Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Can you feel anything when I do this? (2)

Apologies to both my readers, I have been off air for a few days 'cos my brain has been all of a jangle with toothache.

Last Monday I went to Raj as a follow up visit to a new crown and an extraction a couple of weeks ago. One tooth on the other side was giving me some grief and it can be hard to tell exactly which one. The nerves run close together and may cause a different tooth to appear to be the origin. So he sent me round to the endodontist for a second opinion and he pinpointed the lower right 8 (back molar).

Wednesday the endodontist did a full root canal job and sent me home. In his letter to Raj he wrote, "Healing is expected to be uneventful." Hah! If you consider "writhing on the living room carpet at two in the morning in a foetal ball in excruciating pain chanting over and over the mantra 'f*** that hurts, f*** that hurts, f*** that hurts'" as uneventful then yes it was.

I do not *ever* want to feel pain like that again.

Even the extra painkillers from the doctors could not mask the pain so Saturday night (well actually Sunday morning as it was half past midnight) I cracked and phoned Raj. He did a mercy dash to his surgery in Harley Street and I fell out of a taxi a few minutes later. He did some magic scraping with a steel implement and said that should do it. He was off to Sri Lanka on Sunday so he gave me a copy of my X-Rays in case I needed to go to A&E.

I am glad to say the pain and the swelling is slowly subsiding, the antibiotics and my immune system are slowly repairing that damage; soup for breakfast and lunch was getting tedious. I still cannot open my mouth more than half an inch, I have to post food in horizontally in thin slices, but that too will pass.

And then of course I can have the thing crowned! But I think I will wait a while until the memory fades.

Deep gratitude is owed not only to Raj but also to his daughter, a doctor, who lives nearby and who he dragged along. Apparently I was slurring my words and he was concerned so wanted some medical backup.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five Things to Eat Before I Die

Rosa tagged me to write "Five Things to Eat Before I Die" back in September. The meme started at Traveler's Lunchbox. I guess I have to exclude wine. These are not necessarily great dishes but they are ones that made a great impression on me at the time. Not quite Marcel Proust and his Madeleine but this is my list:

Peking Duck
Vegetable Samosa
Chicken Satay
Crème Brulée

Peking Duck
[1975/76] Immediately after leaving college in '75 before I started my first job the following spring, staying with Lorna and Carmichael as their lodger. I was used to Chinese food from an early age; for my 10th birthday the family went to a Chinese restaurant in Coventry. The restauranteur gave me a couple of pairs of plastic chopsticks which were a treasured item for many years (well I was only 10!).

When I started college a Chinese takeaway was suggested and a fellow student astounded me by saying that he had never eaten Chinese food. At the time the typical Chinese takeaway provided sweet and sour pork balls in day-glow orange wall-paper paste, spring rolls that oozed grease and chips that were thick and burning hot on the outside, raw and uncooked on the inside.

Then for Carmike's birthday he treated us to a Peking meal at Botley on the outskirts of Oxford. My first ever encounter with Peking duck was a revelation. It was delicious, cooked with textures and flavours unknown to the local takeaway. I loved contrasting textures and flavours plus the audience participation involved in "rolling your own".

At the time the only place you could buy hoi-sin sauce was the Chinese supermarkets in Soho which meant a special expedition to London. How times change, now it is on the shelves of every supermarket.

Vegetable Samosa
[1979] It was a similar story with curry, discovering that there is something other than ghee based gloop with mystery meat. I was a latecomer to curries only starting in 1974 in the company of Sheridan, Tony, Amanda and Tom Thacker. The latter was in charge of IT at the Nuclear Physics Lab and used to check the machine room smoke detectors were not *too* sensitive by puffing his well-chewed pipe underneath them.

Then I moved to London and discovered that there were not just Chinese and Indian. There were Cantonese, Peking, Schezchuan, Malaysian, Korean; there were Bangladeshi, Goan, Bengali, Afghani, and South Indian Vegetarian.

It was at restaurants like the Sree Krishna in Tooting, the Mandeer in Hanway Place (off Tottenham Court Road and the ) and Diwana Bhel Poori House in Drummond Street that I discovered the vegetable samosa. With a crisp filo-like pastry these were a huge improvement over the chewy, meat filled versions I had previously encountered. Then there were all the other vegan delights and the sweets, don't forget the sweets: kulfi, galub jaman, barfi, jelabi, ras malai (see List of Indian sweets and desserts for more). Maybe that is why I have so many crowns :-(

Chicken Satay.
[1980] Working with a Malaysian colleague I was introduced to another set of international cuisine. I met the Singapore Laska, Indonesian Gado Gado and Malaysian Satay. The latter reminding me of my first Greek souvlaki proper (kalamaki) but with the added benefits of spice and a peanut sauce. My favourite restaurant was The Satay Stick in Dering Street.

