Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Living By Myself (for one night only!)
Yes, it is Definitely Wild Mushroom Season Again
Still in a Culinary Mood
Boring Work Night Out
Horace Craigie Manders CIE
Breakfast Out and Coconuts
Working Late (on a Friday!)
Afternoon Tea with Andy
Simon and Vanessa's Wedding
Work Nights Out
Chinese Food Again
Not Eating Out
The "First One to Get Home Does the Cooking" Rule
British Pubs in Crisis!
One Hundred Million Dollars
- Living By Myself (for one night only!)
- [Saturday 30th August]
Chie was going away for the majority of this weekend to see some friends in Swindon (of all places...) and I had decided I would take the opportunity to catch up on some work. I had originally thought about going into the office today, but that would have meant actually having a shower and getting dressed properly in the morning, and given that I can work fairly effectively from home I decided not to bother. So I set up a little "weekend office" on the dining table, plugging my MacBook in to the big monitor we normally use to watch TV (via the Mac Mini), and beavered away for a good 8 hours or so. It was quite a productive day - one of those tasks that involves a lot of "oh, that didn't work - maybe I'll try this instead". It's the sort of thing which can actually be quite hard in the office, as I get constantly interrupted and easily lose my train of thought, so this could easily have spilled out to two or three days if I was actually at work.
I have to admit, in short bursts it's actually really nice to have the flat to myself. Weekends are often a source of disagreement between Chie and I - she typically wants us to go out shopping, whereas I typically want to stay in and do something a bit more productive with my time. Although, having said that, if I do end up spending a whole weekend indoors I get a definite sense of regret come Sunday evening. I think I am pretty much plagued with a sense that I'm not getting enough done with my life, and in a strange kind of a way, being able to spend at least one day of the weekend working is actually quite relaxing - I don't have that constant sense that I'm wasting my time.
It's also quite nice to be able to eat and drink at completely irregular times, and have whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it - I don't have to worry about making a meal that we're both going to enjoy.
Of course, the sense of novelty at living by myself has in the past generally been relatively short lived. Whilst Chie and I haven't spent much time apart in the last year or two, before that we often had long stretches of being on different continents and generally speaking that wasn't a lot of fun.
- Yes, it is Definitely Wild Mushroom Season Again
- [Friday 29th August]
Finished the working day with the usual Friday beer-and-pizza event, at which a few people hung around longer than usual, and engaged in a lively debate about the current state of our project, and the wider company.
It was well after 8 by the time I left, which actually worked out quite well, as Chie had been out with friends after work, and was just on her way back. So we met up in Victoria, and decided as it was late, and we didn't really have much to eat at home, to again break our rule of not eating out in August. My other excuse for breaking the rule is that we happened to walk past a restaurant called Gran Paradiso which caught my eye. I'd actually seen it many times before, and had always just dismissed it as a place for tourists (there are a number of these in the area). However, they had a special sign outside announcing in celebratory tones the start of wild mushroom season*, and as a combination of my obsession with mushrooms and the sheer delight that a restaurant in London was embracing seasonal foods in this way I just couldn't resist it.
The porcini bruschetta I had as a starter was just divine. It was a generous serving of porcini which had been very sensitively cooked, in some really good (but not overpowering) olive oil (and perhaps some butter?), and with perhaps just a hint of garlic and parsley - but again not over powering - it was all about the Ceps. The flavour was really good, they were obviously picked fairly recently leading me to believe these may well have been English Ceps - I could see they were in really good condition. Really succulent and fragrant, quite superb.
For my main course I had a pasta dish with porcini again, although I think if anything I preferred the starter, given that the ratio of porcini to anything else was much higher! Still, it was perfectly cooked pasta - a kind of fettucine or parpadelle perhaps, and a simple, elegantly made sauce which again let the flavour of the mushrooms come through far more than anything else.
So all in all I'm very pleased we broke our rule!
* the more experienced mycologists among you will of course note that wild mushrooms do not as a whole have any one season, however I think it's fair to say most of the best edible varieties start coming out around now.
- Still in a Culinary Mood
- [Thursday 28th August]
I've obviously been in a very culinary sort of mood this week, as this evening despite leaving work late and having to get things at the supermarket on the way back, I was still sufficiently enthused to put in a bit of effort and make something a bit interesting for dinner.
I fancied some Quorn fillets (OK not exactly haute cuisine so far I agree), but didn't want to just to the usual potatoes and straightforward green veg to go with them. So instead I dug out a packet of polenta from the back of the cupboard, and knocked up a quick ratatouille with baby courgettes, olives and capers. I also made a simple leeks a la Greque dish, and it all came out rather well.
