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In the past I've always felt very much demotivated when HWMBO goes off to Singapore to visit his family for Chinese New Year. I don't want to cook, I spend too much time online, I go to bed late, I wake up early, all that and more. So this year I decided that perhaps I'd at least remedy the "no cooking" part of this.

I saw a bag of dried black-eyed peas in Tescos, and thought to myself: Bean Soup. I got some other things, and this morning, right after breakfast, I put it together. At around 1:30 PM, it looked like this.

It smells heavenly, but I'm going to let it mature overnight and have some for lunch tomorrow. In the fridge some of the grease that's left will solidify at the top and I'll be able to skim that off. Here's my recipe.

Bean with Bacon Soup

You can put any sort of bean into this soup, but it's probably best to have a small pea bean type such as navy beans, black-eyed peas, or the like. Kidney beans would be too big and overpowering. Wash the beans and soak them overnight. Then drain and rinse them, put them in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat down to simmer and keep them going for 1/2 hour. This is very important, as raw beans are poisonous, as well as being pretty difficult to eat. Then drain and rinse them yet again. They will now be fit to use in your soup. Set them aside in a colander until needed.

I used a whole head of garlic, peeled and chopped. That's because I like garlic and the bacon flavour would probably overpower it.

Then chop 1 bell pepper, 1 medium onion, and a few stalks of celery. Put all this in a bowl and put aside for the moment.

Now take one package of smoked bacon lardons and one package of smoked back bacon, cut into smallish squares. Put some olive oil in the pot and when it's nice and hot dump in the lardons and bacon, stirring well until they're a bit brown. Add the garlic, let it mix for around a minute, then dump in the vegetables. At this point turn the heat down just a bit, cover the pot, and sauté everything for 5-7 minutes.

While they're sautéing, get two Knorr's Ham cubes and crush them in a measuring cup, then add boiling water to maybe 3/4 of the way up the cup. Once the vegetables are tender, add the beans and pour the ham stock you just made over them, adding additional water if required. You probably won't need additional salt, but grind some pepper in it and add some thyme, maybe 1/4 teaspoonful. Bring it to the boil for 5 minutes or so, and skim whatever scum rises to the surface. Then turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for a couple of hours. Taste and correct the seasoning if required.

I tried a little bit, and it tastes really good. Be careful of added salt, as ths stock cubes are plenty salty enough for this soup. I'm going to have it with a small salad and a stick of French bread. The amount I've made will probably last for quite a while so I may freeze some for enjoyment later. If HWMBO is very lucky, I might have some left when he gets back.
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As so many good things start, and not a few bad things too, this story starts with Christmas. Every year the major supermarket chains in the United Kingdom begin at the end of September to clear shelves of items that people need in order to make room for things they might want for Christmas. Gift packs of wine, beer, and spirits, often accompanied by a glass, or a packet of mints, replace toilet paper, coffee and tea, and pet food. A byproduct of this process is that various items that are surplus to requirements are sold for a fraction of their value.

A week ago there was a glut of canned tomatoes on the remainder shelves. The amount of shelf space for vegetables and the like would be reduced, so the tomatoes were on sale. I picked up a four-pack of plum tomatoes, brought it home, and wondered what to do with it.

As is now my custom, instead of poring through cookbooks for something appropriate, I googled the phrase "recipes with tomatoes and beef" and the first hit was titled "Beef Tomato Stew". I thought, "Wonderful, we haven't had beef this week and I can use my newly-acquired tomatoes." So I printed it off and made sure I had the rest of the ingredients. I'll add the recipe to the end of this blog post.

I only had half a kilo of stew beef, so I would have to pick up another 1/2 kilo in order to make this work. Across from Tesco's in the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a new shop, with the odd name of Meat and Meat. It sounds like a stab at a name for a gay bar in the Meatpacking District in Manhattan, actually. It's a shop that sells non-UK foods and ingredients, and halal meat. I thought to myself, "I'll get my stew beef there and see what their meat is like." and that's what I did.

I began cooking yesterday, and followed the instructions to the letter. However, when I served it up to HWMBO, who is not only my husband but also the breadwinner of the household, he complained that the meat was too tough. I tried mine, and the beef I'd gotten from Meat and Meat was full of gristle and tendon and, really, inedible.