Lymeswold and Cambozola
[198?] Lymeswold may be a marketing-led, designer cheese but for a while it was a favourite of mine. I never really like the classic French cheeses Brie and Camembert - heresy! I favoured traditional English cheeses like Lancashire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Wensleydale (but not Cheddar - double heresy). Like many others at the time I shifted my allegiance to Cambozola a similar but superior cheese. These cheeses shifted my palette towards softer, creamier cheeses and paved the way for goats' cheeses and a number of other delights.

Crème Brulée
[1989] I have always had a sweet tooth and usually opt for the role of "pastry chef" when Mary and I host a dinner party. Her Sainburys' Desserts and Pudding recipe book included a recipe for Crème Brulée which rapidly became one of my signature dishes and often repeated by popular demand, served with a fine Sauternes, of course. It was only after a couple of years that I realised that I had been mis-reading the recipe and only using half the quantity of double cream. Or to put it another way I had been using twice the quantity of egg yolks. This would explain the extremely rich texture. So, am I using the correct recipe now? Nope .

So duty done, Rosa.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sunday lunch at Bill's

On Sunday Bill invited a number of what I call "The Birmingham Crowd" over for lunch. These were a bunch of friends who all met at Birmingham University and I fell in with around 1980 when we were all late-20-somethings living in London. It was a most enjoyable time of great sociability, all living in the 'big city' with reasonable jobs and a mind to go out and have a good time.

As happens people couple up, settle down and move out to greener pastures. So keeping in touch as we have dispersed has required more of an effort. The last time we met was April '05 when Maureen was over from Oz (see "I come from a land down under") and the time before that was Denise's funeral in September '04. So kudos to Bill for arranging this.

Present were Steve & Kate, Marilyn, Andrea and Simon & Isobel. We were expecting John and Nick & Sarah but Bill fears he may have told them the wrong date. We have told him we are available next Sunday as well :-)

Those present are all well and living their lives; it was good to catch up on their news. Isobel has now launched herself as an artist working as printmaker (see "http://www.isobelwalker.co.uk/"). We chatted, we drank, Bill over-catered again, and it was a good do. We conconcted a wild plan to all meet again in Italy at the "Hovel-in-the-Hills" next September. Let's "Make it so".

Monday, November 20, 2006

BBR Champagne School

Hosted by Simon Field MW, Buyer and Rebecca Lamont, Wine School Manager. Always interesting to do a tutored tasting which is basically what this was but with the added benefit of slide show and a good double act from Simon and Rebecca followed by lunch.

 • Gaston Chiquet, Brut Tradition
Grapes of Champagne / Growers
 • Andre Jacquart, Carte Blanche NV
 • Champagne Marguet, Brut Rosé
Grande Marques
 • Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut
 • Pol Roger, Brut Réserve NV
 • Veuve Clicquot, Brut
 • Bollinger, Special Cuvée Brut
 • Krug, Grande Cuvé eBrut
Vintage Style
 • 1998 Berry's United Kingdom Cuvée, Mailly
 • 1996 Gosset, Gande Millésime
Duluxe Cuvée
 • 1998 Berrys' United Kingdom Cuvée, Mailly
 • 1996 Gosset, Grand Millésime
Duluxe Cuvée
 • 1995 Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (en magnum)
 • 1998 Moët et Chandon, Dom Perignon

Tartare of Salmon
 • 1996 Jacquesson, Avize
 • 1995 Tattinger, Comtes de Champagne
Halibut with Avruga Caviar and Lemon Beurre Blanc
 • 1999 Bollinger, Grand Année, Rose
 • 1995 Bollinger R.D.
Chocolate and Ginger Mousse Cake
 • Louis Roederer 'Rich'
Coffee and chocolate

In the grande marques Mary and I preferred diamterically opposite champagnes which I guess means we'll have to open two bottles every time. Mary, not surprisingly given her 'savory' palette, liked the Laurent Perrier with zero dosage and me with my 'sweet tooth' liked the Pol Roger.

Elsewhere, I was most impressed by BBR's own label vintage with notes of creme brulée and apple crumble. Mary's favourite was the 1995 Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The Krug made a very poor showing, I got 'soapy, Mary got 'fireworks', I suspect a hint of sulphur. All in all a very educational day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rich Beyond the Dreams of Avarice

When I was a child I used to wonder "So who is this bloke Avarice and why is he so greedy?".

* Samuel Johnson. 1709-1784.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

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Monday, November 13, 2006

At Night at the Opera

Well the Ballet actually, but at the Royal Opera House. We went to see Sleeping Beauty at the ROH last week. Mary's first ever ballet, so she might as well start at the top (or so we presume). I have only been to the ballet a couple of times before but we have both seen plenty of modern dance (London Comtempory Dance, Ballet Rambert, etc).

As a result I wouldn't be able to give a review but took it on its own merits and used it to calibrate my assessment of future ballets. The papers seemed to think it was OK [Observer, Guardian, Independent, The Stage].

