

appalachiancookbook

Another great article from longreads.com’s Best of 2017, this one in the food writing category. From The Nation, Can Local Food Help Appalachia Build a Post-Coal Future? by Sarah Jones.

The longreads lists are chosen by writers and editors and this one was chosen by Vice writer Mayukh Sen who says:

[Ms. Jones’] voice is clear, engaging, and tempered with compassion…It’s a marvelous piece and a reminder that some of the most exciting, relevant food writing will live outside food publications unless they step up their game.

The subject of the article itself, Appalachia, isn’t familiar to me. In fact, I had to turn to wikipedia to find out what, or rather, where, it is. I have vague recollections of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern going there and killing, butchering, then eating an entire pig. The most memorable bit was how they poured boiling water on the skin to get rid of hairs. No holds barred there. There were headcheese and tail and the obligatory offal. The whole idea is they hunt their own food and nothing goes to waste. A certain amount is due to necessity, and the region’s stereotype of being inhabited by white trash.

Ask the average outsider what Appalachians eat, and they may deliver a similar answer: trash. McNuggets, maybe, or lots of bacon and gravy. Heart-attack food. People choose the stories that they want to believe, and the myth of the dumb, fat hillbilly is an old and popular one.

But that’s only half the picture.

The region is huge, with diverse weather and landscapes, so the variety of food produced is also huge. Where the land is flat, more typical mass-produced food is found. In the less arable mountain areas, reliance on beans, grains, foraged greens increase. Pigs are easy to raise so pork is the primary meat. Key factors are adaptability and ingenuity. Of course poverty comes into the equation too, with coal being the major industry. As coal-mining declines, jobs that become available are mostly in the fast food and retail service sector; in some places, fast food is all you can eat. These jobs have long hours and are low paying, the effect is that people have less time to grow or cook their own food. And so they start to rely on fast food.

And the circle continues. Until people decide enough is enough.

There are modern efforts to improve the health of Appalachians, with many fresh initiatives such as the farmacy project that gives participants vouchers to use at farmers’ markets; converting abandoned mines into farms or vineyards; establishing a thriving food scene to attract visitors.

Food is the story of the people who invented it, and for Appalachia, it’s a definitive rebuttal to tired stereotypes.

And that to me is a good thing. I really liked reading the article because of how well it was written. For some reason I decided to read the first part out loud, and it was surprisingly easy. Sometimes when reading out loud, the words trip over each other and they don’t flow. These words did.

home is a cup of tea

hometea01

I’ve been looking at longreads.com’s best of 2017 selection, and this one is from the 25 most popular exclusives: a beautifully written and illustrated personal essay about tea and the search for home by sketch artist and writer Candace Rose Rardon. Longreads gives us useful information about the article and this one is 2,882 words and they estimate will take 10mins to read.

Take longer. Savour every chapter. Appreciate every drawing. Recall the taste of each tea that she describes.

This is how it starts:

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And already I’m sucked into the mood the writer created. And then:

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Which triggers so hard. Because as I look around me, is it the home I envisioned? The answer is no. A ‘no’ laced with so much despair. Regret. Disappointment. Anger. Never did I forsee the circumstances I find myself in. Never was I prepared for my current living conditions. Both sis and mm (I met them today for drinks) said I need to do something about not being shut inside my room that is so full of stuff because I had to cram two rooms’ worth of stuff into one that I can’t breathe.

Back to the story, which tells of the writer’s journey through her life and always, there is tea. Her early life is associated with the English Breakfast that of her mother, and then she moved around the world to new adventures. And there’s always tea. Tea in the UK, tea culture in New Zealand that is even stronger, chai in India, a young friend in Canada bonding over tea, herbal teas, camomile. And finding her home in the form of her now husband, because home can be a person. A place. A passage of time.

hometea04

I used to say home is where my furniture is; now I’m more likely to say home is where my electronics are. But really, it doesn’t matter. I’ve lost my sense of home, because everything seems to be fading. People, places, memories, experiences, are all behind a mist that is harder and harder to retrieve. Oh, I know where some of them are stored–32,000 images on flickr, 4,800 posts here on the website–I’ve meticulously organised them so searching is easy. But if I’ve forgotten there is something to search, then it’ll never be remembered, right?

Anyway, don’t wallow with me. Make a cup of tea and spend 10, 15, 20 minutes reading Ms Rardon’s article instead.

new year’s day turkey

One of the most boring new year’s day I can remember. Didn’t even feel like a ‘special’ day. After lunch the buyers of the furniture finally came to pick them up, after over a year. Turned out, the lady was busy at work and she’s also heavily pregnant! So they’ve had other things on their minds. The movers they used were very efficient, wrapping the dining table, chairs and sofa set in plastic wrap quickly. The flat now looks less like a dump site with only sofa set and a wonderful empty space in the dining room.

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Because of family visiting, there wasn’t time to properly plan the cooking of the turkey until now. It had been defrosting in the fridge for 4 days and even so only just defrosted. It just fit my baking dish, any bigger and I would have had to cut it in half. I cut up one whole lemon and one whole clementine and stuffed them inside. Seasoned with a mix of olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, mixed herbs, garlic. Wrapped the top with streaky bacon and had it sit on a couple of slices of lemon plus enough mirepoix to cover the entire pan. Two halved whole garlic heads joined the baking dish. There’s this pop-up timer on the breast, apparently it will pop out when the turkey cooked. I didn’t think I’d need it, but I arranged the bacon slices around it anyway.

The label said for 14 pounds it’ll take between 3 3/4 and 4 1/2 hours. I put it on 180ºC and kept an eye on it every half an hour or so and it was done at 3 1/4 hour. Only when I took it out of the oven did the thermometer pop out, so I don’t think it’s reliable.

I had been making the gravy from the giblets and my freezer chicken stock for an hour. Deglazed the pan and added to the stock, by then the mirepoix had more or less melted. Strained off the liquid and ended up with about 2l of gravy.

Took me a good half an hour to process the cooked turkey, ie separate meat from bones. I ended up with 5 small ziploc bags of meat, 2 large bags of bones and a small container of bits. One bag is enough for 2 meals for us. Not bad.

Not perfect, and not quite as tender as the cooked one we used to buy at the supermarket but personally I think tastes so much better.

sushi train, escape room

Met sis, gis, my cousin and his kids for lunch at a sushi restaurant sis suggested. It used to be a conveyor belt restaurant, but now it’s a sushi train. We order via a tablet, the food is prepared in the kitchen and sent to us on a miniature train. We take the plate and push a button to send the empty train back. It’s very, very cool. Much better than conveyor belt because the food is fresher and we can actually pick what we want instead of sitting around hoping for something good to arrive. The kids loved it.

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After lunch, sis had booked us all to go to an escape room game at a place called Lost. The coolness of the day continued. We played a game called Alcatraz, where we were split into 3 teams and locked in 3 cells: Red, Green & Blue. We had to work together, solve puzzles and escape from the cells. The puzzles, in retrospect, were pretty straightforward, but in the moment when everything was unknown and we were all trying to scream at each other, it felt more stressed. Plus there’s always the time limit–45mins. We all managed to escape our cells but ran out of time to solve the last puzzle to escape from the room itself. A huge amount of fun and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The kids say it’s one of the best they’ve played.

Everyone had separate plans so I ended up sitting in a Mcdonalds for 2hrs drinking one small coke zero and reading on my ipad. This branch is pretty good, not very crowded. I was waiting for mm to finish to meet her to help her with shopping. Her family is having a gathering this weekend and doing a New Year’s version of Christmas Secret Santa. The budget is local$200, but the difficulty is the gift has to be suitable for her parents (in their 70s) as well as her nieces and nephew (teen and pre-teen). I gave her a magnetic noughts-and-crosses game I’d originally bought for my nieces and she got a box of nice biscuits and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Under budget too.

We weren’t that hungry so dinner was just noodles. Went to HMV to have a beer and chat for a bit until time to go home.

thai rice whisky

We booked and paid for our running away trip to Bangkok in January so it’s time to start putting together some research. Bangkok is an easy city to visit and we know roughly what we want to do already–markets including weekend markets, floating markets, the train market; poking around up and down the river, Ayatthaya if we have time, massage, street food, rooftop bars.

laokhao

mm asked me if Thailand has whisky and I said I don’t think so. Someone did a rundown of alcohol found in Thailand and the selection seems dismal. In terms of locally produced alcohols, it’s beer, some sort of rum, and lao khao which is made from rice. A description of the taste:

initial taste is sharp and sweet though soon the punch of alcohol with a hint of diesel kicks in, burning the throat and filling the nostrils…The burn lasted far longer than should be acceptable and I must admit that I didn’t love the bitter aftertaste.

