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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- Recent Entries:
- Bel and the Dragon
London Pub Scouting Mission
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Driving to Abergavenny
Nothing Short of Fabulous
Dad and Lorenzo
Vera and Robin
Bubble and Squeak
Birmingham and Derby
- Bel and the Dragon
- [Wednesday 27th October]
At David's suggestion, four of us (me, Chie, David and Kev) went for dinner at this new(ish) restaurant in town. The food was fine - perhaps a little overpriced for what it was - but not bad. I guess in the restaurant's defence a large part of our rather hefty bill was alcohol (a round of beers, two bottles of wine and a round of whisky at the end). Still, all told I had a very nice evening.
- [Tuesday 26th October]
Went to the cinema to watch Alfie (because Chie has a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Jude Law). It wasn't too bad actually. Had a sub from Subway before going to the cinema, and as I was still hungry after I left we went to the MacDonald's drive through and got a "Quorn Premiere". I guess it wasn't bad, and I have to admit I am slightly pleased by the fact that, in Britain at least, MacDonalds is trying to appeal to vegetarians in this way. I doubt it is the same in the rest of the world.
- Leftover Chilli
- [Monday 25th October]
Ate some leftover chilli for dinner, and didn't do much else really.
- [Sunday 24th October]
Went to Guildford to visit my brother and his wife, plus my niece and nephew. Had a very nice lunch, and the kids were adorable as ever. I drove on the way there, which seemed to take ages. This is partly because I'm still avoiding motorways, and partly because we got a bit lost. Still, I did feel a sense of achievement nonetheless - I have been to visit my brother lots of times, but have always in the past had to rely on public transport and/or lifts from other people. It was nice to get there under my own steam (so to speak) for a change. In the evening I made some roast potatoes, along with some steamed kale and these Quorn thingies in breadcrumbs with Gruyere. Made parsely sauce instead of gravy. Quite nice.
- Dim Sum
- [Saturday 23rd October]
I was utterly determined not to have a hangover this morning, and unusually somehow this determination paid off - I woke up feeling pretty much fine. We left the flat unusually early for us on a Saturday (about 10am) to go and wave off a friend of Chie's who had been in England for a couple of days.
After that we did a bit of shopping, and then I decided I was hungry, so we ought to find somewhere for lunch. Having had a craving for something noodley, we wandered into China Palace, which I'm sure was called something different last time I went. We went for the dim sum menu, which for the large part suited Chie better than me as typically dim sum is very meaty/fishy. We did manage to find one or two vegetarian things though, including some rather delicious "home made" cheung fun (I think they were called that) - these little (rice?) flour dumplings with a very tasty dipping sauce. This was accompanied by a very nice plate of ho fun - those lovely wide flat noodles - with vegetables in black bean sauce. All washed down with some very nice chinese tea. I don't know exactly why but somehow I just felt amazingly contented during that lunch with Chie, it was the nicest hour or so I've spent for weeks.
Didn't do much for the rest of the day, just went back home and skulked about the house really.
- London Pub Scouting Mission
- [Friday 22nd October]
Knocked off work a bit early, got on a trian, and spent the evening looking for nice old pubs in the city of London with Kev. Had a good run of it - managed to get round more than 10 different establishments, all of which were at the very least passable, and some of which were very nice indeed. At the start of the evening, also popped into "my club", the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's London member's rooms. This was my first visit, abd I'm please to say it lived up to my expectations admirably, which made for a great start to the evening. Took some pictures along the way.
- [Thursday 21st October]
Went to Tootsie's, the new burger place in town, with a respectably sized group of the boys from work. Burger was pretty unremarkable, but the night out in general was very good. For some reason it felt like absolutely ages since I'd had a proper boozy night out with the boys, so I probably got a bit carried away on the beer front. I'd made a decision not to take my camera, which I slightly regret now, given that I think there could have been some quite good pictures.
- [Wednesday 20th October]
Made sushi for dinner - tamago, shiitake and halloumi nigiri, plus umeboshi, pepper and mayonnaise, halloumi and takoan maki sushi. Despite some pieces being a little messy and uneven, it was all rather enjoyable. Washed it down with a surprisingly fitting glass of Port Ellen.
- [Tuesday 19th October]
Had vaguely thought about going to the cinema tonight, but couldn't be bothered in the end. Instead we stayed in and had a surprisingly nice frozen pizza with a really nice salad and a bottle of wine. Spent a little bit of time later on in the evening on the computer, found a bit more family tree stuff (it seems the 1871 census for Hampshire is now on ancestry.com), and started to plan the "practice run" London pub crawl, this coming Friday.
- Scotch Malt Whisky Society
- [Monday 18th October]
Today I received my membership for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society this included an introdctory bottle. The society has an unusual policy of never naming distilleries directly - instead they are all numbered. However, it didn't take long to work out what I'd received was a Bruichladdich, and so naturally I was rather pleased. Had a kind of vegetarian shepherd's (or cottage) pie for dinner, which turned out quite nice actually.
- [Sunday 17th October]
Awoke at a reasonable hour, and revelled in the glorious views of the Black Mountains to be had from Vera and Robin's new house. This was the first time I'd been to their new place (apart from one time when I saw it from the outside briefly) and I can report they've done really well for themselves - it is a lovely house. Robin took us out for a little drive, leaving just before midday. Our first port of call was the utterly fantastic Goose and Cuckoo - a real gem of a pub up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. As if the tremendous scenery, lovely old building, log fire and very friendly staff and locals weren't enough, they also had a downright spectacular selection of single malts - apparently 85 in total. I really was in heaven. Sadly, we did have to leave eventually, and headed over to Crickhowell for a very nice lunch at the rather splendid Bear Hotel. After this, we headed back to Robin and Vera's house for tea, cakes and a fascinating look through some really ancient family photos. We eventually decided to drag ourselves away and head home around 4:30 in the afternoon. On the way back, Chie drove, as we wanted to go on the motorway and get the whole journey over and done with quickly. After getting back, I made pesto which we had with some spaghetti, and generally had a very quiet evening in.