- [Wednesday 27th August]
My team, with the full support of the management, has been talking for months about having an "offsite" - which basically amounts to a day where we leave the office and do something fun whilst being paid for it. Finally today (and actually with very little notice in the end!) it actually happened.
The plan for the day was in two parts - first a speedboat trip along the Thames, then afternoon tea at the Orangery in Kensington palace. I'm generally a bit cynical about anything which has a hint of "team bonding exercise" about it but this was purely about taking a break from work and having fun, and I really rather enjoyed it.
Click here for some pictures of our day out.
I had suggested the Orangery (something typically British and a bit out of the ordinary) and I was in no doubt that I'd enjoy that bit. The speedboat part I was slightly sceptical about to start with but it did turn out to be a lot of fun, and if nothing else it was a much quicker way of taking in the sights along the Thames! I'd never been down as far as the Thames barrier before, and that was really quite an impressive site - I guess something you can only really appreciate fully from the water.
Naturally one or two drinks were also involved - the pier where we got on the boat was conveniently right next to Blackfriars, so we obviously had to stop off at the pub of the same name after getting back on land again.... and then after the Orangery we retraced the steps of our recent afternoon out with Andy and went to the nearby Windsor Castle. Me and the chap who organised it also went for one final drink on the way home at the Antelope jut off Sloane Square.
A very fun day out.
- Gourmet Cooking
- [Tuesday 26th August]
I was not in the greatest of moods at work this morning. It had turned out while I was on call yesterday there had been a relatively serious failure of our system, which I hadn't been able to deal with as I was at Kew - I'd followed the appropriate procedure to pass it on to the next person in the chain, but in the end nobody else picked it up, and it wasn't until I'd got home yesterday evening that I ended up fixing it after all. Given the number of times I'd jumped in to help my fellow engineers when I'm not on call, I was a bit annoyed about this.
To compound this, the vegetarian offering at lunch at the cafe in the office today was not really up to much (I've been having words with the catering staff about this recently). So I decided I needed to get out of the office for a while, and have some "me" time. I wandered to the nearby Italian restaurant I'd been to with Chie once before (Oliveto) and enjoyed a nice relaxed lunch there by myself, with a copy of the Guardian. The pizza was fantastic as always, and it was really nice to get out of the office for a change, and be surrounded by different people - I must do that more often.
I also made a very "gourmet" sort of a dinner this evening. It appears the season for wild mushrooms has now started, and they had some girolles in Waitrose yesterday. So I picked up a box, and had spent the intervening time thinking of how to serve them.
Finally I settled upon sautéeing them in a little butter and crushed garlic, and serving them on a potato rosti, along with some grilled pear and Somerset camembert. It did end up rather a lot of effort, for not a particularly huge dish, but it's the sort of thing I'd happily have paid handsomely for in a restaurant.
- Kew Gardens
- [Monday 25th August]
Having lost most of yesterday to work, I was determined not to repeat that and actually get out and do something on Bank Holiday Monday, i.e. today. So we decided to resume our plan to visit Kew Gardens.
Neither of us had been before and overall I rather liked it, although as with a lot of these things I'm not sure the price is entirely justified - £13 per head is a lot really, for what to my mind is more of a park than gardens.
Anyway, vulgar things like money aside, it did make for a nice day out, and the pictures probably tell it best (which is another way of saying I'm feeling too lazy to create a detailed written acount).
We stopped off in Richmond on the way back to visit the Waitrose there and buy things for dinner. I made a toad in the hole with roast potatoes etc, which all came out rather well (with the possible exception of the gravy - I was trying to be clever and avoid using gravy granules, but I don't thinking I was fooling anyone!).
- On Call
- [Sunday 24th August]
We had originally thought about going to visit Kew Gardens today, but I was on call (meaning I was the designated engineer who'd get paged if anything went wrong at work), and predictably something did go wrong. Compared to previous fires this was pretty minor, but by the time it was all done and dusted it was pretty much 3PM, and it didn't really seem worth going out for the day at that point. So we just stayed in instead.
- Andy's Wedding
- [Saturday 23rd August]
Anyone in a "mixed race" marriage like Chie and I will understand the complexities of getting married. If your two respective families live in two different countries, on different sides of the planet, there is no perfect solution in terms of where to hold the ceremony. Getting family and friends to travel half way round the world for a wedding isn't generally very practical, and then after that whichever country you decided to hold it in you're bound to end up making someone feel left out. In our case we had the "official" ceremony in Japan followed by a family get together in the UK a few months later, however I do still feel like something was a bit missing somehow.
Our friend Andy and his fiancee were faced with a similar dilemma and decided the best way to approach it was to get the legal stuff out of the way completely separately to the family celebrations - in that respect neither side would feel like they weren't going to the "real" wedding. However for even the simplest possibly of wedding ceremonies, you do at least need a pair of witnesses, and I was rather delighted and honoured that they chose me and Chie for this role.