It’s traditionally made in villages and is a working class drink. An excerpt from chef Andy Ricker’s book The Drinking Food of Thailand:

if you’re making three hundred baht (about nine dollars) a day toiling for twelve hours in the rice fields, you come home not only eager for a drink but also eager for that drink to be strong and cheap. Two bottles of lao khao cost about 130 baht and will get two guys drunk. Two similar-size bottles of beer cost about the same and will get no guys drunk.

Basically, it’s Thailand’s version of moonshine. I can imagine how it tastes–bold, strong and you can feel it going all the way down your throat. It’s made from a starter yeast cake, containing aromatics such as chillis, lemongrass, galangal as well as remnants from previous batches of yeast cakes. Not unlike sourdough starters where each batch contains parents, grandparents, great-grandparents of an aged original product. The cakes are dried then mixed with steamed sticky rice and water to make the beer. Fermentation takes 5-8 days then distilled. In the distillery in Baan Mai that Ricker visited, the distillate is heated over wood fires which gives a subtle smoky flavour. The short fermentation period and lack of aging means the product doesn’t have time to mellow and its edges smoothed out.

It’s not the most refined liquor and is usually drunk with soda water, coke or juice. It’s 2/3rd of all alcohol consumed in Thailand and is apparently very easy to get drunk with it. Alcohol content around 30-40% so it needs to be treated with respect. We should be able to find this at local shops. Probably will get a small bottle and we’ll make sure to have it after lining our stomachs with food beforehand.

turkey->bacon->breakfast

Went to the supermarket to get turkey. Definitely dwindling supplies, most of the ones available are 17-18 pounds. Ovens are small here, so it’s not a surprise that the smaller ones go first. After digging around, I unearthed one that is 14 pounds. Local$360 or £35, not cheap but half the price of the cooked version. Next to it in the freezer cabinet, sausagemeat for stuffing which I passed on. Looked anaemic and expensive too. I did splash out on streaky bacon. None of the fake ham-like bacon normally available. For the purpose of roasting turkey, American bacon will be better than British back bacon but I’m glad I got Waitrose brand.

britishbfast

Talking about bacon, here’s a nice article about full breakfasts in the UK and Ireland, which talks about how different breakfasts reflect their regional origins. All delicious. In England there is fried bread in addition to the full English, nomnomnom. Haggis in Scotland. Potato farls, soda bread, black and/or white pudding in Ireland. In Wales there’ll be the laverbread (not lava bread in the image).

In addition to the laver/lava bread confusion, there’s another HUGE mistake in the image. There’s a bottle of “tomato sauce” in the centre when everyone knows it should be BROWN sauce. Did a non-British person draw this?

bbmm accidental whisky tasting

Went out for haircut then met mm, our plan was to go to the expo. Ha! Talk about best laid plans of mice and men.

We saw a whisky shop and the rest of the day was shot.

whisky20171218

We were just browsing and then got chatting with the gentleman who worked there. They had samples for tasting, like HP12, Glenfarclas 105, Ardbeg Corryvrekan. Then as we talked more and tasted more, he introduced us to Aberlour a’bunadh, Glengoyne and several different ages of Glenfarclas, which was what we were interested in. He also gvae us several independent bottlers samples of Mortlach, an islay blend that was so fantastic, and one from cambeltown that I can’t remember the name.

The one independent bottler he recommded for daily drinking was Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis which was a special edition to celebrate Ben Nevis’ 185th year and the whisky was made in a way that attempted to recreated the traditional taste. NAS and apparently only 5 years old but tasted richer, with notes of dried fruit and subtle peat. Ben Nevis was bought by Nikka in 1989, who had been purchasing grain and malt from the distillery for years. Normal Ben Nevis uses the distinctive NIkka bottle but Mcdonald’s follows a more traditional model.

And finally, he brought out the big guns. We asked him which were his favourites and he went to the back and brought out a few bottles, saying let’s try sherry casks. The Glengoyne 21 (£110) we tasted already, Glendronach 21 Parliament (£115), and The Macallan 10 cask strength that is no longer available and sometimes available at auctions for over £500. He has it for almost £700. For the same price, there’s a 41 year old speyside whisky (can’t remember distillery) and he only has 3 bottles left.

We were tempted by the Macallan 10 and the 41 year old, but decided to think about it first. I did end up getting a bottle of the Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis.

Oh, he has Ardbeg Alligator, Rollercoaster and Supernova too, but I didn’t see Galileo. I need to get that Alligator.

By the time we left the shop it was too late to go to the expo. We had a quick dinner and went home.

roast beef

roastbeef

Was at the supermarket to check out turkey for Christmas. Normally we get ready cooked but it’s too expensive and the size is no better than a large chicken. So I’m going to cook it myself this year. Not a huge selection: 10-12, 12-14 and 14-16 pounds. We have to clear space in the freezer before getting one. And I have to find a good stuffing recipe.

What I saw was a beef joint for roasting in the fresh meat section. Sell-by date today so discounted to 1/3rd its sticker price. I can’t remember the last time I made roast beef, may be 20 years ago in London. It’s only a small joint, just under 1kg, and off the bone. I had to double check the roasting time and after researching, decided to follow a mix of Leiths’ and Jamie’s methods.

The timing is from Prue: 20mins at 220ºC then 30mins at 170ºC for this 1kg joint. The vegetable trivet idea is from Jamie: place the seasoned joint on a bed of mirepoix to catch the drippings. I had space in the roasting tray so I cubed some potatoes to make roast spuds. During resting, I made the gravy directly in the pan from the mirepoix, drippings, added chicken stock and a glass of red wine. I didn’t strain off the veg, kept it in the gravy.

There’s a bit of chewy sinew that made carving slightly difficult but I was well pleased that I got it rare-medium rare. Good beef taste; it’ll last us 3 meals.

india club on the strand

indiaclub

This was one of Marina O’Loughlin’s last reviews for the guardian and found its way to londonist too. I’m talking about The India Club restaurant at the Hotel Strand Continental.

The Hotel Strand Continental, despite its location on the Strand, is nothing to write home about. It’s looks rundown from the outside, and the entrance is next to what used to be a newsagent/Indian shop and is now apparently Gregg’s. I must have walked past it a couple of thousand times because of its proximity to King’s. But I never ever gave it a second thought. I asked mm and other KCL friends and no one remembers it.

Oh what a missed opportunity. The restaurant has been there since 1946, when it was founded by Krishna Menon, the first Indian ambassador to the UK. Its poximity to India House, both King’s and LSE, Fleet Street, and so many chambers means it’s a favourite for academics, judges, lawyers, journalists and embassy staff. The prices seem to be from 1946 too. The menu is a plastic sheet and full of familiar south Indian fare: masala puri chaat, lamb bhuna, butter chicken, masala dosa. Nothing to write home about, not instagram worthy, and they may or may not make their own naan. But BYOB and £15 per head average. Ms O’Loughlin said she’d go back again and again, not because of the food, but:

out of deep affection. I love it in the same way I’m drawn to the novels of Anita Brookner or EM Forster; to small films set in run-down Roman apartment blocks and gloomy Indian call centres; to side streets in unknown cities where old milliners and haberdashers miraculously survive, their windows shielded by sepia-coloured film.

It’s no Dishoom, but seems more the vibe and atmosphere that Dishoom wants to emulate and “modernise.” And the fact that it’s not modern seems to be the charm. £15 in central London? Right next to our beloved college? Definitely a must-visit when we finally make it back to London. I hope that it’ll still be there because it’s in danger of being swallowed by greedy property developers. There’s a petition and a project to get English Heritage listed status for the building. Good luck to them.

#fourfoods of the apocalypse

There was a game a few years ago that asked, what food will you choose to eat after the apocalypse. The rules:

the world has ended…somehow you have a magic refrigerator. This brilliant genius of an appliance holds a constant supply of salt, pepper, oil, flour and sugar — and four other foods.

PICK FOUR FOODS.

Assume there are cooking and storage facilities; and no need to worry about pesky things like nutrition and vitamins. The food has to be core ingredients, so no meatlover’s pizza or chicken curry with rice or beef wellington. And these are all the food you will eat for the rest of your existence.