Now stews and soups are special favourites of mine. I generally do well at them, and often make them, winter and summer, as they are great one-dish meals that only need a salad and some bread to make them complete. And yet, this one was a horror.

I pondered over it, and today decided to decant the stew into a casserole pot and bake it in the oven for two hours. I also cut up the offending meat into somewhat smaller portions.

After two hours in the oven (I also added some water to ensure that the entire thing didn't dry up in there) I served it up over rice. And, lo and behold, the meat was tender and moist, all of it. HWMBO said that, although his jaw was sore today from trying to chew yesterday's stew beef, he liked it much better today and the meat was easy to chew.

Now, what's the point of this story? The point is this: sometimes recipes are sketchy about their requirements. This one said that the meat would be soft and tender after 30-40 minutes. It took two hours on the stove and two hours in the oven to soften this beef, but the end result was, as is often said, better on the second day. Don't believe everything you read in a recipe. But, also, don't despair if the first try turns out inedible. There is usually a way to salvage whatever you've cooked. And finally, if you're cooking for your special someone, it's heartwarming to hear that you've cooked something that's tasty and nice. I was chuffed to bits when HWMBO said that today's stew was miles better than yesterday's effort. He makes it all worthwhile.

Here's the recipe. I've modified the directions. If you make this I hope you enjoy it, and remember that not everything that Christmas brings is easy.

Beef Tomato Stew Recipe—Ternera con Tomate

Serving Size : 4

3 Tbsp olive oil—(3 to 4)
2 lbs. beef stew meat in chunks—(1 kg)
2 large garlic cloves
2 yellow onions—peeled and chopped
1 can stewed or crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine or 1/4 cup brandy
2 roasted red peppers
2 sprigs parsley

In a large Dutch oven or a casserole pot that's oven-proof, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add beef and stir to brown on all sides. Make sure that the beef does not stick to pan. Add olive oil if necessary.

Add the chopped onions and sauté on medium to low heat for 5 minutes or so. Add the crushed tomatoes and let cook for 5 minutes.

While the beef and tomatoes are cooking, peel the garlic and smash it in the mortar with the parsley. Add a bit of the white wine and swish to clean any garlic and parsley that may be stuck to the inside.

Pour contents of mortar and rest of white wine into the pot. Slice the red pepper in half and add to the pot. Stir well. Cover loosely and simmer 30-40 minutes. Keep a close eye on the sauce and if it thickens too much, add a small amount of water.

Then, place the pot into an oven heated to Gas Mark 5/375° F/190° C. Leave for two hours, looking in occasionally and adding a bit of water if it is getting dry. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes or so. Serve over noodles or rice with a side salad and some crusty bread.

NOTES: Chunks of beef (or veal) cooked until tender in tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers makes this easy beef tomato stew. Although you might think of this as a wintery beef tomato stew, it is a great dish for any time of year. We recommend making it a day ahead of time and re-heating it just before serving. This will mellow the tomato sauce and it actually tastes better! It's also a great way to use leftover grilled meat.

You’ll need a wooden or plastic mortar and pestle for this recipe. Why use a mortar and pestle? Using a pestle in a downward circular motion to force ingredients against the surface of the mortar and smashing it will release more flavor than using a food processor. (It doesn’t use electricity and it’s easier to clean, too!)
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I am always looking for interesting, simple, and tasty recipes to keep HWMBO and myself well-fed and happy. Thanks to [ profile] tim1965, I've found another one.

I have to preface this recipe with the comment that, over years of making stews and soups of various sorts, I have always been cursed by stringy beef. On top of the stove, it never actually gets tender and moist. It's always been stringy and somewhat dry. This dish, however, was tender, moist, and melt-in-your-mouth good. I shall have to try cooking other stews and soups in the oven, rather than on top of the stove.

Here's the ingredient list as Tim gives it:

2 bacon slices—finely diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck roast—boned, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove—minced
5 cups onion—thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 can beef broth—(10-1/2-ounce)
1 can light beer—(12-ounce)
1 bay leaf
6 cups egg noodles—cooked (about 1 12-ounce package)

I'll start out by saying that British bacon is not as good for this purpose as US bacon. I think that using pancetta (Italian bacon pieces for cooking) might be better. British bacon seems to be (at least the stuff I bought at Tesco) full of water and not very useful as an ingredient in cooking. I also used regular stew beef rather than the chuck roast. I think they're equivalent in this dish, and the results bear this out. Finally, I didn't have any light beer but I did have a bottle of bitter, so I used that rather than the light beer.