So this morning we met up with Andy and his fiancee at a café in Islington, and after a "wedding breakfast" (and in this instance it was quite literally breakfast) we headed over to Islington Town Hall. Therein we had a bit of a wait before the registrar called the four of us in for the ceremony.
I have been to a number of weddings over the last few years, but never before one where there were only a handful of people in the room... and I have to say if anything this was a strong candidate for the most emotional and heartfelt I have ever attended. It was all over in a matter of minutes, but the whole thing felt really rather special, and I felt extremely privileged to have been a witness (in the most literal and legal sense!) to this event.
After the ceremony we headed down the road for a celebratory bottle of bubbly at the nearby Carluccio's, and then we all jumped in a taxi bound for Victoria station, as the newlyweds were heading straight off on their honeymoon.
After waving the happy couple off at Victoria, Chie and I then decided to walk into the centre of London from there, passing Buckingham Palace en route, where preparations were underway for the Olympic handover ceremony thing. We ended up on a long meandering stroll, which took us by way of a cracking pub called the Dover Castle, and ended up at the crazily cheap pizza place on Goodge Street. I rather like the fact that we were still wearing our posh frocks in there.
- [Friday 22nd August]
After leaving work (and the usual beer-and-pizza event, a very brief one for me on this occasion) I got a call from Chie who suggested it would be nice to do a spot of early evening shopping. So I hopped on a bus, and got off at one end of Piccadilly. I then had a jolly nice meandering stroll from there down to Fortnum and Mason, where I met Chie.
After a quick whizz round F&M, Chie proposed going for a quick drink at an interesting bar she'd found - on the 5th floor of Waterstone's on Piccadilly. It was a fairly swish cocktail bar, with a bit of a view out over London thanks to being on the 5th floor. I had a St James's Martini, which seemed to comprise a huge slug of Hendrick's gin in a glass which had first been swilled round with a dash of Vermouth. I don't think I've ever really had a "proper" Martini before, and have to say I rather enjoyed it. It reminded me of the giddy sense of light headedness I'd get from drinking in my early twenties - somehow alcohol seems to effect you different as you get older.
After that we broke our rule about not eating out in August and had a surprisingly good veggie burger at the unpromising looking "Ultimate Burger" in Soho.
We then rounded off our "shopping night out" by buying some Japanese food and drink at Rice Wine.
- Boring Work Night Out
- [Thursday 21st August]
Went out for a couple of drinks with some people from work this evening. Apparently it was someone's leaving do, although I'd only ever spoken to the guy in question once before so I felt like a bit of a gatecrasher. We don't have a lot of leavings dos at my place, the few people that do leave seem to be either old timers who don't need to be paid any more, or people going off to form their own startups. I think this chap was in the latter group.
Anyway, it wasn't a particularly interesting evening (unbelievable though you may find it, software engineers don't always make for the most scintillating company) so I left after pint number 2. Not much else to report really.
- [Wednesday 20th August]
I left work "early" today - around 6:30, and met up with Chie at a pub not too far from where I live/work. After a quick pint, we decided to get a takeaway curry from the restaurant we've eaten at (or should I say from) a couple of times now. They do seem to have consistency problems there though - whilst last time the takeaway I got was fantastic, tonight's was good for two out of three dishes, but with the third one - a vegetable bhuna - they complete forgot the sauce! I guess this is the peril of takeaway over eating in the restaurant - you don't realise anything is wrong with it until you get it home and by then you can't really be bothered to take it back to complain. Oh well. We mixed some of the excess sauce from the other dishes in to compensate, and the overall effect was actually still quite tasty.
The fact that I'd left work early meant that I hadn't got an important chore for the day done, so after dinner I then had to spend an hour or two on the computer.
- Horace Craigie Manders CIE
- [Tuesday 19th August]
Recently I've found a renewed interested in my family tree once more. This was largely prompted by an email from a new found Canadian relative, and so I've once more dusted off all my old records, and renewed my subscription to ancestry.co.uk. I've been quite impressed with what they've done with their website in the intervening time - they have tools to actually build your family tree on the site, including some fairly clever automated searching which does a lot of the searching for you.
When I went to visit Nigel and Mary on Sunday, they had a picture of Muriel and Horace's wedding. Muriel is my great grandfather's sister, although I haven't quite figured out how to express that as a relation to me (my great grand aunt? or great great aunt?). Anywho, as a result I'd become quite interested in that bit of the family and wanted to find out more. I'd heard that Muriel and Horace had gone to India - probably in the late 1910s or 1920s. I'd also heard that Muriel (and possible Horace?) had died of a fever whilst out there, and never had any children. Whilst I wasn't able to dig up any more information on Muriel herself, I was able to find out quite a bit about Horace. It turns out he survived to a good old age - at least into his 70s.