The authors of the article asked their colleagues and on twitter and came up with a good selection, some are quite specific like sharp white cheddar:

  • whole chicken, spinach, bacon, vanilla ice cream
  • dark chocolate, avocados, eggs, tomatoes
  • eggs, apples, butternut squash, hot sauce
  • heirloom tomatoes, sharp white cheddar, pork belly, eggs
  • steak, black beans, avocado, bourbon
  • coconut, papaya, eggs, rum

They even asked professional chefs:

  • Curtis Stone: asparagus, avocado, eggs, goat cheese
  • Jessica Koslow of Sqirl: feta, brown rice, meyer lemons, kale
  • Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Café: tomatoes, garlic, eggs, pecorino cheese
  • Thomas Kelly of Mexicue Kitchen + Bar: chilies, eggs, rice, lemons
  • Zak Walters of Salt’s Cure: whole chicken, avocados, collard greens, Beaujolais wine

fourfoodsapocalypse

Sis says: rice, eggs, tomato, chocolate; my niece says: rice, eggs, cheese, chocolate; can’t quite remember what mm says but it’s something like: fish, eggs, beetroot, and one other, probably chocolate.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off. My choices:

  • eggs — it seems to be very popular with many people, because it’s so versatile and can be used for baking, cooking, frying. I’m going to cheat and say live chicken or duck, so I get meat, bones and eggs. Even at the cost of having to learn how to kill them. I mean, it’s the apocalypse, so I’ll have plenty of time. Personally I’ll go for duck because it’s tastier and I can get lots of duck fat, good with…
  • potatoes including sweet potatoes — this is supposed to be a good choice because if we had to survive on one single food forever, potato is one of the best. The leaves from the sweet potatoes will be my green veg element and takes the place of kale or savoy cabbage, which would have been my first choices for veg. I can use potatoes to make yeast and use it for bread and for fermentation. Imagine potato vodka, beer, and even wine because I’ll have…
  • grapes — not only wine, but I can make vinegar from it, that provides the essential acidic element for cooking. Many people choose lemons, but I think grapes have more potential. In addition to eating whole and making vinegar, they can be dried to get raisins, and frozen grapes are a delicious treat. Even though for some reason grape ice cream isn’t a thing, it is possibe in small batches, provided there is…
  • coconut — to make coconut milk which is supposed to be a great base for non-dairy ice cream. Originally I thought of picking milk for this spot, but most of what milk can do, coconut milk can do. With whole coconuts, there’s delicious coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil, and the flesh can be used as food or dried for seasoning and crunch. With vinegar made from the grapes, I should be able to make some sort of cheese-like curd or yogurt with the coconut milk

So all in all, I’m fairly happy with my choices. If duck+eggs isn’t allowed, I’ll go for just the duck and sacrifice eggs. If duck+eggs is allowed and I get additional spots, I’ll add prawn, avocado or cheese: proper cheese and not the iffy stuff I’ll get from coconut milk, grape vinegar and whatever else I conjure up.

Some games allow for one luxury item and people may pick steak, chocolate, or some other indulgence. It’s a no-brainer for me: whisky.

#firstworldproblem: sausage rolls vs bake-off #gbbo

A truly British #firstworldproblem cropped up today. I had a craving for sausage rolls for a couple of days, and forgot to get them yesterday when I went to the market. It’s dead easy to get, if I’m not picky. The chain bakery has branches everywhere, including at most stations.

The problem is, Bake-off season 8 is on just when I wanted to go get the sausage rolls. They’re showing 2 eps back-to-back; today is eps 3 and 4.

Well, okay, moot point. I’m recording the entire season so I can watch it anytime. So I went to the station, got my sausage rolls, stopped off at the small supermarket to get staples like spaghetti and ketchup, and was back home in time to watch the second ep of the day. I can go back and watch the other ep later.

flowatermeloncake

I was all prepared to dislike this season because of the follow the dough thing but I’ve enjoyed watching it so far. Same format, same tent, same music. Prue is a good Mary substitute, and I can get my Mary fix on her own program anyway. Sandi sounds almost like Mel and Sue, and although not as cheeky, she is warm and funny, as we know she is. Noel started off unsteady but ignoring the comparisons with Mel & Sue, he’s quirky and likeable. He seems genuinely pleased to be there and mingling with all the bakers. And it’s the bakers that are, as always, the stars of the show. This group is the same, with casting as diverse as a mainstream program can get. My favourites so far are Liam with his flavours and Yan with her scientific, and sometimes not so scientific (making caramel by sight without a thermometer?), approach. And how about Flo’s watermelon cake? Wow.

I know the elimination order, which is the one disadvantage of watching such a popular program after the fact. But it doesn’t matter. I’m just grateful I can watch it and let’s forget the irony of season 8 on a BBC channel.

bbmm happy hour at jamie’s

hhjamies201712

Met mm in the evening. Initially we were meeting at 7pm at the apple store so I can show her the mbp I have my eye on. I was early because I wanted to get some errands done first, but I was done by 6.30pm. Walked past Jamie’s and saw they had a tiered happy hour, between 6-7pm selected drinks only local$10, or around £1. Double the price between 7-8pm and triple between 8-9pm. Even then, $30 is good value. Only a slight catch, must only order from hh menu (ie house wines only) and standing room at the bar, not even high stools. The house red is malbec, and the house white veneto. There was also prosecco, beers, 3 cocktails and 3 mocktails. Decent selection.

Good thing I stopped there instead of heading to the apple store because mm was, what a surprise, late. She didn’t get there till 7.30pm. We ordered some bar snacks and I had another glass of wine.

By the time we were ready to leave it was 8.30pm. We thought of going to a AYCE hotpot place, but I had my reservations because it’d be late when we finish. We ended up having sashimi rice at a place a couple of doors down from Jamie’s. It was better than hotpot, the fish was fresh and the rice was well cooked.

pan-fried quail

quail201712

I see a lot of masterchef contestants make quail, because it’s quick to cook yet needs confidence because it’s not as commonly available or as easy to cook as chicken or duck. Plus, it’s chef-y.

I bought frozen quail from the japanese supermarket. Quite expensive, but definitely less expensive than eating out, as usual. I remember mm used to use it to make soup back when we were living in london.

The first batch a few weeks ago I roasted in the oven with a knob of butter inside. Took around 15mins, and it was really delicious. This time, I wanted to treat it in a more classic way. What’s more classic than to follow Jacques Pépin’s method for deboning? He made it look so easy. I was able to do it more or less the same way he did, although the end result didn’t look as neat. I used the bones to make sauce, supplementing it with a few more duck bones. Such a huge advantage to have bones in the freezer. Browned the bones for a good 20mins, then deglazed the pan with chicken stock. Ordinarily they teach us to deglaze with wine, but unless there’s a bottle already open, or I was about to start drinking a bottle, it’s not practical.

Pan fried the quail for around 10mins, until just cooked. I think I may have overcooked the breast, because it didn’t have the pinkness of medium rare meat and were a tad mushy. Overall, I found quail to be more forgiving than I expected because everything tasted great. When I was browning the duck and quail bones, there was a bit of fat rendered off so I used it to sauté leftover baked potato that I cubed.

I spent more time deboning and making the sauce than the actual cooking of the quail. Flavour-wise I prefer the last batch because: a) roasted on the bone and b) butter, butter, butter. Next time I’ll spatchcock then roast in butter, I think this will give the best tasting and best looking results.

food broken down to ingredients

via colossal, Danish photographer Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj arranged raw ingredients that make up a recipe in a photoshoot for a cookware producer. Have to think about some of them, it’s not immediately obvious.

foodingredients01

This is breaded fish filet, I’m guessing. The fish is filetted then coated in breadcrumbs and pan-fried.

foodingredients02

Carrot, onion, celeriac, oil, bones, tomato. I’m thinking soup or stock. More likely soup, because of the celeriac.

foodingredients03

This I have no clue. Milk is the only ingredient I can safely identify, unless it’s cream. What are the dry ingredients? Sugar, salt, flour? And the dark powder is chocolate? The pyramid at the lower right looks like either butter or cheese. The circular blob top right, I give up. Honey? Argh.

creamy scallop spinach pasta

scallopspinachpasta

Mum was out all day, she went out to lunch after mass, came back with shopping and met with her friends for dinner. I spent the day reading, didn’t even go out when mm texted and wondered if we should go out to enjoy the sunny weather. It was almost 3pm and we decided we should both just chill at home and get rested.

