Friday, December 29, 2006

Street Life (Graffiti)

Mary and I took a stroll down to the river for a Thames-side walk and came across this graffiti.

graffiti of Einstein
Not Banksy but someone, presumeably "Focus", very much in that black and white, stencilled style.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas wines

Having some time at home over the Christmas period gave Mary a chance to sort out the cellar. We had cases and cases of wine still its cardboard boxes. But no more! And all of this to make it easier to dig out some fine wines for Christmas; modesty prevents me from naming names and vintages.

wine cellar

We had my Mum and Dad over for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and had a fine old time. As always with them the meal is the entertainment with much chat and banter. Christmas Day we had goose at 5 o'clock and then we did succumb to "couch potato syndrome" and watched a DVD of the first 'Pirates of the Carribean' with Johnny Depp.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Three pearls of wisdom

There is much advice out there in the world, some wise, some helpful, some complete tosh. These are three pieces of advice I have been given over the years that have stuck with me:

Think general

When trying to solve a problem, aim for a solution that is flexible and adaptable. An adjustable wrench not a spanner.

Never go out without money

You never know when you might need it. At the very least have your bus fare home.

Always button your cardigan from the bottom

Then you can see what you are doing and don't end up a button out at the top.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Creme Brulee

Following my mention of Crème Brûlée in Five things to eat before I die here is my version.

The following is the recipe exactly as it appears in my Sainsbury's Desserts and Puddings recipe book. Why they felt the need to specify the carton size I do not know. Since they did, what they should have done is write "2 x 284 ml (2 x 10 fl oz)" or better yet simply "568 ml (20 fl oz)". Using 1 x 284 ml (1 x 10 fl oz) meant this only just served 4.

Nowadays what I normally do is use the full amount of cream, increase the number of egg yolks to 6 and still regard it as "serves 6". Also I don't use vanilla essence, I cut open a vanilla pod and scrape all the black gooey seeds into the custard making sure to disperse them as best I can.

As for chilling overnight I wish I planned that far ahead. Normally I make them that day, chill them until it is time to prepare the rest of the dinner, brûlée them, pop them back in the fridge and hope my guests don't eat too fast so they have time to cool down again.

Crème Brûlée

4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 x 284 ml (10 fl oz) cartons double cream
few drops of vanilla essence

To finish:
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together. Warm the cream in a double saucepan, or bowl over a pan of simmering water. Carefully stir in the egg mixture. Continue cooking gently, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla essence.

Strain into 6 ramekin dishes and place in a roasting pan, containing 2.5 cm (1 inch) water. Place in a preheated cool oven, 140°C (275°F), Gas Mark 1, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove the dishes from the pan, cool then chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To finish: Sprinkle evenly with sugar. Place under a preheated hot grill until the sugar has caramelized. Cool, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

Serves 6


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pictures from Le Gavroche

I might have taken a leaf out of Rosa's book or Welshcake Limoncello's and taken photos of each exquisite course but I only had my camera phone with me which cannot handle close-ups. I had forgotten that I had taken these piccies when I did yesterday's post so here are a couple to go with that...

Mary at Le Gavroche

Mary Discusses Her Brooch

Amanda at Le Gavroche

Amanda Raises Her Glass

Pete at Le Gavroche

Pete at Le Gavroche

Room at Le Gavroche

Dining Room at Le Gavroche

Those that wanted could have a tour of the kitchen and be amazed that so much world class food could emanate from such a tiny space. We did that in previous years so left it for other diners to have a peer round.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Daffodil Dining Club at Le Gavroche (2006)

Yet again at this time of year we joined John Amiry and 80 or so like-minded gourmands gourmets at the Michelin Starred "Le Gavroche" for a long lunch of the finest food and wine. We started at 12:30 and they chucked us out at 5:00.

Les Vins

Le Menu

Chateau de Sours 2004 Bordeaux Blanc

Coquilles St. Jacques Pochee Parfumee au Gingembre

Carton Blanc 1998 Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Gratin de Langoustines et Escargots au Persil et Pimet d 'Espelette

Domaine Gavoty "Cuvee Clarendon" 2005 Cote de Provence

Fricassee de St. Pierre façon Bouillabaisse

Gewurztraminer "Blason de France Vendange Tardive" 1998 Leon Beyer

Escalope de Foie Gras Chaud et Pastilla a la Cannelle

Clos des Litanies 1996 Pomerol

Noisette de Chevreuil a la Sauce Poivrade et Airelles

Le Pinacle Syrah 2002 Domaine Sainte Rose

Le Plateau de Fromages Affines

Vin de Constance 2001 Klein Constantia

Christmas Pudding
Cafe, Petits Fours et Mince Pies

They have learned from previous years and been more restrained on the wine pouring. Last year they topped up my white wine glasses so often on the earlier courses that by the time we got to the meat and red wines I was in no fit state to fully appreciate the quality of what I was consuming. This year there were more courses with matching wines but more restraint in the measures. I enjoyed the meal more and did not need to go for a siesta when we got home.