All that having been said, here we go.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/Gas Mark 3.

Cook bacon slices in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp; remove bacon with a slotted spoon, reserving drippings in pan. Set bacon aside.

Add beef, salt, and pepper to drippings in pan; cook 5 minutes, browning beef well on all sides. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Add sliced onion to pan; cover and cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, and cook 2 minutes.

Add vinegar and the next 5 ingredients (vinegar through bay leaf), and bring to a boil.

Return bacon and beef to pan. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours or until beef is tender, and discard the bay leaf.

Serve over noodles.

When it's finished, it looks like this:

Now after some thought, I took down my copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and looked up the recipe. She calls it Carbonnades à la Flamande, and remarks:

Beer is typical for the Belgian braise, and gives a quite different character to beef than the red wine of the bourguignon. A bit of brown sugar masks the beer's slightly bitter quality, and a little vinegar at the end gives character. Serve this with parsley potatoes or buttered noodles, a green salad, and beer.

Her recipe departs from Tim's in several ways. She only specifies "rendered pork fat" rather than bacon, and allows for "good cooking oil". She uses 4 cloves of garlic, not one. She uses slices of beef, not cubes. And, finally, rather than putting the flour and vinegar into the dish while cooking, she removes the meat and onions to a plate and thickens the sauce that's left with flour dissolved in vinegar, then pours the sauce over the meat/onion mixture and serves it thus.

I may try her method of thickening the sauce the next time I make this. Another departure I might make is putting button mushrooms in with the onions to sauté. There is a distinct lack of texture except for the beef, and I am wondering whether mushrooms might improve the dish.

Good food is important. This is a good dish, and tastes wonderful. I am so grateful to [ profile] tim1965 for drawing my attention to it, as well as for all the other features of his blog.
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In the [ profile] retro_cookbooks community, there's not much activity, but when there is some, it's lush.

The latest entry is a book from the 70's (perhaps) called Be Bold with Bananas.

Do go there and be horrified.

Our dinner

Oct. 2nd, 2010 08:57 pm
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There is an innovation at the Elephant and Castle: we now have a farmer's market on Saturdays. It's not very big: 5 stalls, with bread, drinks, 2 vegetable stalls, and a meat stall. I bought some bread, 3 ears of very fresh corn, some Brussels sprouts that are the size of mini cabbages, and four free-range chicken thighs.

Now I'm not a vegetarian, nor do I play one on TV. However, I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the way that our food is grown and provided to us by the big supermarkets. Tesco often has corn on the cob, two smallish ears, wrapped up in cellophane but bereft of the protective leaves, ready to cook. I have found it pretty insipid. Their free-range chicken is expensive but just doesn't taste like Mom's chicken, in any way, shape, or form.

So I baked the four chicken thighs, set the pot of water on the stove and shucked the three ears of corn. I cut one ear in half (there are only the two of us), and boiled them for the scant amount of time that it took for them to be heated through.

So we sat down to a salad, 1-1/2 ears of corn, and two medium-sized baked chicken thighs. Everything was perfect. The corn tasted almost (but not quite) like the corn we used to buy from my step-grandfather's farm stall in Marblehead. Fresh, juicy, easily bitten off the cob, delicious with or without butter.

We don't say grace before meals. I never have, except in the seminary. However, as I looked at the plate, I said a silent prayer of thanks for the farmer who dragged his produce all the way from Kent to a farmer's market in deepest, darkest South London—a market which is not yet popular enough to have crowds thronging the stalls. I also thanked the chicken for giving up its life for our table. This might seem somewhat pagan but, you know, it made me feel much better, for some reason. The Spirit that animates us all certainly cast a little bit of itself into that chicken, and the least I can do is thank that little bit of Spirit for keeping us nourished.
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We've had deep-fried Mars bars and the like, and there is a Scottish restaurant that guarantees to deep-fry anything you bring it to eat. But this offering in the Fried Food competition at the Texas State Fair takes the cake…er…pint.
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It was Saturday, and I awoke with some eye irritation, probably from a piece of the hard crust that forms in the corner of your eye when you're asleep. This is always annoying, and made me feel pretty awful. Blood sugar was good this morning, though, and thus I had an interesting day.