After modern dance it seemed to me a bit stuck in nostalgia-ville, "It's not the same as the 1946 production". So? And how many in the audience are in a position to make that comparison? Still it was all very pretty in pastels and Tchaikovsky writes a mean tune. We agreed with the reviewers - the guy dancing the Bluebird seemed to know his stuff.

In an effort to overcome its elitist image the ROH are doing lots of student specials and internet offers. We got our tickets for a mere 20 quid each, not bad value at all for front row of the amphitheatre.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Goolleeble's Trefels - Bork, Bork, Bork!

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. I was explaining to a colleague that the language preferences in Google include "Elmer Fudd" and "Swedish chef" (the Muppet character). That set me researching...

On the informative Wikipedia page [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_chef] I found a link to a site that will translate web pages into mock-Swedish gibberish. So for your entertainment here is this blog translated into Swedish Chef speak (shuoold be-a reed veet a svedeesh occent!):

Goolleeble's Trefels - Bork, Bork, Bork! [opens in new window]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rock the casbah

Some pictures of Marrakech [click on picture for larger version]

The hotel may have looked like a concrete box from the outside but inside it was designed like a traditional Riad round a cental courtyard with fountain and the rooms were unlike a normal hotel.

The various stalls in the souk are minature Aladdin's caves in a labyrinth of winding little alleyways. We learned that whatever price they first quote you should haggle down to half that.

The Tiskiwin museum not only had a fine collection of Berber and sub-Saharan artefacts but the building itself was beautiful. The restaurant was one we wandered into for lunch one day and it turned out to be a restored palace!

The best meal was Sunday night at Le Tobsil. As the link says "Romantic, intimate and richly decorated". We had a balcony table were we could look down into the courtyard from our rose-petal covered table. Listening to the live musicians and dining under the open sky on some of the best food in Marrakech. Just so romantic, unbeatable for a wedding anniversary meal.

* Rock the Casbah by the Clash

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's shopping Jim, but not as we know it

"We went out for a nice Morrocan meal on Sunday."
"Oh, where?"

At the beginning of the year we went to Marrakech [See "Marrakech Express"]. Mary was so determined to go hand luggage only that we were unable to buy various souvenirs that we might otherwise have wanted to bring back.

When we first got married Mary suggested that, instead of buying each other anniversary presents, we took it in turns to arrange mystery weekends away. This worked fine up to the tenth when we always knew we were going back to Egypt to see the sights we did not see on our honeymoon.

Since then it has been by mutual discussion, except that this year Mary said "We must go back to Marrakech to get those blue silk cushion covers, they will be perfect for Italy".

So that is how we came to fly out Friday to spend a long weekend in Marrakech. A most successful shopping trip and I enjoyed the city much more this time round. The weather was much warmer, the locals seemed less desperate to rip us off (or we are just much better at haggling now) and last night's meal was magical. More to follow...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thirteenth Wedding Anniversary

Monday was our 13th wedding anniversary so we went out for an excellent meal at Il Convivio. Our wedding had a number of unusual features:

We chose the guest list
I was a late developer and didn't get married till I was 40. Mary's parents had probably given up on her ever getting married years ago. At that late stage we did not look to our parents for funding, we chose to pay for it ourselves and have full control. Though Mary's Dad, sportingly and generously, did pay for the church. Distant relatives were not invited, the parents' nominations were strictly limited, no children under 16 and lots of our friends.

We married in St Paul's Cathedral
Yes that one - designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675. Mary's original plan had been a quiet registry office wedding and a postcard to her parents from Italy saying, "Oh by the way we got married".

However my Dad was awarded the MBE for services to architecture in 1984 and one of the privileges attached to that honour was that he, or his offspring, could get married in the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire which is in the crypt of St Paul's.

Dad and Mum were already married as were Jane and Pete, Ian showed no signs so that left me with an offer we couldn't refuse. Mary agreed provided I buy her an engagement ring (obviously not possible under plan A as it would have given the game away).

The Party in the Bus
The reception was in Wimbledon (9 miles) so we hired two London double-decker buses to transport the guest both ways. On the way back John suggested a whip round, they stopped at an off licence (US: liquor store) and bought it out of champagne. Aunt Avril then led the bus in a sing-song of "Roaming in the Gloaming" till they arrived at the reception. We could tell by the flushed cheeks who had been on which bus.

Speeches before the meal
There were only two speeches: Pete, the Best Man, and me, on behalf of Mary's Dad. We gave them before the reception so we could then relax and drink without worry and apprehension. We were limited to two minutes each; I wrote mine on the back of a business card!

We went to the pub afterwards
At the end of the meal as guests started to leave, Ian, an old colleague of Mary's, suggested going to the pub for a beer as they used to when they worked together. So instead of the two of us relaxing in an exclusive hotel we found ourselves in the King of Denmark until chucking out time. But we did made it back to the Cannizaro House Hotel by midnight for a last glass of champagne in the piano bar.