See previously:
Christmas Daffodil at Le Gavroche (2005)
Daffodil Dining Club at Le Gavroche

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flying visit to Italy

Monday was yet another flying visit to Italy. One of the disagreeable things about the Ryanair flight is the timings - they clash with meal times. Do we eat early, at 4pm in Stansted, or late, at 10:30pm in Locorotondo? Dining in the air on a Ryanair sandwich doesn't have much appeal.

We flew out Sunday night and stayed in a Best Western near Bari airport. We went for the hotel option as we didn't fancy making up the bed for one night with no guarantee that the heating was working. It also meant we could eat at a very pleasant restaurant across the road from the hotel without an hour and fifteen minutes drive to Locorotondo.

All in all it was a hectic but productive trip. Basically the place is complete, the final few bits are done like the handrail to the roof and a security bar across the bedroom window. That meant we could settle up apart from a small retention in case the boiler breaks down yet again.

 • Up bright and early to drive to Cisternino
 • Met with Pierdonato at the estate agents to discuss key holding, cleaning and "watchman" services
 • Went to bank to get out final payment money for Daniele and change our UK address details
 • Back to Pierdonato to leave a kitty to cover future services
 • Met with Daniele at the property to pay the final tranche of money
 • Were joined by the plant man to discuss planting schemes
 • Went for lunch at a seafood restaurant down on the coast
 • Came back via Emmezeta (supermarket) to buy dehumidifier tablets
 • Installed tablets and plugged in electric dehumidifier to keep the place dry over the winter
 • Final check and lock up for the season
 • Off to the airport for pizza and red wine
 • Arrived at Stansted and fell into the SAS Radisson hotel and bed

On the flight home Mary's token was picked in the prize draw for a free flight. Sounds good but the small print says it can only be taken on alternate Tuesdays with a full moon within the next eight weeks. So she may do a bonus trip to Scotland or we may fit in a unscheduled February trip.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My hi-fi may be old

but that don't mean it's slow. Vinyl still sounds good. [This should have been Monday's post but we were in Italy - more about that later.]

Saturday we had Bob&Lynn to stay with us as we were all invited to Kate&Ian's for a lunchtime do. We taxied back from that about 6, had a glass of wine and then off to the local Thai for a very pleasant meal.

The conversation got on to music, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, the Stoppard play Rock'n'Roll and vinyl so we adjourned to the dining room where my hi-fi was set up. We listened to one side of Saucerful of Secrets and then Bob asked if I had Wish You Were Here. As it happened I had a Numbus records "Supercut" special edition, remastered and pressed on 80gm non-recycled vinyl. So we played it through this lot:

Linn deck:
 • Asaka cartidge
 • Ittok LVII arm
 • Sondek LP12 turntable
Naim amplifier:
 • SNAPS power supply
 • 32 pre-amp
 • 110 power amp
 • Shahinian Arc
Other components
 • Nakamichi CR1E cassette desk
 • Onix BWD1 FM tuner
 • Meridian 206 CD player

D**n it sounded good! Mary said, "How come you haven't played me this before?" It reminded me how good vinyl can sound. I must spend more time listening to real music.

Note: Updated post 20-Dec-06 to include Ittok model and other components.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back in the saddle

What with visits to the dentists, various meetings, trips and evening events I have not cycled to work for over two weeks. So it was good this week to get back in the saddle and cycle to work with Mary on her new "company vehicle".

Under the government's "Cycle to Work Scheme" the company can buy a bike and loan it to the employee. So we can not only reclaim the VAT but also pay for it out of pre-tax profits *and* it is not treated as a "benefit in kind" for personal tax purposes. A triple result.

Mary's previous bike's hub gear was starting to malfunction so we went and got her a shiny new Specialised bike complete with all the gear. The nice thing about the scheme is that the company can also provide all the extras as well: shoes, helmet, clothing, lights and lock. Those easily came to 300 GBP on top of the cost of the bike.

So I cycled Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday was an off-site meeting in the afternoon so cycling was not possible. Today I woke to the sound of rain lashing against the window and thought "S*d that for a game of soldiers" and caught the train.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ayrshire Potlatch *

The weekend was spent in a cold, wet, windy, gray Scotland for the annual pre-Christmas present swap. It takes place on or soon after nephew Ross' birthday which is end of November and close enough to Xmas for the exchange of goodies.

We flew up Friday afternoon and went to Sandra&George's (Mary's sister and BIL). We baby sat Ross and Sarah so G&S could go into Glasgow for a nice meal out. As last time, they were good as gold, played quietly and went to bed on request. Sarah has got the hyper-cute blonde moppet schtick down to a fine art.

Saturday we drove down to May's and as soon as we had arrived whisked her off on the train to central Glasgow where we went shopping for outfits. We (i.e. Mary) targetted House of Fraser as a good place to get May something stylish for the New Year's Eve black tie do at Albannach. The trip was successful with several outfits bagged though May claims it will be some time before her credit card recovers!

One noticeable difference between England and Scotland was the passengers on the train. In Scotland they were all chatting away to their mates, there was lots of banter and chaff. The equivalent commuter train into Waterloo would be a silent affair by comparison. Now wonder we Southerners have a stereotypical image of stand-offishness.

* Potlatch an American Indian ceremony "..guests are invited to a potlatch to share food and receive gifts or payment."