I decided that I needed to clean some of the pots and pans that had been accumulating grease deposits for a while, so off to the DIY store at the Elephant I went. Bought two boxes of Brillo, two different types of pot cleaner, and some caustic soda for the upstairs bathroom (hair gets down in the trap and there you have it…).

I cleaned the enamel casserole pot first. It had lots of brown gunk on the bottom, burned on. The pot cleaner (kind of a paste, applied with a web cloth) seems to have softened the gunk—then the Brillo pad and a little elbow grease removed it. I was amazed. It's still a bit the worse for wear, but it's clean. I followed that with a shine on our Moka espresso pot, and that cleaned up too. It is amazing how accomplished doing this kind of thing makes you feel.

I kvetched to my friend Fraffie Welch in Marblehead about the awful Tesco corned-beef hash I had a few days ago after reading her column in the Marblehead Reporter. She replied saying that Prudence hash is the best canned hash around. Unfortunately, this isn't available here in the UK and I don't think it would be a good idea to get another appetite that can only be satisfied by hauling cans back from the US. So, I made my own.

Sliced some raw potatoes and parboiled until they were nearly done. Sautéed onions in my mother's black cast-iron frying pan, then drained the potatoes, cut them up some more, and dumped them in to fry along with the onions. Took two cans of corned beef (Yes, I know—I should have used fresh corned beef but you can't get it here, at least not in the places I shop), wondered yet again why these cans have a key rather than just letting us open them normally (perhaps it's the squareness of the cans), then had to disentangle the first key from the can lid because the second can was missing its key, and finally got them both open and the contents mashed up and sliced a bit. Into the frying pan it went, and I fried it until it was heated through.

Tesco's hash was something that looked like what I used to fill my diaper with, studded with large cubes of barely cooked potato. My hash, while it was not perfect, had some texture and flavour. I made myself a salad, poured a glass of Diet Bitter Lemon, and voilà!

Couldn't finish all the hash, so into the fridge it went for tomorrow's dinner. HWMBO will be back Monday morning, thank goodness! Back to normal.

Of course, while I was making my dinner, others were catching and eating theirs. Yesterday I went into the back garden to discard some vegetable garbage on my compost heap, such as it is. I was startled to see a large spider web above the heap, with a very large spider waiting for its dinner smack in the centre. I'm kind of an arachnophobe, so I was a bit unnerved, but discarded my garbage and went back inside.

Today, of course, there were potato and onion peelings to go onto the heap, but when I took them out I saw that the spider, too, was eating its dinner. A bee was caught in the web, and the spider was coming and going, eating a bit and then moving around a bit. Perhaps it had already injected its venom to liquify the bee's innards, for easier digestion.

Does anyone else think of The Fly when they see this picture? I know I did. I hope the bee was already dead by then.

In Masonic symbolism, a beehive symbolises the industry that we should all show in our public and private lives. I wonder if a spider in her web is even more symbolic of the effort to which we should strive each day. I feel accomplished today, like a bee but also like the spider. I am glad that I don't have to capture my dinner, kill it, and then liquify its innards in order to eat it. The spider, were it to know about our lives, would probably be quite happy not to have to run to Tesco's every time it was hungry, be behind one of these people who makes the clerk pick change out of his hand to pay for his shopping, be in front of a guy who had obviously been inside his house for months smoking every waking minute and exhaling into his clothing, and being served by a guy who was suffering from too much work and too many boneheaded customers—thus making me the perfect person at whom to snap when it was time to snap.

I wonder if the spider has to clean off its web when its bee dinner is finished, to make the web ready for breakfast.
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This is a very unique way to boil an egg for your breakfast. After all, I always thought it was the sperm that was held in the barrier, not the egg...
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Joe Godlewski is a retired barber, but he knows a business opportunity when he sees it. You've heard of kosher salt? Well, he's selling Christian salt. Blessed by an Episcopal priest, no less.