He was in the army in India, and for his endeavours was awarded the Order of The Indian Empire. So from then on he had the letters CIE after his name - almost a knighthood! At some point it appears he returned to England, and to my delight I was even able to find him in the phonebook in the 1940s (living near Gloucester Road in London) and again in the 1950s (living in Richmond). Hardly any of the people I have found in my family tree ever really spent any time in London, and it's great to think that an ancestor of mine spent a good few years here in the not too distant past, and maybe drank at some of the same pubs etc.
- Fresh Pasta
- [Monday 18th August]
Fresh pasta for dinner, that we'd bought at M&S the day before. Also had a mozarella and tomato salad with it, and a glass or two of wine. It was rather nice.
- Meeting Relatives
- [Sunday 17th August]
Today Chie and I travelled to Uckfield in Sussex (roughly in the vicinity of Brighton) to meet my Dad's cousin Nigel and his wife Mary. Given that Nigel had lived in Malawi for most of his life, and I was always in another part of the UK whenever he came back to visit, I don't think we'd ever actually met before, but I'd often heard other people in the family talk about him and his brother Martin.
...and what lovely people they are! I instantly warmed to them both, and they instantly felt very much like family. We chatted about all sorts of things - family history (both recent and "ancient"), life in Japan and Malawi, the olympics, and inevitably house prices.
We also went out for a surprisingly nice meal - a sort of Thai / Indian restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I had some of the best paneer tikka I've ever had.
We got the train back to London just after 6, and stopped off on the way back home at the little Marks and Spencer in the station which was conveniently still open. I had a uninspiring but satisfying pizza for dinner, whereas Chie decided to have ramen instead.
- Breakfast Out and Coconuts
- [Saturday 16th August]
I'll quite often make a cooked breakfast at least one morning of each weekend, but today we had none of the ingredients in, so thought about venturing out for a change. I guess one of the appealing things about having breakfast at home is that we can slob around in the morning and not have to get washed / dressed and ready to go out.
So today we scoured the local area for a suitable cafe to have breakfast in. We turned out noses up at a couple, and then happened upon this interesting looking Portugese deli / cafe, wherein we decided to have a "pre breakfast" - a quick coffee and a custard tart. Everybody was speaking Portugese, it felt a bit like being on holiday (not that I've ever been to Portugal).
Then for the "main course" of breakfast we went to our standard local haunt, the Polish cafe, which I've become rather fond of. This was good as ever, although Chie shied away from a full English on this occasion and instead had a bagel. Lightweight!
Given that this is just a couple of doors down from our local supermarket, we then took advantage of this and did some food shopping. We were back at the flat by not long after midday - sometimes we don't even head out for the day until a couple of hours later than this!
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, mainly on the computer.
Oh, but we did crack open one of the coconuts I got from the summer party the other day. I grated the flesh and added it to a sort of Thai curry. It was actually rather nice.
- Working Late (on a Friday!)
- [Friday 15th August]
Chie went out for dinner with some friends from work, so after the usual Friday beer-and-pizza thing I took the unusual step of actually going back to my desk and carrying on with some more work.
- Summer Party
- [Thursday 14th August]
Today was my company's summer party, which was done in the style of a village fete, with a marquee in a field out in Putney, overlooking Richmond Park.
The weather was decidedly non ideal to start with - when we arrived at East Putney station there was a brief hailstorm! However it did seem to improve throughout the day and could almost be described as summery in places.
The highlight of the event for me was probably the coconut shy - I won myself a coconut fair and square (and then blatantly stole a further two on the way home as there was still a whole sack left). It's surprising how complete strangers will talk to you on the tube for no other reason than you have a coconut in each hand.
- Pizza Express
- [Wednesday 13th August]
Picked up some takeaway pizzas from our local Pizza Express for dinner (remember we're in "no eating out August"!). I guess this is very close to defeating the object, as Pizza Express charge the same for the pizzas regardless, but I suppose it does at least save us all the add-ons like drinks and service charge.
In a way though I actually kind of prefer eating pizza at home - you don't feel bad at all for using your hands and there's something appealingly slobbish about being able to eat straight out of the boxes.
- Stuffed Marrow
- [Tuesday 12th August]
Chie had bought a marrow recently, which had been lurking in the fridge and looking threatening. This sort of vegetable is all well and good, but what are you supposed to actually do with it?
So I think Chie did a bit of research, and came up with the idea of stuffing it - following a recipe that uses minced beef (and obviously substituting that for vegetarian mince). The result wads actually quite nice - well, the stuffing was very tasty - I can't say I was hugely convinced about the marrow itself.