Leftovers for lunch but actually made dinner. For some odd reason I had a small carton of cream in the fridge. I made mushroom cream sauce the other day and there’s still around 2/3 carton that needs to be used. Made a rich sauce with lots of garlic, a little butter and about 150ml cream. Should be able to keep in a tight container for a few days. I spooned a little over the scallop and spinach pasta I was making for dinner which made the dish much more decadent. This is the type of dish that takes absolutely no time to make.

random things I’ve been up to

Last of the catch-up posts, I think. What I’ve been up to during the past 3 weeks.

pumpkinsoup201711

I had a big bag of chestnuts that mm gave me. I wanted to roast them, peel then put in a braised chicken. But disaster happened! The chestnuts wouldn’t peel properly and stubbornly stuck to the shell. All I got was a big container of chestnut breadcrumbs.

Had to change plan, so made pumpkin and chestnut soup instead. The chestnut acted as perfect thickening agent, so the soup ended up quite thick. For liquid I made fresh turkey stock. Really, really nice. Served it with roti prata, which alas was store bought. Sprinkled on grated cheese.


sunset201711

We went for a drive one weekend, no real plans. Ended up at this oyster farm near the shenzhen border that has nice view of sunsets. Sunsets come early now, it starts getting dark at 5pm and full dark at 6pm. We brought picnic–mm brought an old bottle of macallan and some glasses which we sipped as we enjoyed the view. Only a small sip, since she’s driving.

We got chatting with a guy who had 2 tripods set up taking time lapse pictures. One was a Sony alpha 7 and the other was an iphone. He told us he just came back from Japan and he’s also been to a few other places to take timelapses of sunrises and sunsets. He collects the end results on his youtube channel. The timelapse here was at a place near where we were on that sunday.


frites01 frites02

A weekday evening out, met up for happy hour at frites. I started with trusty st bernadus abt 12, and then asked the assistant manager for a recommendation. He said to try the het kapittel watou prior, which is another trappist beer. Lighter that st bernadus, with chocolate tones. Nice alternative.

We weren’t that hungry, so we shared some miniburgers and a portion of frites.


musebar02

Met mm after her saturday appointment. Originally we were supposed to meet at the novotel but when I got there I discovered that happy hour had been pushed back to 6-8pm, and it was quite busy. I walked around the area wanting to find an alternative and came across this place called muse wine bar and art gallery. It was located in the basement of a boutique hotel and pretty quiet. They had a big wine list of bottles and a smaller list of by-the-glass wines. Not only the usual, but 3-4 pages of both red and white wines. The price was higher, but the tradeoff was quality and tranquility.

musebar04

On the walls were some ink art, I didn’t pay too much attention to the artist, but the artwork tied in with the quiet nature of the bar.

Next time we go there, I’ll order a bottle. Three glasses of wine came to around the same price as their cheapest bottle.


drago1

I stopped playing pokemon go. No incentive anymore, even with the last migration of legendary raids. I saw some people gathered around a gym while getting ready to get off the bus and didn’t bother running back like I would have before. The unfairness of raids, the stupid EX-raid invitations, the lack of pokemons other than commons, and I’m still bitter about no tauros, all contribute to my lethargy towards the game.

Some people have made the move to draconius go, which has all the features of pogo with fewer problems. Select a character and walk around to capture monsters. With names like Potty, these mythical creatures are cute as button, there are a total of 125 of them and they show up on a tracker at the bottom right of the screen. There are pillars of abundance (ie stops) where spinning grants random items that are useful in the game. Occasionally the adventuer gets attacked while walking, and has to battle the beast. Fighting can also be done in arenas (ie gyms). There are also many other features, refer to this useful beginner’s guide is on r/draconiusgo.

drago2

For some players, the playing experience is so much better, with more stops and creatures. For me, though, I stopped playing after a few tries. The two screenshots were taken from the same spot just down the road from where I live. The triangular area is the small local park. On the left, pogo with a gym and a bunch of stops. On the right, drago with…nothing. It’s the same picture everywhere else. The other disadvantage is my mobile provider isn’t counting data usage for pogo, they made a big deal when the game first came out and never took it away. So few people play now that it’s not worth them bothering with it. But with drago, I can’t imagine going out for hours and hours and eating into my mobile data allowance.

So, not playing either game. Not playing much else, just reading.

what did i miss part 3

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 3. Sports and drinks, not sports drinks, two separate topics.

1a. marathons #1 — elites

The headlines all shouted “Galen Rupp is first American winner of the Chicago Marathon since 2002.” And although some of them clarifies that it’s the first American male since 2002 (last American female was Deena Kastor in 2005) it still feels like a huge, huge disservice to Tatyana McFadden, who has won the women’s wheelchair race fo the past seven years. I swear, paralympic athletes get an even worse deal than women athletes, the sort of media attention they get, ie zero. Not to take away Rupp’s victory, but the blatant inequality really needs to be addressed.

In the NYC marathon, Meb, in his last NYC, finished in 2:15:29, putting the 42 year old in 11th place. The women’s race was won by Shalane Flanagan. So the two big autumn US marathons both had American able-bodied winners. That’s good for the US. Much needed good news for them.

In unrelated news, Mo Farah is moving up to the marathon. And he got knighted. Yay Sir Mo!!


1b. marathons #2 — blind solo runner

Simon Wheatcroft finished the NYC marathon in 5:17:40. An unremarkable time, but what’s truly remarkable is that he is a blind runner who ran the race solo.

I ran a night race a couple of years ago and there were a number of visually impaired runners. They were just as fast and just as good as able-bodied runners. The route was through part of the country park so the terrain was rough with narrow and winding paths; the runners and their guides negotiated those with ease and I could hear the guides telling the runners to make a right turn or there is a hump coming up. I’m full of admiration for them, as I am with all paralympic athletes.

Wheatcroft suffers from a rare genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, and his sight has gradually deteriorated since he was a teenager. Nowadays, he can distinguish changes in light and darkness, like seeing the world through a fog. He knows when someone stands in front of him, because he sees a blurry shadow, but that’s it. He is also an experienced runner, marathoner and ultramarathoner, previously running with guides and trains by running up and down a straight abandoned road near his home in Doncaster. He memorises routes, obstacles, and navigate along the slightly raised edges of painted double yellow lines along the road.

In recent years, there have been massive inroads made in providing assisted technologies to help visually impaired people “see” by using AI and VR technologies. However, these type of technologies are limited–it requires outside help, or only work in static situations. For instance, a google glass subscription called aira connects the blind person and a sighted person so the sighted assistant can give verbal clues to tell the blind person what they are seeing through the glasses. The subscription costs US$349 per month, which is really expensive. Most assisted technology solutions are built around some sort of visual input and an audio output, but audio output is cumbersome. The Verge:

Imagine a Siri or Alexa-like interface describing every single object in your field of vision. Consider the cognitive overload that it would create on an already loud street crowded with obstacles.

wearworks

Wheatcroft set out to look for alternatives and came across Wayband, a product from a company called WearWorks that uses haptic technology, which provides output through the sense of touch rather than audio. The company was cofounded by 3 graduates of New York’s Pratt Institute and just finished a 3 year residency at Brooklyn’s Urban-X incubator. Wayband was featured at SXSW and uses two technologies. First, it uses known GPS technology (google maps, OpenStreetMap) to map a route for the runner, the signal is transmitted via bluetooth using an armband which buzzes in a sort of Morse code (eg 2 long taps to turn right). This pairs with an ultrasonic device called the Tortoise that broadcasts and receives ultrasonic pulses. If there is an object or person in range, the ultrasonic waves that reflect back are changed and the device lets the user know using a series of vibrations. This is not new, devices that help people park their cars use similar ultrasonic technology.

During the NYC marathon, Wheatcroft started by using this system, the first time it had been tested in a race. And what a way to test. Not a small local race, but one of the largest marathons in the world, with more than 50,000 runners. During the race he was also accompanied by Kevin Yoo, one of the founders of WearWorks as well as Neil Bacon and Andrea Corak, his longtime friends and guides. They ran behind him and were there as a last resort, to prevent him from running into another runner and ruining their marathon.

It wasn’t perfect: tall buildings affected the GPS which incorrectly told him he was off course, the rain caused the Tortoise to stop working at mile 15, and at one of the water stops another runner stopped abruptly in front of him. Even a sighted runner would have found it difficult to stop in time and there was a small collision. Neither runner was hurt. The team ended the race with guides running next to Wheatcroft as per usual, but the experiment was by and large successful. There is still a way to go before the product can be marketed but the team now knows what those improvements are.

The implications are huge. Not only for running or sports, this system can help a blind person navigate through normal life. Wheatcroft on NYT:

It’s not the end, it’s just a start.”