I suspect that the ladies and gentlemen of the AMIA and various other far-right separatist Anglican organisations may want to come out with their own alternative, blessed by Bob Duncan and called "Straight Male Christian Salt".
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A reporter for The New York Times named, oddly, Jennifer 8. Lee (I haven't yet discovered what the "8" stands for but that's how it's written everywhere I've found it) has done some research on Chinese food throughout America. It is riveting for anyone who loves Chinese food, as I do, as well as very very funny. You won't look at Beef with broccoli the same way ever again, and Chop Suey will appear in its real form.

Thanks to degenerasian for this.

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Yesterday afternoon we went to Tate Modern to see the Unilever exhibition and the Mark Rothko "Late Series". I was a bit disappointed in both.

The Unilever is a series of futuristic tableaux at the opposite end of the Turbine Hall from the doors, separated by strips of translucent coloured strips hanging from the balcony. When you go through, there are a series of steel bunk beds, two-deep, lacking mattresses, some of which have books laid on the mesh bedsprings. There is a dinosaur skeleton in one corner, a movie loop in another corner (science fiction), and Louise Bourgeois's giant spider Maman, Alexander Calder's Flamingo, and some other sculptures scattered around. I found it disconcerting. Others may find it not so disconcerting.

As for Rothko, I guess I'm just a philistine. I don't see anything useful or beautiful in his canvases. Apparently one is hung upside-down but I couldn't tell which. Luckily we are Tate members so we didn't have to pay to get into this one.

The Starbucks in the new office building across the street from Tate was open (every other time we've been there it had closed before we got out of the museum) and we had our usuals. Then we walked home and that was about it for the afternoon.

We went to the Indian restaurant in the shopping centre with [ profile] spwebdesign in the evening and were, yet again, disappointed. The okra (according to all reports; I don't eat the stuff) was old, my chicken was disappointing (the chunks were too big) and they wouldn't provide us with a pitcher of water...instead we had to ask for glass-by-glass refills. Teejus in the extreme.

Today is also a pain. Good sermon at St. Matthew's, but nearly 20 minutes long. We had pasta with red pesto sauce for lunch...very good it was, too. Then I was going to the gym, but it began to bucket down rain and HWMBO told me not to go out--so protective. He's in the living room watching re-runs of episodes from the first and second seasons of the X-Files. I'm sad, as I'm blogging instead of doing something useful.
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1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Make recommendations of specific places/products when possible.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans (Or Cajun variants thereof.)
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (what the f*ck is this?)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (if someone else pays)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonalds Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frog’s legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (deer)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake
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Last night I got back from Nuneaton having discovered, by chance, that it is at almost the exact geographical centre of England. W00t! HWMBO was seeing a departing co-worker off, and didn't manage to get home until 9 pm! So instead of home-cooked duck we had Indian food at the shopping centre. Back home and to bed, warmly and with a fan.

This morning we had cereal instead of toast because we forgot to buy any bread yesterday...such an exciting life we lead. We went to Tate Modern this afternoon to see the Cy Twombly exhibition. We got separated inside it, and I thought HWMBO was behind me when he was actually in front of me. I sat there until I got a phone call in the middle of the exhibit (very embarrassing). I rushed through the rest of the rooms, which didn't annoy me too much as I have trouble appreciating Twombly. I suspect I didn't miss much.

We then had a drink at Starbucks, and walked to Waterloo Station so that HWMBO could get some cake for himself from Marks and Spencers. They didn't have the exact kind of cake he wanted, so he got strawberry cheesecake. I won't be having any...

Duck, corn-on-the-cob, and carrots for dinner. I then started ripping massive amounts of CDs to my new iPod and HWMBO is watching Ugly Betty. We have also discovered that there's a problem with our Sky (either the antenna or the box). We don't pay for maintenance, so I expect we'll be paying a bundle for someone to come out. However, it should be less of a bundle than if we paid a maintenance fee.

Tomorrow I'm preaching at St. John's, then vegging. Need to buy train tickets for Brighton Pride next Saturday, and for Nuneaton all week.
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...barely. I got off to a good start in London, as I got through bag drop off and security in record time. Then we got on the plane and the fun started.

I've often complained about British Airways's food, and this time was no different. The cabin attendant (Scottish) came down the aisle offering the entree, and when he got to me I thought he said "Chicken casserole or fresh pie." "Fresh pie!" I thought, "I could use some beef right now." Well, it wasn't fresh pie he was offering, it was FISH pie! What a shock. Luckily, as it was British Airways, the fish tasted nothing like fish so I could choke it down.