- [Monday 11th August]
- Afternoon Tea with Andy
- [Sunday 10th August]
A fabulous Sunday afternoon outing with our friends Andy and his fiancee, involving a couple of cracking pubs in Kensington (the Churchill Arms and the Windsor Castle), and afternoon tea at the Orangery.
See the pictures for more details!
- Simon and Vanessa's Wedding
- [Saturday 9th August]
Our friends Simon and Vanessa finally tied the knot today. They'd been together about the same length of time as me and Chie had so it was definitely long overdue!
The wedding was held in rural Berkshire, somewhere near Midgham / Aldermaston. Conveniently for us it wasn't until 3 in the afternoon, giving Chie and I plenty of time to get the train there.
We got the train as far as Midgham, and then stopped off there for a quick drink in a very nice pub called the Rowbarge. I had originally thought about trying to walk from there to the venue, but I wasn't exactly sure where we were heading, and it was raining, so I thought we should probably get a taxi instead.
Consequently we arrived at the venue a bit too early and had to hang around for a bit, trying not to get in the way. More guests started to arrive just before 3, and by shortly after 3 we were all seated in the hall where the ceremony was going to be, and waiting for the bride to arrive. After the customary wait Vanessa turned up, looking fantastic of course, and the ceremony got under way. A few minutes later and I had one less unmarried friend!
There was then the usual gap between the ceremony and the reception proper, giving us a chance to mill around a bit, drink bucks fizz, and have the photographer take lots of pictures.
By this point I was getting a tad peckish, so was quite relieved when we were invited into the other building for the reception. The food was all done to a very good standard, and we were lucky to be seated at a table where we actually knew most of the people, so that was all very nice.
I thought the speeches were all very good indeed - Vanessa's brother's speech was really heartfelt, Simon's was very forthright and confident, and David's best man speech was hilarious as expected. I've known Simon and David for a good 6 or 7 years at least, but haven't really seen either of them do much public speaking before, and was pleasantly surprised by how professional they both were. Although I do feel a need to berate Simon for use of the well worn "I can't read my wife's handwriting" gag.
As always at weddings, they put a glass of champagne in front of you before the speeches begin, which everybody else seems to innately know they should not touch until the toasts, whereas I have usually polished it off before they've even started talking.
Anyway, after the meal and the speeches were over, the tables were cleared, and some music was put on (initially over the sound system, but a bit later on there was a proper band), and the remainder of the evening passed in the usual post reception banter.
Chie and I were aiming for the last train back, so left the reception at 10 to get a taxi to the station. I was a bit concerned that the trains just weren't going to be running at all - especially when we were the only people waiting at Midgham station, but thankfully it all worked out pretty well, and we were home by not long after midnight.
- Writing Comedy
- [Friday 8th August]
Went to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing. A few people hung around until about 7PM and then went home, and I decided to do the same at that point.
Chie had made us a quick dinner as she was heading out for the evening (her Hiroshimakenjinkai - the night out for people from Hiroshima). I decided to give the kenjinkai a miss this time as I was a bit tired, and it can be hard work speaking Japanese all evening. So instead I just stayed in and watched telly.
There was a program on called Comedy Connections which this week focused on Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and in particular the post Monty Python series they did called Ripping Yarns. I found this very interesting, particularly as I have recent been reading the (auto?)biography of the Pythons (a present from Rob by the way - thanks Rob!).
Reading the book has made me quite envious of the lifestyle of the Pythons around the time they were writing it - whilst I'm sure being a writer can sometimes mean hard work and long hours - and the constant fear that what you're doing isn't good enough - it sounds like at least some of the time they really enjoyed sitting round writing comedy together. Or more accurately, writing in their respective pairs - Cleese/Chapman and Jones/Palin - with Eric Idle working mostly alone. Their work days sounded pretty free form, they'd often work at somebody's house, or even go and sit in the park, and there were plenty of pub lunches etc.
Whilst I have no real intentions of seriously trying to pursue any other career, reading that book has made me keen to have a go at doing a bit of comedy writing myself. I'm obviously a million miles away from natural born comedians like John Cleese and Michael
Palin, but I know what I like when it comes to humour, and surely everyone has the potential to write a few sketches in them...?
- [Thursday 7th August]
Not much to report. Chie and I met up at the supermarket after work, and bought things to make curry with. The end result was a bit of a disappointment though.
- [Wednesday 6th August]
Shingo-san was a fellow student of Chie's at her university (the Japanese college which used to be in Reading, and sadly is no more) who also stayed on after graduating to work in the college. Alas the college finally closed its doors in the spring of this year, and Shingo-san decided, after spending all of his adult life living in the UK, that it was time for him to go back to Japan. It was quite sad for Chie as he was the last Japanese friend of hers from her university days to still be in England.