1c. marathons #3 — grass root runner

The running bubble has popped, says the NYT on the day of the NYC marathon. A strange thing to say, considering 50,000 participated and the success rate for applications was 17%. I got my annual VLM rejection in October, so from my perspective the running bubble hasn’t quite popped.

Thing is, although interest in the big races have held steady, less well known races and shorter distance races have seen a decline in participation. Some reasons:

  • cost — gone are the days of US$10 or $25 races, now the cost is astronomical, Las Vegas RNR 5k is $79.99!
  • too much focus on charity running — while an honourable effort, it has become blackmail with too few places available for non-charity runners and huge amounts that needs to be raised
  • too many races, and competition from speciality races like mud runs
  • competition from other fitness activities like cross fit

The industry has become a victim of its own success and commercialisation. Once a race gets taken over by corporate interests, something goes missing. Not only will I not pay $80 for a 5k, I won’t ever run a RNR race again whatever the price because they have become pure greed. I remember a long time ago an ex-colleague asked me if I was running the NYC marathon and I said it’s too expensive ($295 now). She was so surprised, she thought it was free and you just showed up. I wish.

I’ve written about charity running before. TL;DR: I hate it with the venom of a million exploding suns.

What we need, is a return to grassroots. Running clubs are still popular and just look at the success of parkruns in the UK. Another reason I want to go back to the UK.


2a. drinks #1 — alcohol and cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncological published a report that says even light drinking can cause cancer. Yet another study that tells us not to eat or drink something, so much so that there was a study on the study of what foods are bad for us–in 2013 researchers took 40 ingredients from an ordinary cookbook and found 264 studies on whether at least one of those ingredients causes cancer. We’re talking about ingredients that are in almost everybody’s cupboards: salt, pepper, flour, egg, bread, butter, lemon, onion, carrot, milk, cheese.

We know that heavy or even moderate drinking has detrimental effects. The report says in the US, 3.5% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol. But as the NYT says in a more-or-less rebuttal:

this means that 96.5 percent of cancer deaths are not attributable to alcohol. If we eliminate heavy drinking, which no one endorses as healthy…that number climbs. If we also eliminate those who smoke…the number of cancer deaths not attributable to alcohol approaches 100 percent.

These reports mean well, but they tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies and then the media reports them using scaremongering headlines. The traditional image of a researcher is someone who observes or achieves some results and then postulates a theory that explains those results. There are researchers that are basically reverse-researchers, they know what result they want and then they do so-called research till they get those results. I call them hacks.


2b. drinks #2 — bartending in antarctica

antarcticabar

Interesting article about bars in Antarctica. There are 45 research stations in Antarctica, with thousands of researchers there in the summer but only a few hundred during the winter. Each station has its own bar with names like Gallagher’s Pub, Southern Exposure, Tatty Flag. The bars had no owners, no official hours, and no price. People shared their stash of personal alcohol and were in luck when one of the researchers also have bartending skills. Bartending in Antarctica is voluntary and requires creativity and innovation, as not all ingredients are available. The good thing is, no fridge is needed, just put the stuff outside.

Drinking can be a problem in Antarctica, because of the monotony of life, especially in the winter months. The bars became social focus points, and bartenders did the job all other bartenders do all over the world. One bartending researcher said he:

swapped out soda for booze when people drank too much…and kept them inside the bar rather than watching them stumble out the door where, completely inebriated, they could hurt themselves or pass out in the snow.


2c. drinks #3 — escape from IPA

escapefromipa

I do quick research during nano and I came across this beer called Escape from IPA from Pipeworks brewery in Chicago. What I found hilarious is the label, which is in line with all their other labels. Look at that Han Solo pirate escaping helicopters and red F1 racing cars, kinda comic book cliché.

With a name like Escape from IPA, it suggests that it’s the anti-IPA (scourge of craft beers). But it’s actually a 10% West Coast styled triple IPA made from 3 hops with the fancy names of Equinox, Galaxy, and Centennial.

Some people bet on racehorses based on their names or the colour of their jockey’s shirt. This is definitely one instance where people may pick a beer based on name or garish label. That’s exactly what my character did.


2d. drinks #4 — free beer while shopping

So a Morrisons in Leeds started offering free beer to shoppers while they go about their weekly shop. Not just beer, they have cider and wine too. The beer they serve is Saltaire Blonde ale from a local brewery.

morrisonsbeer

It’s a whole pint, according to the daily mail (not linking to that drek). Sounds like a good idea, except I’d prefer half or 1/3 pints because of drinking and driving. They should put the featured beer on its own display stand and study how sales increase. I’m very sure more people will buy it because they are given a sample.

what did i miss part 2

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 2. All London related.

1. how to pronounce some place names

londonnames

This is from a few years ago, Londonist’s guide to how to pronounce names of London place names, which cropped up on r/london recently.

No, it’s not Lie-sester Square it’s Lester Square; and Marylebone always stumps non-Londoners. Apparently Rotherhithe too.

Personally, I don’t agree with Ommer-tun for Homerton, I’d pronounce the h. And I always say Aldwych as All-witch.

We shouldn’t make fun of non-locals. I don’t expect to know place names in countries where I don’t know the language, but there are some names in the US and Australia that I can see the word and it’s made up of letters but I cannot put the letters together to form coherent sounds.


2. map of walking times between tube stations

walkingtubemap1

TFL published a map that shows the walking distance between tube stations. There’s also a map that shows the number of steps between stations, so they can put a spin on the “steps = exercise” trend.

Practially, this is a useful map for visitors and newcomers. Every Londoner knows it’s pointless to take the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Between waiting for the train, the actual journey, and the horrendous wait for the lift at Covent Garden, it may take 10-15mins. Walking is 4mins.

walkingtubemap2

There’s another leaflet, journeys that could be quicker to walk [pdf] that is also very useful. For instance, the map would suggest it takes 18mins to walk between Queensway and Bayswater (via Notting Hill Gate) but the journey leaflet tells us it’s only 5mins. Google maps actually say 2mins, but that probably needs running at nighttime with no other pedestrians.


3. john snow’s cholera map

I saw this on a tv program about sewage and how the world’s cities made the jump from being disease infested to, well, less so. It’s all about clean water.

choleramap

The story of how John Snow discovered that cholera spreads through water rather than through the air by plotting a map of outbreaks that showed occurrences near to a water pump in Soho is well known. His use of data mapping is as revolutionary as the discovery itself. The blob of black dots around the pump at Broad (now Broadwick) Street as pretty horrible. But the interesting thing is workers at the nearby brewery were not affected because: a) they drank mainly beer and b) the brewery had its own water supply. That would not have been the case if the disease spread in th air.

So many diseases from 100, 200 years ago are under control. Cholera, TB, measles. Have we reached peak discovery? There doesn’t seem to be huge discoveries like this anymore, more like small incremental ones. Then again, it could be that they were low key. HIV has been contained, and many cancers are less life-threatening now. We have so much to learn.


4. property prices

londonhouseprices

According to bloomberg, london house prices are coming down, with more sellers reducing their prices from originally marketed. A report published by Rightmove says on average the reduction is 6.7% due to:

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

That said, the average in november is still an eye-popping £628,219. I mean, that’s staggering compared with a national average of £311,043.

The article immediate below the one about housing talks about more bad news for the pound, with further drops possible. An uncertain brexit, Theresa May’s uncertain future, all lead to the market being bearish on the pound. This actually is good news for us, since it means we can buy more.

Around the table on tuesday’s lunch we were all talking about property, as a group of middle-aged professionals are wont to do. If only we’d all bought a place in London when we graduated, we’d be all sitting pretty now. Ah well, can’t turn back time. The consensus is, £ and house prices haven’t seen bottom, so it’s worth waiting a little while longer.


5. decadent hot chocolate

Have to end on a more cheerful note. How about the most decadent hot chocolate in the capital. Fortnum’s chocolate bar, Flotsam And Jetsam’s rainbow-coloured white unicorn chocolate, Fattie’s Bakery’s with a toasted marshmallow rim, and the best chocolate café name of all, Choccywoccydoodah. Some of them look like they have far too much whipped cream. My 2 favourites on this list:

darksugars

The one from Dark Sugars that has a mountain of chocolate shards shaved on top. The way the shards melt into the chocolate…

hotelchocclassic

And finally, the classic from Hotel Chocolat. Who needs fancy when you have classical elegance and top quality ingredients.

meatball pasta attempt

pastameatballs201710

Today’s attempt at cooking was meatball pasta. Around 60:40 pork and beef mince, and I used the guardian’s method of substituting eggs with breadcrumbs soaked in milk as the binding agent. Supposed to keep meatballs lighter. Problem was, they were so light that some fell apart when I was browning them.