Then I went to sleep. I was in an aisle seat. A married couple (youngish) sat next to me. Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder. It was the cabin attendant, asking me to move so that the married couple could troop to the toilet. I told them, "Please, if you need to get up, you can wake me up. You don't need to get a higher authority to do it." They were sheepish, in more ways than one.

I had tried to get my iPod Nano going. I selected a song, and it froze. Nothing I pressed would unfreeze it. So I was convinced it was broken. (In the hotel room, I found that if I connected it to my laptop the computer booted the iPod so it now seems OK again.) Not a great flight, with no decent music.

However, I found that they were running an old episode of Yes, Prime Minister, the one where the PM moans about what an absolute evil man his predecessor was. Then the news comes in that his predecessor has just died. Then a Simpsons, and the pilot of Ugly Betty. I loved! it. I want more!

We got here, I took a cab into town ($45 plus tip and tolls), and to my room at the Holiday Inn Express on W. 29th St. Nice room, low on the amenities but big. Went to Moonstruck Restaurant on 23rd and 9th for dinner; yet again, I'm bamboozled by the huge American portions. And the meatloaf tasted like they put nutmeg or allspice in it (which they probably did). Back to my room to read and write this post. Now to bed. Hoping to go to dinner with [ profile] alwaysroom4gelo Monday night, after the torture at work begins.
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You don't get bottle pictures very often.

I eat salad at home two-three times a week. In our local Tesco, you have very little choice and most of it is not great (although they do sell Paul Newman Italian and Ranch dressing). We went to Waitrose around Christmas, and found a lot of good salad dressings, one of which is Brianna's Blue Cheese Dressing. I love blue cheese dressing, so I bought a bottle, thus. Note the lovely picture of the red onion on the label.

Now take a closer look at the neck label:

Stands to reason. If I wanted Red Onion Dressing, that's what I would have bought.
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Well, I'm back in London now, but not without incident. Let me backtrack.

Monday we went shopping yet again. Got the usual (razor blades, Irish Spring soap) and unusual (Puma trainers for £7.50, underwear) at BJ's in Danvers. We also went to Best Buy and I ogled the new Ipods, but decided against, as I would have trouble with the War Department (aka HWMBO) if I bought yet another one.

Then I went to Boston to dine at Scollay Square restaurant with my Boston friends. Bob and Margaret are friends from Luti; Margaret is "co-owner". And, from Live Journal and soc.motss, [ profile] jwg and [ profile] rsc. The restaurant is named after the former "red light" district of Boston, where numerous sailors used to come to drink and "socialise". In the late '50s the city fathers decided to raze it to the ground and erect Government Centre, that soulless plaza with City Hall in the centre of it. The restaurant is somewhat pretentious, as a look at their menu might show. So, first off, here is The Wedge salad.

It was tasty but a bit, well, unsatisfying. Then came the entrée, All-Natural Prime Hanger Steak:

The potatoes are hidden under the steak, which is itself hidden under potato sticks. I didn't bother to take pictures of the sorbet, which was my dessert. One difficulty we all had was the ubiquitous serving staff. Years ago, a great restaurant could be differentiated from a mere greasy spoon by the suavity of its staff. If you had a problem or a question, there were right there to help you. When you didn't need them, and were in the middle of a conversation, they did not come up and ask you whether everything was all right. These days the waiter (Taylor, a very bouncy young lady) and the manager, whose name we did not catch, both asked us (at separate times) whether everything was OK. We lost the thread of our conversation each time. Worse than that, Taylor cleared plates somewhat assiduously, managing to remove Margaret's plate before she was finished eating. This is maddening. At a Chinese restaurant, you expect to have your plate removed as soon as (but no sooner than) you have finished eating. However, at a "premium" restaurant, plates should not be cleared before everyone at the table has finished. As no one smokes at table any more (as it's illegal) there are no cigarette butt-smeared plates any more, simply plates that once harboured your meal and now do not. They can wait until all are finished before clearing.

We were amused by three separate sounds of crashing, smashing crockery during our dinner. All in all, a tasty but ultimately unsatisfactory experience, tempered by the wonderful company:

In order, Margaret, [ profile] jwg, me, Bob, and [ profile] rsc. A lovely time was had by all.