Anywho, to our pleasant surprise, Shingo-san had decided to come back to England for a short holiday, and so this evening we had arranged to meet up with him.
Chie asked me where we should take him for the evening and without even really thinking about it I proposed my standard Holborn / Faringdon night out.
So we started off with a quick dinner at Carluccio's on Smithfields which was pleasant as ever, and then from there headed over to the whisky society for a quick dram. Shingo-san is apparently not a huge fan of whisky, so we didn't linger too long, but I thought it would be nice to at least show him the place.
The next venue on this very well trodden route was Ye Old Mitre. Ely Court was bustling with people (I'd been on a Monday night just a few weeks prior and it had been deserted), but we did manage to find seats inside the pub itself - in the back bar for a change. I decided if anything I might even prefer the back bar now - it is somehow more homely, and feels even more detached from the modern world.
Chie and Shingo-san naturally had some catching up to do, so at a number of points during the evening I just tuned out of the conversation and left them to it. Whilst in the Mitre this was particularly easy, as it's the sort of place I can just get lost in. After a few minutes of me sitting in silence, soaking up the atmosphere, Shingo-san said something to me in Japanese which neither he nor Chie could entirely translate, but it was along the lines of "you look utterly content"... and it was true - I am seldom happier than these blissful moments spent in this magical pub.
We rounded off the evening with my other much visited old favourite The Cittie of Yorke. This too had an almost dream-like ambience to it this evening and I was in no hurry to leave.
If ever in the future I start doubting whether it is really worth me living in London, I should just immediately go to those two pubs (and the whisky society!).
- Work Nights Out
- [Tuesday 5th August]
Chie had a work night out planned for this evening, so I thought I should follow suit and persuade some people from my company to go out for a drink or two. Unfortunately it did end up as literally that - a drink or two - and by around 8 or 8:30 everyone had gone back home.
I took the rather unusual decision to go back to the office to just "finish one or two things off" and ended up staying until 11.
I didn't really eat very much today - I had all three meals at the office, but my mind was occupied with work and I didn't seem to have much appetite. Once I finally stopped thinking about work, and went to bed, it occurred to me I was actually hungry. I see this as a good sign - (A) it means I'm not overeating as I usually do and (B) it must mean work is particularly engrossing at the moment.
- Chinese Food Again
- [Monday 4th August]
We'd bought rather a lot of Chinese ingredients on Saturday, and so today I felt compelled to cook something Chinese with the goal of using all the perishable things up.
It ended up a relatively simple meal, compared to Saturday's multi course feast. One thing I was keen to do was having a go at making hot and sour soup - it's a favourite of mine at Chinese restaurants and takeaways. However, I'd never actually seen a recipe for it, and could only guess it what the ingredients were. Obviously there are at least a couple of clues in the name. So, I started with a base of seaweed stock, then added ponzu (a Japanese citrus sauce), some rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and some Korean chilli powder. For the actual ingredients I put in some straw mushrooms, some deep fried tofu, and a few peas. The end result was extremely pleasing - whilst it wasn't quite like the flavour of "real" hot and sour soup it was a pretty good approximation.
For the main course I decided to try and re-attempt a black bean sauce dish, still feeling some embarrassment for Saturday's failure in this department. So I did tofu and chinese leaf, again with a few straw mushrooms (I think), and used only a very small amount of the black bean sauce this time, plus some mirin and a bit of stock to water it down. This too came out rather well. I served this with steam vegetarian cheung fun (a type of noodle I suppose - but the real version is made from intestines!). All rather good.
- Not Eating Out
- [Sunday 3rd August]
Not a particularly eventful day. Chie went out for a spot of shopping in the afternoon, and I met up with her in Sloane Square a bit later on. I did my best to be patient as Chie adopted her usual aimless meandering style of shopping, but was pleased that she did actually finally buy something just before the shops closed - albeit something she didn't really need - a new bag to take to Simon and Vanessa's wedding next weekend. We stopped off on the way back for a late Sunday afternoon pint at the Fox and Hounds, which was jolly nice.
Oh by the way, we've decided as an experiment to try not eating out for all of August. Or at least not when it's just the two of us - if we're going out with other people then that would be fine, but it started to feel like when it was just the two of us our motivation for eating out was more laziness than anything else. The other thing that prompted this experiment was the number of times we've been disappointed by dining out - in light of which it often seems like a huge waste of money.
Perhaps as an even more useful experiment I should go back and add up how much I have spent in restaurants each month since we've been living in London. I suspect it would be a frightening amount!
In the evening I made a kind of shepherd's pie for dinner. I somewhat underestimated the amount of potatoes I'd need - I obviously wasn't currently listening to my natural instinct for Peoria (see the Meaning of Liff for details). So it came out as a big dish of mince (vegetarian of course) with a thin crust of potato - almost a garnish. Despite that, taste-wise it was actually quite good - I had cooked the mince in Sam Smith's Imperial Stout, and the mashed potato contained some Laphroaig cheese. So more of a brewer's / distiller's pie than a shepherd's pie really.