The sauce was canned tomato, tomato paste, fresh cherry tomato and sun-dried tomato. Enough tomato or what. Added chicken stock and lots and lots of herbs–basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme. I think it was too tomato-y, it tasted primarily of tomato paste and I had to add sugar. Simmered for around 1hr.

I let the meatballs and bits of mince that were broken meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 20mins. Ended up with a pasta dish that was part ragu and part meatballs. I guess it’s all the same.

iphone ice cream

iphoneicecream

Sis gave me a bunch of haagen-dazs vouchers that had been sitting in my backpack for months. They expire on 31 oct so I’ve been a little stressed out trying to figure out how to use them up. I gave them to mum last sunday but she came home empty-handed claiming the shop only served scoops. She also thought we can use them at the supermarket. Um, mum, you can’t use vouchers for shop A in shop B even though shop B sells A brands. That’s r/talesfromretail territory. Plus I know H-D shops have tubs, just need to ask.

Today mum’s out to lunch with her friends so I walked to the H-D shop in the nearby shopping centre. Lo and behold, they do have tubs, only they’re not obviously displayed. They have a special offer of two family-sized tubs for local$238. So I used up 4 of the $50 vouchers. They can put 2 flavours in each tub so I came home with 4 flavours: chocolate, macadamia brittle, blueberry, yuzu. The tubs are pretty large and the server really packed the ice cream in tight. I was showing mm the size and used my spare iphone as unit of measurement.

I had a total of $350 in vouchers so I need to use up the remaining $150. The plan is to meet up with mm at the weekend and go to the H-D shop near her. Neither of us have enough space in our freezers but we can just get scoops.

there’s a new apple in town

honeycrispapple2015

This time of year means honeycrisp apples. Which I can’t get and is a sob-worthy moment. It’s really the only apple I like even though at a pinch I’ll have the readily available fuji. But never, ever red delicious. I’d rather have an orange.

NPR is reporting that in Washington state, apple farmers are ripping out existing fruit trees and replacing them with a new variety because of falling demand of the aforerejected red delicious. The new variety is called cosmic crisp which was developed over 20 years at Washington State University by Dr Bruce Barritt and when he retired, Dr Kate Evans (originally from Kent). 12 million cosmic crisp trees will be planted by 2020, all of them tracing their origins from ONE mother tree still standing in the university’s research orchard.

It will be grown exclusively in Washington state for ten years since farmers there partially funded the breeding program and are investing something like US$50,000 per acre, high stakes for a new product. The first harvest will be in 2019.

Considering the taste and durability of its parents–honeycrisp and enterprise, there is high hopes for cosmic crisp. Honeycrisp is successful because of its taste and crunch but the flavour doesn’t last and the variety is hard to grow. Enterprise’s best characteristic is that it can be stored for a long time and is resilient. In terms of taste, the NYT described cosmic crisp as

dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy

We’re in for interesting times with many new varieties of apples in development or hitting the market soon. SweeTango and Juici comes from Minnesota; a more complex and aromatic derivative of golden delicious called Opal from the Czech Republic; and Kanzi, a gala-braeburn cross from Belgium.

Because we get crappy apples, I don’t eat them. But with so many new varieties coming to market around the world, fingers crossed I get to try at least some.

london a-z food guide

londonfoodtour

BigBusLondon is putting a spin on their hop-off-hop-on London tours: the A-Z food guide. Tourists get a free map and can pick out where to enjoy unusual foods along the various routes. It starts like this:

  • alpaca at Archipelago near Oxford Street
  • bubblewrap waffle at Bubblewrap at Wardour Street
  • cronut at Dominique Ansel near Victoria
  • duck and waffle at, uh, Duck & Waffle at Heron Tower

There’s a medieval banquet near the Tower, roasted bone marrow at St John, and the naga viper chilli wings challenge–naga viper pepper is rated at 1.3 million on the scoville scale (scotch bonnet is 100,000-350,000). For the more difficult letters, they have jellied eel, xiao long bao and zebra, all of which I’ve tried and are good to eat.

Not a bad idea, even though it’s highly likely that the food places are sponsors. No different from all the free city maps we get at tourist information offices and hotels that have recommended restaurants that are thinly disguised ads. Ever notice why hard rock café appears so often on these free maps?

someone invented a tea-making machine

teforia

First there was the Keurig, which spawned countless imitators. The $400 Juicero thankfully shut down. And now another victim of its own frivolity is also shutting down–the Teforia tea infuser. According to the manufacturer it is a “groundbreaking”

machine-learning tea infusion device

and its features include:

  • proprietary tea pods called Sips that cost betwen $1-6, around 2 servings per pod
  • each pod has a RFID chip that enables the device to read the type of tea and therefore length, temperature, amount of water etc needed for brewing
  • connects via bluetooth to an app which gives information such as the last time the user brewed a type of tea and most importantly, allows the user to buy more tea pods
  • connects via wifi so it can be updated with new brewing recipes
  • $1000 for the classic model — now apparently discounted to a bargain at $200

It was doomed from the start. An actual British writer at gizmodo reviewed the infuser and the article is a must-read because the device sounded comically useless. It failed the taste test of earl grey vs tazo brand; not that tazo is any good, mind. And as for english breakfast, otherwise known as “tea” in the UK, I’ll let the reviewer describe it:

The best cup of tea on Earth is the one Mum makes when I arrive in our kitchen from the long flight home, or, if that’s not in reach, one that reminds me of that. The Daybreak reminded me more of the utterly depressing tea I’d buy at the cafe in Heathrow bus station

It’s yet again another Silicon Valley invented solution for a non-existent problem. A tea-making machine that costs the same as an iphone X? Each serving costing a few dollars? Plus tea that tastes like, well, an American made it? Are they having a laugh.

Americans need to stop trying to make tea, they don’t even know how to use use the term cuppa correctly. It’s not a “cuppa of tea” mate.

Automated tea-making machines are not new. There have been teasmades since the 1930s. Swan still makes clock radio teasmads which can be bought at Argos for less than £60. Okay, no fancy app or RFID pods and you have to supply your own teabag. But with a big box of PG or Yorkshire tea costing a few quid (or dollars), if someone really wants a machine to make their tea for them, get a teasmade instead of these not!smart smart devices.

ribs, tomato, pepper, potato

ribstomato

One baking tin dinner tonight, an old favourite and a new preparation.

Went to the market and got boneless ribs. Marinaded with olive oil, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, paprika, garlic, liquid smoke, s&p for 1hr then slow roasted at 160ºC covered with foil for 1.5hrs.

Peppers stuffed with tomato is an old recipe from Delia’s Summer Collection. Halve and roast peppers around the one-hour to go mark, then add tomatoes when peppers are soft. I didn’t have anchovies so I used sun-dried tomatoes instead to compliment the fresh tomatoes and add saltiness. Soaked in hot water to soften then chopped and added with fresh tomatoes.

The potatoes were hasselback potatoes which were made by cutting the potato into thin slices, but not all the way through to the bottom. Seasoned with butter, rosemary and s&p. Added to the baking tin at around the one-hour to go mark.

Everything was ready at around the same time. I don’t think the picture did it justice, tasted much better than it looked.

family visiting | chow mein sandwich

chowmeinsandwich

Met my aunt and cousin for lunch. They’re the Rhode Island relatives; I hadn’t seen my aunt in absolutely ages and I don’t remember her daughter at all. I think when I last saw them last my cousin was still a kid. She’s now all grown up and very tall.

Went to the peking duck and shark’s fin place, which we all agreed is a family favourite. Everyone has memories of going there with my grandparents as hosts. Whenever someone comes for a visit from the US and Canada, that’s where we all go.

My aunt and uncle have a restaurant (or restaurants, I’m not sure) in RI, their parents had a fabulous fried chicken place that I have vague and fond memories of. My cousin showed us a video of their signature dish, the chow mein sandwich. I asked her to send me the video but she hadn’t gotten round to it yet, so here’s a stock pic. My aunt says the dish was responsible for paying for their house and college education for my cousins. It’s been around for decades, so can be considered a precurser of the ramen burger that was the craze a while ago. But where the ramen burger is all hipster pretentiousness, the chow mein sandwich is more down-to-earth. The ramen burger has noodles as the bun, whereas the chow mein sandwich is

crunchy noodles soaked in a super salty, meaty, brown gravy until they’re no longer all that crunchy, then combined with ground pork, onion, celery, and a gelatinous brown gravy that tastes better than it sounds, and slapped sloppily between either half of a cheap hamburger bun

A little investigation, together with a very interesting article at the New England Historical Society reveals that the chow mein sandwich originated at the town of Fall River, Massachusetts which is less than 30mins’ drive from where my RI relatives live, in the Providence area. The sandwich is also unique to that part of southeastern MA and RI.