I forgot to mention in my Sunday entry that instead of buying the memory for my uncle's computer from a shop, I decided to order from Crucial and have it delivered overnight, so that I would be sure to have it in time to install it before I returned to London. On Tuesday afternoon the memory duly arrived, and I installed it. It worked a treat--my uncle was amazed at how much faster the computer had become (going from 1GB to 2.5GB does wonders). My uncle is the last of the older generation of my family (on both sides) and his computer and his music program (Encore) mean the difference between sitting in front of the television watching bad daytime TV and keeping a sharp mind going. Some of the stuff he's done is really fantastic, and the MIDI instrument set he bought with Encore, Garritan is great. It produces really amazing instrumental sounds. Apparently, Wendy Carlos also uses it, so my uncle is in good company.

Tuesday evening was Lodge, and it was, as usual, an interesting night. Now that I'm more clued in to what goes on in a Lodge, I could appreciate the differences and similarities between Massachusetts working and my own home Taylor's working. The essentials are the same (the oath is very similar) but such things as opening and closing the lodge are quite different. Philanthropic is a bit more casual in opening and closing the Lodge than we are at Goliath. One of the candidates was Raised by the Senior Warden (who is not a Past Master), which would be impossible under UGLE rules. I met several people I hadn't seen in years; one of the candidates had been at Star of the Sea Church with me, and also an altar boy. Two others had been in grammar school with me. I shamefully admit that I did not recognise any of the three, although they all recognised me. I do not think this is gathering senility; not having lived in Marblehead for more than 37 years has blurred names and faces to the point that I cannot recall most of them with any accuracy. The dinner was Chinese takeaway buffet, and wasn't particularly good Chinese takeaway at that. Oh, well, Harold paid for my meal ticket, so he can complain with more justification.

Wednesday was interesting, Ruth picked me up at home and we went to Salem to eat lunch. She took me to a place called "Victoria Station" which was a British-Rail-themed restaurant. The menu wasn't very British, and the portions were huge. We both had Chicken Parmigiana (something which I have never seen on a British menu), and I was gobsmacked at the size of the portion:

I could only eat one of the chicken pieces and a few forkfuls of the pasta. We packed the rest for Ruth's lunch and dinner the next day.

Then, on to the barn. On the way we detoured to pass my grandparents' house in South Hamilton. It's been painted dark grey by the new owners and it looks rather grim. I do hope it's nice for them.

In the evening we went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. My uncle, Harold, Ruth, and Linda (Ruth's best friend) and I waited for more than 1/2 hour for a table, as there were 5 of us. We were finally seated (and promised a free appetiser to make up for the wait) next to a table with three rambunctious children. Thank goodness they were finishing. The menu has changed slightly from last year, with fewer choices, but I managed. I had a prime rib, medium, with mashed potatoes and a salad. No dessert, but a Manhattan. The steak was cooked exactly right, and was delicious, once I'd trimmed off the fat.

The family seated next to us was replaced by another family whose younger son looked like Pugsley from the infamous Addams Family. We sniggered and snapped our fingers surreptitiously.

Back home, and now I was concerned about the weather. The snowstorms that dumped 16" on eastern Massachusetts hadn't melted at all, as it had hardly risen above freezing. The forecast was for more snow Thursday morning, just as I was to travel home. I had packed on Wednesday afternoon, and awoke on Thursday at 4:15 am, got dressed, put the rest of my things in the stuffed suitcase, and Linda picked me up to go to Logan Airport. We got there without much trouble, and I got through check-in and security fairly quickly. Once I got on the plane, however, the fun started. We needed to be de-iced, and were third-in-line for that. Then, once we got into the queue for takeoff, we had to wait as there was only one runway free and it was being used for both takeoffs and landings. We were two hours late taking off. So breakfast became lunch, and snack became dinner. We landed at Heathrow at about 10 pm, and I was home by 11, as the immigration and luggage queues were minimal. Unpacked immediately and then fell into bed. Friday was a washout, as I felt washed-out myself. I'm just starting to perk up now on Saturday morning. To work on Christmas Eve!

Other travel pictures under the cut to spare your bandwidth )
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Saturday dawned bright, but cold. A horrible storm was on its way, so we must go shopping first!