- [Saturday 2nd August]
My opinion of London's Chinatown has fluctuated somewhat over the years. When I was a student in Reading I'd make occasional trips to London, and at that time Chinatown was definitely a firm favourite - it represented a lot of what excited me about London at the time - a sense of the exotic I suppose.
In the intervening time my opinion had waned a bit though, and I think I had started to see it as just a bit of a tourist attraction. A lot of the restaurants seem to have become a bit mediocre and underwhelming - although whether that is because they've changed, or just I've become more discerning, I'm not actually sure. If I want a guaranteed good Chinese meal I'll tend to go elsewhere now (for example Royal China on Baker Street). Even the food shops had began to lose their appeal a bit too - I suppose that taste for the exotic that Chinese food had previously provided has since been overtaken by Japanese food. Besides, many of the raw ingredients I liked in Chinese food also have their equivalents in Japanese food, and to be honest I think the Japanese versions are often better quality and tastier - this is certainly true of things like rice, tofu, soy sauce and oriental mushrooms.
However, eventually this change in my attitude towards Chinatown (and Chinese food in general) had come somewhat full circle. My time living in Tokyo (where I often dined at a couple of excellent Taiwanese restaurants there) and since then coming back to London and having discovered places here which some really interesting vegetarian Chinese food, have opened my eyes to the fact that one thing Chinese food has over Japanese food is a thriving vegetarian cuisine. Or perhaps what I'm really identifying here is Taiwanese food. Like Japan, Taiwan has a long history of Buddhism, but unlike Japan a large portion of people there are vegetarian as a result. Yes, in Japan they have Shojin Ryori, but this is a tiny minority thing served at some temples, and even then is often not 100% vegetarian. I never in all my time there met a Japanese person who was vegetarian. I believe this is because, in a population of over 120 million, there are actually none.
Taiwain, on the other hand, does seem to have a decent population of vegetarians, and as such (perhaps along with other parts of Greater China) they produce some really interesting vegetarian food. Particularly they seem rather fond of "mock meats", which many Western vegetarians turn their noses up at, but I have to admit to being rather fond of. I never stopped eating meat because I didn't like it - I was one of the biggest carnivores you'd ever have met before I turned vegetarian - it was purely a moral thing.
So anyway all of this self indulgent diatribe is really just a set up for the fact that in the afternoon today we went shopping in Chinatown. We have found a particularly good supermarket there (I have determined it is particularly good because very few of the customers or staff seem to speak English), and after a good ferret around managed to find some interesting vegetarian items. Including:
- Vegetarian beef jerky.
- Vegetarian duck.
- Vegetarian abalone.
- Vegetarian shrimp!
- Vegetarian cheung fun (intestines!)
...plus a few of the usual Chinese staples like tofu, black bean sauce, and straw mushrooms.
Naturally in the evening we then went home and cooked all of these things, and had a bit of a Chinese feast at home. I'm often quite disappointed with my own food when I try to cook Chinese, but (with the exception of the tofu and black bean sauce dish, in which I rather overdid it with the black bean sauce) it all came out rather well today. Particularly the drunken prawns - the vegetarian shrimp with some Chinese leaf, cooked in lots of sake. Mmmmmmmm!
- [Friday 1st August]
So it's August already eh?
I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing a happy sense of anticipation in April and May that summer is on it's way. By June this sensation has turned into "well, it's a bit late starting this year, isn't it?", to be followed by "well, July was a bit of a wash out - maybe August will be better" - and then of course ultimately, by September, "oh, was that it?" - mixed by then with an entirely unrealistic clinging optimism and talk of "Indian summers".
In line with my ongoing mission to expand the Meaning of Liff, I have put a pin in the map, and come up with a word for this:
Golberdon - the naive and erroneous assumption made by meteorological optimists that summer is "just a bit late starting this year", which continues on until mid-October.
Part of the problem may not be the weather itself - I suppose we have had occasional patches of sunshine. Instead I think the slight sense of disappointment that hit me when I realised it was August already is probably because I don't have any other holidays or anything planned. Our week in Cornwall at the end of June was great, but I think I really could have done with another week's holiday some time in August or something.
Unfortunately though I'm not supposed to travel for 6 weeks after my operation, at least no travel that would involve hauling luggage about - and that pretty much takes me right up to the end of August.
We did go away to Scotland for the first week of September last year, and whilst that was overall a fantastic holiday, weather-wise I got the distinct impression that the summer had very much ended by that point.