What’s intriguing is that the chow mein sandwich is attributed to Frederick Wong who started the Oriental Chow Mein Company in 1938. Their Hoo-Mee chow mein mix is what goes into the dish. Frederick’s son Albert and daughter-in-law Barbara took over the family business and the chow mein sandwich mantle. I wonder if they are related to my uncle, who is also a Wong.

There’s so much of my family’s history in that part of the world–my grandmother was born in Newport in 1916 so there’s history going back 100 years–I really want to know more about them. Need to plan and scheme.

smoked water

smokedwater

I see contestants on masterchef smoking food to add flavour. Smoked parsnip purée, smoked vanilla ice cream, smoked fish. For better or worse, sis gave me a small bottle of liquid smoke that I’ve used in ribs and it smells great.

And now there is smoked water. Originally developed for Heston by a salt company in North Wales, 100ml of Halen Môn smoked water costs £4.10. In contrast, whisky costs less per 100ml.

The process of making this smoked water is similar to making whisky where

filtered tap water is circulated through loops that contain oak chips and oak dust and what comes out is an amber liquid with “the cleanest of aromas of burning wood.”

I guess it has its uses, but seems to me to be an overpriced product looking for a market.

the story of how baileys was invented

baileys

TIL Baileys was invented in 1973 by David Gluckman and Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies. Mr Gluckman told the story in the Irish Times recently.

They’d just gotten their business started in London and were asked by the Irish company of their client International Distillers & Vintners (now Diageo) to create a new drinks brand for export.

Hugh: “What would happen if we mixed Irish whiskey and cream?”
David: “Let’s try it.”

We bought a small bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey and a tub of single cream and hurried back. It was a lovely May morning. 1973. Underdogs Sunderland had just won the FA Cup. We mixed the two ingredients in our kitchen, tasted the result and it was certainly intriguing, but in reality bloody awful. Undaunted, we threw in some sugar and it got better, but it still missed something.

We went back to the store, searching the shelves for something else, found our salvation in Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and added it to our formula. Hugh and I were taken by surprise. It tasted really good. Not only this, but the cream seemed to have the effect of making the drink taste stronger, like full-strength spirit. It was extraordinary.

The name Baileys, in totally British fashion, was named after a bistro next to a pub near their office. Those days, Soho Square was where the ad agencies were. The husband of their secretary designed a label that included grazing cows and lush green pastures. They had a couple of focus groups taste the product and one thought it tasted like a medicine for diarrhea. They placed two bottles at a pub at Marylebone Road and there it sat for days until a couple of policemen came and drank the whole bottle.

They went to Dublin to pitch their product and were told by the sales director of the company: “It’s not for the Irish market. It’ll never sell here.” Despite this negativity, the product was launched in the UK and Ireland in 1975. But it took a while before it started gaining popularity.

And the rest is history. David Gluckman went on to write a book about his 40-year career creating brands for the drinks industry. Baileys is now the worlds best selling liqueur brand with 82 million bottles sold every year.

TWE tasting sets


TWE is promoting its newest gift idea, dram-sized tasting bottles and sets. Cute 10ml bottles of all sorts, not only whisky but gin, bourbon etc. Single bottles or a dark wood gift box of multiple bottles plus a glass, what a stroke of packaging and marketing genius. They have a balvenie set, a lagavullin set, a sherry cask set. The tour of Scotland set has auchentoshan, glenfiddich, two lagavullins, talisker. The bourbon discovery set at £44.95 has the usual suspects–makers mark, evan williams, four roses, wild turkey, elijah craig. The Japanese whisky set has chichibu, mars, nikka coffey grain, taketsuru, yamazaki 12 at £54.95. To be honest, totally overpriced and we are definitely paying for packaging.

twechocwhisky

The around the world set has english whisky, miyagikiyo, michter’s, kavalan sherry oak, amrut peated. I’ve tried all of these. English whisky company is current and amrut is in the rotation queue. Miyagikyo is probably my favourite japanese single malt, even more so than the more well-known yamazaki and yoichi. I’m surprised they don’t have a european whiskies set, opportunity wasted.

The sets I’m drawn to are the rarer ones. Lost distilleries, Port Askaig, Laddie set. The chocolate and whisky set at £44.95 should be popular. It helps that in that set they have balvenie, glenfarcas, taisker and port askaig. Actually I wont mind this set, I’ll take the whiskies and give mum the chocolate.

learn one recipe

On an episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Food Fight Club they asked their guest of the week, Selma Hayek, what dish she’d like to learn from any professional chef. She mentioned a Lebanese chef and a Lebanese dish, I didn’t catch the name. But it got me thinking, if I can learn one dish from a professional chef and then forever be able to make it perfectly, what will it be?

For this purpose I will exclude the fiendish 90-step nightmare that are Masterchef pressure test challenges. Most of them are simply impractical to make at home. What if I did learn how to make Christy Tania’s Mystique? I won’t have the opportunity to make it.

There are well-known difficult dishes to master and these are contenders: baked alaska, soufflé, beef wellington. I saw paella and consommé on the list and upon reflection, they are difficult to do well. Classic French cooking is challenging with the emphasis on technique and sauces. Baking too–croissant, sacher torte, gâteau st honoré. Asian dishes such as curries, tamagoyaki, xiao long bao are also not easy to master. I don’t know much about Latin American dishes either. There’s an old mefi thread that has a lot of interesting suggestions in addition to traditional difficult dishes: follow the recipes in cookbooks such as Alinea, El Bulli, Fat Duck; trying to accurately replicate a twinkie or big mac, make your own cheese.

croquembouche03

The most difficult recipes I’ve tried to make are all baking and desserts: croquembouche, chocolate fondant and handmade salted caramel truffles turned out really well; tart tartin and chocolate soufflé less so. The apple tart had a soggy bottom and the soufflé was more like chocolate cake. I don’t know why I’ve always classified desserts as tricky. Rack of lamb is difficult for some people, but I make as often as I make roast chicken.

In my mind, the dishes to be learned can be grouped into categories:

  • time consuming — cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, haggis, head cheese
  • showstopping — baked alaska, beef wellington
  • deceptively simple — sole veronique, perfect roast chicken, scrambled eggs (remember how Gordon Ramsay said it’s how they test new chefs)
  • baking & desserts — bread, croissant, pastry, meringue, macaron, tempering chocolate
  • needs years of practice — sushi, soba noodles, mole
  • sauces — béarnaise, hollandaise, mayonnaise

It’s difficult to pick just one recipe. I’m going to cheat and pick one savoury and one sweet. For savoury the contenders are beef wellington and cassoulet. My choice of cassoulet is based on what I would like to eat again and again and again. I have better access to duck leg than filet of beef and, well, I’d pick duck over beef most days.

gateausthonore

For the sweet recipe, I’ll go with one of the Cordon Bleu’s three most difficult recipes to make: gâteau st honoré because of the sheer number of pastry techniques needed in one single dish:

puff pastry, pâte à choux (dough for cream puffs), caramelized sugar and Creme Chiboust, a filling made from pastry cream and Italian meringue.

flavours

aquavit

Sis gave me a pack of small bottles of aquavit from the Swedish shop a while ago. Since I’m trying to reduce my total amount of stuff, I opened it to give it a try. The labels are all in Swedish and I’m too lazy to google translate them. I can figure out some info from the pictures, there are bottles flavoured with rosemary, orange and some classic-looking labels. Aquavit is a spirit distilled from grain or potato and flavoured with caraway, dill, anise, fennel–caraway being the primary spice used. In Sweden, it’s a holiday or celebration drink drunk as a shot and accompanied with singing, before, during and after each round of shots with increasing enthusiasm. I can definitely taste the caraway and there’s a strong aftertaste of anise too. My first few sips had too much anise, but after a few more, it became sweeter and I was able to tolerate it better. I did not burst into song.

Tried with orange and passionfruit juice (which was what we had in the fridge) and it was quite nice.