My soon-to-be ex-sister-in-law arrived at 10, so I "hid" downstairs with my uncle until my sister arrived to ferry me around; she also brought a warm coat to make up for the fact that I'm so lame I didn't bring one. We went to Swampscott to have lunch and look for memory for my uncle's computer. No memory there, so we went on to Danvers to a Best Buy; no suitable memory there. However, I picked up a set of Harmon-Kardon speakers with subwoofer for him, as the Bose speakers he was using were a bit anemic-sounding. Ruth took me up to see the horses while she fed and mucked them, then back home to install the speakers.

Once I figured out how to increase/decrease volume, those speakers rawked! My uncle is 78 at the moment, and the only way he keeps his mind active is to transcribe music from scores into the music program in his computer. The sound was a bit funky, and he had been futzing with the controls to try to make it better. Once we got this system installed, everything just perked up: it was clear, bright, and there was some bass for the first time.

When I saw how his eyes lit up as the sound system started working as it should have, I realised why parents are so happy and pleased when they give a gift to their children that the kids really like. It's not a feeling that childless people like myself get very often, so it was worth the wait.

Then we went out to the local Chinese restaurant, Fantasy Island, in Salem. I may have written about it before, but I have to say that it's really not the greatest Chinese restaurant I've ever patronised. First, they brought a basket of four large rolls and butter. Rolls and butter? In a Chinese restaurant? Aiyoh! Then my brother and sister ordered a Pu-Pu Platter, which is a large plate with a little Sterno burner in the middle, surrounded by deep fried meat and prawns. Instant coronary, I would think. My uncle had the egg rolls from it, and used that very hot mustard as a dip. Augh! Everything here is so huge: the portions, the pieces of meat; it was incredible. I had chicken wonton soup, which was OK, nothing too special, and Sesame beef, which, again, was OK but was three times the size of a portion at our local Chinese in London, the Well. I ate about 2/3rds of it, and my sister, brother, and uncle managed to get through about 1/2 of the Pu-Pu platter.

I suppose that for the sake of the sensibilities of my Chinese friends, I should put that last paragraph behind a cut. Well, my children, someday you will learn that Chinese food is not the same the world over, and some places are positively dreadful. You may actually be dragged to these places by your ang moh friends. So be prepared, and be very scared.

Today I haven't left the house, as 6 more inches of snow fell this morning. There is now about 16 inches on the ground (around 40 cm) and while it's warmish now (about 4C) it'll get colder than freezing overnight and the whole town will be an ice rink tomorrow. Didn't go to church, sadly; most of them were closed, I think.

Tomorrow, more shopping, and then dinner in Boston with [ profile] rsc and [ profile] jwg and some friends from Luti. Tuesday is our Lodge meeting (where the dinner is...wait for it...Chinese buffet. Argh!) and Wednesday we're going to Outback. Thursday, weather permitting, I'm back home. The time really flies.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
It's a picture, and there is no recipe, sadly, but I think that this picture might be attractive to a certain ailuropod, namely [ profile] trawnapanda. I came across it as I was adding tags to previous posts, and just could not resist. Yum! I think I'll have one before dinner.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
If you want to cook some Thai chili sauce (spelled "chilli" here in Blighty) you might want to warn passers-by that the odour they are sensing is cooking, not poisonous gas.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
My Archdeacon is travelling to Singapore in December to attend a Muslim-Christian interfaith conference being held there. As he knows HWMBO is Singaporean, he's asked us to give him some tips for good restaurants. We thought that perhaps our friends in Singapore might be able to give even better guidance. Non-Western restaurants, of course, with a preference for Singaporean or Asian delicacies that can't be eaten or gotten in restaurants here in London.

If you could leave a comment with the name of the restaurant, the address, and what kind of cuisine it offers, along with your favourite dish(es) there, I would be most grateful.

I am also giving him the recent New Yorker "Singapore Journal" article on Singapore food, so he'll have some guidance (The New Yorker, Sept. 3&10, 2007, pages 48-57, not yet available online).

He is also going to do the tourist thang and see Changi Prison Museum, as his father was a prisoner-of-war there.

Thanks so much in advance for your kind assistance.

Update: "Restaurants" includes hawker centres (especially hawker centres) and food courts (if there are any exceptional ones that you like). Thanks to [ profile] idgad for pointing this out.

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