So I suppose I'm really just saying I need something like a holiday to look forward to. Perhaps I ought to just accept the fact that if it is going to happen, it's not going to be until September, and cross our fingers that we might just get a late spell of good weather for once. Besides, I suppose looking on the bright side, everywhere will be a bit quieter (and cheaper!) by then.
- The "First One to Get Home Does the Cooking" Rule
- [Thursday 31st July]
Now I don't like to grumble about my beloved wife, but do have to admit to being a tad peeved this evening.
As is usually the case I stayed at work later than Chie did, and as often seems to happen she went straight home, in full knowledge that there was nothing in to cook, and sat there waiting for me to leave the office, go to the supermarket, come back home, and then cook something for her. Now don't misinterpret this as chauvinism or anything - I do more than half of the cooking at home - but you'd think it would just be common sense for me to not be cooking on the evenings when I'm coming home a couple of hours later than her - besides anything else it means we both end up eating rather late, which can't be good for you.
I recall my Mum saying that friends of hers had a rule that whoever got home first should cook, which I think makes a lot of sense. As it happens, the man of that particular couple would deliberately take longer than necessary to get home just so he could avoid cooking, but that is beside the point!
Anyway, I am considering proposing this system to Chie, but I anticipate heavy resistance. Based on past failures of mine to introduce "process improvements" like this I am not optimistic about the reaction. It appears the right to make constructive criticism is a one way street in our marriage!
- British Pubs in Crisis!
- [Wednesday 30th July]
Like many of the rest of you, this week I was shocked by the news that Beer sales were the lowest since the 1930s. I had been laying off the alcohol whilst recovering from my operation, but hadn't really thought through the wider consequences of this selfish act, and now felt thoroughly wracked with guilt.
So, to make ammends I persuaded some people from work to go on a short tour of local pubs after work today. We visited two pubs I'd never been to before - The Colonies and the Buckingham Arms.
On the way back I picked up some Indian takeaway, which was ridiculously tasty. I'm often a bit disappointed with Indian food - especially in London - but this was quite fantastic.
- One Hundred Million Dollars
- [Tuesday 29th July]
Was back at work today. I felt rather pleased with my relative lack of "outage" as my manager often puts it. Despite having booked two whole weeks off, I only had three days where I completely wasn't working, followed by three days working from home, and then for the rest of the time, as of today, was back in the office. This was largely helped by having had the operation first thing on a Saturday - so in total I did have five whole days of pretty much complete rest before resuming work, and even then it was in the comfort of my own home.
A couple of people at work did enquire whether I might have come back too soon, but the surgeon had said yesterday I was ready to go back to work, and I think the originally cited two weeks had been a worst case estimate all along. The walk into work was a bit more effort than it had been previously - although partly this may just have been psychological, given that for the last week or so I'd been mostly stationary. Other than that though, I felt pretty much fine.
The other big highlight of today was that I received $100,000,000. For those of you who struggle to read big long numbers, that's one hundred million dollars. Which was nice.
You probably ought to take a close look at the image above to avoid any confusion.
STOP PRESS! At the time at which I bought this note on eBay, hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe had meant 100,000,000ZWD was worth something like a quarter of a pence in GBP (I paid well over the odds for it for the novelty factor - £10). I checked again on xe.com just now, and it appears the ZWD has just been redenominated - and now 100,000,000ZWD is worth over 6 million pounds!
Although there's more than a slight chance they'll have some way of distinguishing between the new and old money. :)
- Bandages Off
- [Monday 28th July]
Today was the last day I spent working from home following my operation. The consultant had made an appointment for me to pop back to the hospital for a check-up, and I wanted to get the all clear from him before I actually went back to the office. As the appointment was not until 6 in the evening, I spent the day working from home.
It as productive day, as the two days I'd worked at the end of last week, somehow I had been overcome with a wave of lethargy, although I suppose it could just have been tiredness.
I walked to the hospital as it is only about a 20 minute stroll away from where we live, and I had been told I ought to be having a short gentle walk each day. There was a bit of a mixup when I got there - apparently whoever organised my "appointment" had got as far as writing the date and time on a little card, but hadn't actually let the consultant or anyone at the hospitable know about it. Anyway, they managed to squeeze me in, and I had a very brief check-up with the consultant. He basically just took the dressings off and had a quick prod around the area where he'd operated, and said "Yep, all looks fine". So that was it really - no stitches to take our or anything.
I've still got to take it easy over the next few weeks - specifically no heavy lifting until about 6 weeks after the operation, and he also advised that I shouldn't travel in that timeframe either (largely just because this would mean hauling luggage about etc). Other than that though, he said it should be fine for me to go back to work, and pretty much get back to life as normal.
I left the hospital feeling remarkably well, it seems that being told I'm fine my a medical professional is significantly more effective than any kind of actual medicine.