Another spirit I’m trying to finish is a small bottle of ouzo I got in Greece. It’s been said that if:

you’re a fan of absinthe, aquavit, or liquorice in general, you’ll dig ouzo

because they all have the base note of anise together with fennel, coriander and cloves. Again, I had it with juice and it was pretty good.

This is very, very odd. I absolutely do not like anise-flavours and I will spit out liquorice. I can’t stand coriander either, it smells like detergent and I can’t stand to have even a small morsel in my food. But I love, love, love fennel and I was fine with both aquavit and ouzo. Okay, I wasn’t very keen on tasting them neat, and perhaps the sweetness of the juice masked the anise notes. I’ve also had absinthe before, once in France and once in the Czech Republic (oh, sorry Czechia) and I didn’t like it. There’s some whacky flavour palate thing going on.

Liquorice, like durian, is a very black-and-white flavour in that people either love it or hate it. There seems to be some scientific theories behind it, that there is a difference between how we handle the aroma vs the taste of flavours. Or precisely, specific chemicals in the food. Anise type food contains glycyrrhiza glabra, and aversion to its taste seems to determine whether someone likes or hates these foodstuffs. The compound that gives this class of food its distinctive smell is anethole, and reactions to smells can be changed over time. Still doesn’t really explain my experience.

One thing is clear, I’ll finish the aquavit and ouzo (with lots of juice), continue to cook fennel, and stay far away from liquorice.

the theatre of food

This was the first semi-final of Bake-Off Crème de la Crème (ie the professionals). One of the tasks was to live plate a dessert in front of the judges. Not only must the dessert taste good, they were also marked on the theatrical element. A lot of prep, planning and teamwork went into creating this experience.

achatztabledessert

The idea of plating a dessert on the table originated at Alinea. Of course. I should have guessed either them or one of Heston’s. It was the last course of of a 20-course menu. With meals starting at US$175 and going up to US$385 for the kitchen table–per person, before wine and must be pre-paid like theatre tickets–diners expect a lot. And with Grant Achatz, I bet they do.

Someone on reddit was posting about showing a pic of this to their SO and complaining about how people are supposed to eat it. SO replied:

You’re supposed to eat this with your eyes.

Food? Art? Foodart? Art food? That’s bordering on very deep.

english whisky

englishwhisky

I saw this English Whisky at M&S and thought I’d give it a try for the novelty factor. I’ve tried small drams by the St George’s distillery before, and the label says distilled in Norfolk, where the company is. I guessed (and confirmed) it’s a Marks and Spark’s exclusive distilled by St George’s.

First clue, NAS. Plus the distillery has only been in operation for about 10 years, so not likely to be more than 7 years old. My first impression, on taking the bottle out of the box, was how pale it is. It seems that it’s barely been aged in barrels at all, or that the barrels used are different from the typical sherry or bourbon barrels for scottish whisky.

Not much of a taste too, not fiery on the palate. My initial reaction was cake, but not as rich as cake. Somewhat sweet but not fruity. It was better when a drop of water was added, more fragrant, sweeter, and a longer finish.

In the UK it’s on sale for £35. I got it for equivalent of £50. For this price, there are plenty of other options. I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t go back to it once this bottle is finished.

a day of errands, and a great beer to end

A day full of errands and running around.

My tenant moved out. We exchanged emails around 2 weeks ago so I know he’s accepted a job offer in another country but I didn’t know that he’d be flying out so soon. He left the keys in the mailbox.

To his credit, he had professional cleaners come in and clean the flat. He also left his large coffee table, a dirt devil vacuum cleaner, a doorframe pull up bar and a modem which he should have returned to the internet provider. He also left lots of beer and vitamin water in the fridge–there must be 20 bottles of beer and 10 bottles of vitamin water. Now I have to figure out what to do with the flat next.

I didn’t have too much time to spend at the flat, I was rushing to a doctor’s appointment to clear my blocked ears. Yeah, I finally decided to get them sorted. It was nice to live at reduced volume but it’s not ideal. I’ve been to this ENT doc since I was young and he knows my ear health history. He poked and vacuumed the gunk out of my ears, pretty uncomfortable but effective. Expensive though, around USD80 and that was without medicine.

Took a bus back across the harbour to Sam’s. He out-did himself this time. Gave me an even better than normal haircut and within 40mins too. This time he cut it shorter than before and it feels so good to have so much of the thickness gone.

Went to the supermarket and bought a couple of bulbs of fennel. Seeing so many contestants use fennel on masterchef gave me a hankering after it. Organic and imported so very expensive. Almost USD10 for two small/medium bulbs. Ah well. Sis gave me a voucher for this supermarket and I still have quite a lot of balance left.

stbernadusabt12

By then it was around 5.30pm and I’d been running around since 1pm. Have over an hour till meeting mm for dinner. Decided on beer over wine so walked over to frites with their huge belgian beer selection. I wanted to see if they have St Bernadus abt 12, which I came across very often when I was googling Westvleteren 12. The story is shortly after WW2 the owners of St Bernadus brewery and the trappist monks from nearby St Sixtus monastery had an arrangement where they would share equipment and location. More importantly, the brewmaster from Westvleteren brought over the recipes, the know-how and the St. Sixtus yeast strain. The arrangement stopped in 1992 when the trappist monks decided that authentic trappist beer could only be brewed and sold within monastery walls. Nevertheless, St Bernadus continued with the recipe.

The long and short of it is, St Bernadus is the nearest alternative to the extremely rare Westvleteren 12.

I didn’t know enough when I was tasting the Westvleteren 12 to get a bottle of St Bernadus too. So I’m comparing a beer today with one I tasted a month ago. There are similarities and differences. Both are dark, creamy and complex. The Westvleteren was richer, smoother and had more dried fruit notes. The St Bernadus seemed more aerated and towards the end, I felt it tasted like any other dark ale whereas the Westvleteren was fruity and rich even at the end.

I still think the St Bernadus is a top-notch beer. Frites has happy hour monday to friday between 3-8pm and it was half price. With Westvleteren extremely difficult to get, I’ll be back again to taste the St Bernadus and I won’t feel like it’s a second choice.

solskinsoen

via Outside magazine, Solskinsoen is a film about running a brewery on an island in Denmark.

Penyllan brewery is located on Bornholm, which is mainly a holiday destination that fills up with holiday crowds in the summer and is very quiet in winter.

penyllan

What a beautiful place and committed brewers. They’ve only just started, their website is a landing page only. Their fb page says they will launch their first beers on 4 October.

camping food test

When I created my emergency go bag, I bought a pack of MRE to put in the bag. It’s vacuum sealed and can be stored for years. The mains is chicken pesto pasta, and there are other pouches in the pack with crackers and stuff. I hadn’t given much thought about the flavour, I think I was more focused on a value-for-money single pack that could keep for a while.

Looking at the Wirecutter post about best camping food, I’m thinking when the MRE expires I should consider supplementing with other food. The camping food in the test are one-pouch meals that are prepared by adding boiling water. First they did a taste test of specialised camping food vs standbys from the supermarket like spaghetti and mac & cheese in their office. Interesting discovery:

a surprising number of our backpacking standbys are, in fact, revolting when served indoors on real dishes

Then they asked their testers to take the camping food with them on one- or two-week hiking trips in locations as varied as Corsica, the Colorado 14k peaks, and the 1,000 mile Centennial Trail in Idaho. The food they tested weren’t boring chicken pasta. They had curries, chili, noodles, fajita as well as the usual pasta and meat flavours.

campingfoodthaicurry

Their best in terms of taste was a Thai curry. It’s likely that after a long and exhaustive day hiking, the testers’ palate appreciate the intensity of flavour of the curry. Seems like there’s a lot of vegetables and the addition of powdered coconut milk (in a separate packet) is a winner. The disadvantages are price, small portion size and it took a long time to rehydrate.

ramen

ramenyokohama

Had a meeting in the morning, don’t want to jinx it by giving too much away.

I finished around noon, so I was on the lookout for a quick lunch. Wandered around and the candidates were the usual diners, one that has pasta and a glass of wine, or this ramen shot that usually has a big crowd outside waiting. When I went to the ramen shop, it was just 12.05pm and there were counter seats. So ramen it was. The name of the shop is Yokohama ramen, but I don’t think there is anything special about Yokohama.

Watched the chefs make the ramen and they were authentic enough. The ramen were from Japan and the broth made from pork bones. I had one with the charsiu in cubes as opposed to the usual sliced. Overall, enjoyed the meal. When I left, there were already more than 10 people queuing outside.

meat index

ire055butchercote

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.

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.

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.

giant mango drink

giantmangodrink

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.

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?