- Driving to Abergavenny
- [Saturday 16th October]
I was really determined to get in some driving practice in Chie's car today, so decided I would try rather ambitiously to drive to Abergavenny, where my grandmother lives. I was very pleased with myself - we took a rather long route, to avoid the motorway, but I drove the entire way myself, right from door to door. I felt a tremendous sense of achievement with actually being able to do something useful in a car (i.e. get somewhere I actually wanted to go to) rather than just practising silly maneouvres over and over again. We went on the A40, which meant en route we could schedule in a stop at Burford in the Cotswolds for a rather nice afternoon tea (which we actually had at lunchtime).
My brother Adrian, plus Liz and the kids, were visiting Vera during the afternoon as well, and I was particularly pleased I managed to get there in time to see them as well. After Adrian and Liz left, we had a quick drink in the Hen and Chickens, and then ate a rather nice meal (pilaf for me, lamb for the meat eaters) back at Vera and Robin's house.
- [Friday 15th October]
It must have been quite a cold evening, as both Chie and I independently decided we wanted something cooked in the oven for dinner. I'd originally planned to make a lasagne, but given the absence of some of the required ingredients, and a general apathy about going out to buy them, we decided to shelve that idea. Instead I made cauliflower cheese and a sort of potato cake - not sure what you call it, the thing where you get lots of very thin slices of potato and lfill a baking dish with them, plus some olive oil and butter. Actually came out quite well.
- [Thursday 14th October]
Spent a bit of time at a customer site in London in the morning, fixing last night's problem. Got back around lunchtime. In the evening went for a couple of pints with Kev, and in the pub met Mike and Jill. Went home at some point and made a curry, which despite being a couple of pints away from sober, actually came out rather well.
- [Wednesday 13th October]
Had a first go at driving Chie's car in the evening. Was aiming to drive to the supermarket, but it was dark and foggy, and the gears weren't co-operating, so I only went some of the way before we both decided we'd be more comfortable if Chie drove! After returning from the supermarket, was called into work to help fix some problem or other... So ended up eating dinner quite late - had fresh pasta with Salsa Truffina (some leftovers from Lorenzo's stay).
- Nothing Short of Fabulous
- [Tuesday 12th October]
Today was one of those days where everything went my way, to an almost spectacular degree. I had my first ever driving test, 10 years later than it really should have been, in the morning. I had set myself up to fail miserably - I was pretty convinced I wasn't of a sufficient standard to pass. Despite having made no end of mistakes on the lessons prior to the actual test, something just clicked in me when it came to the crunch, and I drove nigh-on perfectly for the 45 minutes or whatever ot takes. I passed with an almost clean sheet. I have always been blessed in the past with the ability to do well in exams. I hadn't previously thought this would transfer to practical rather than written tests, but it seems it did. There are a lot of things I am bad at in life, but it seems tests really are my forte.
Given that my test was at a slightly awkward time, I had booked the whole day off work, on the basis I would not be back in time to do a decent afternoon's work. I had originally planned to go into London to comiserate my failure, and despite the surprise turn-out that I'd actually passed (and I'd like to reiterate it was my FIRST TIME), I stuck to my London plan. I spent the latter part of the afternoon touring intersting and historic pubs in London, preparing for a forthcoming pub crawl. I went through quite a few - maybe ten -ish, so clearly statistically speaking not all of them were that great, but a good handful were real gems.
The real high point, in terms of my already over inflated ego, came at the last establishment I went to. In a rather blazé fashion, I strolled into El Vino - an upmarket wine bar, on Fleet Street. Having inspected the window, it appeared they had a small but very respectable selection of malt whiskies, which it appeared to their credit were in fact their own bottlings. Predictably I selected their Islay malt - a 12 year old Bunnahabhain which had been finished in sherry casks, and as such tasted a bit different to the "regular" Bunnahabhain I had at home. Superbly the manager came and sat down next to me, and asked me what I thought about their Islay malt, which prompted a discussion about whisky in general. As a wine expert, but not so much of a whisky expert, the manager was keen to hear my humble opinions on malts. This very specific area was one in which I felt like I actually had something very valuable to say, for a change, and I heartily recommended to him that he bought in some Port Ellen, as it was very much the in thing right now. I was even able to give him some information on stockists, prices, and the sort of ages he would do best to aim for. I really felt like he took my suggestions seriously, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if withinm a few weeks the regulars at this fairly famous Fleet Street bar see Port Ellen on the shelves.
All in all a downright spectacular day, for which I am immensely grateful.
- [Monday 11th October]
Spent most of the evening worrying (pointlessly) about my impending driving test. Had a cous cous, halloumi, middle eastern sort of meal which was very nice indeed, even though I do say so myself. Cooking helped to take my mind off my (imagined) soon-to-come failure.
- [Sunday 10th October]
Saw Lorenzo off in the morning, and then went back home and back to bed. After that we didn't get up particularly early. Went swimming at Chie's health club early afternoon, which was very nice. On the way back home, stopped off in the delightfully pikey Iceland where I have never shopped before, and bought some frozen food. For dinner Chie cooked, making a really stirling English meal - pie, mash and peas. It was everything it should be, bless her. Watched Michael Palin's Himalayas in the evening, and really enjoyed it this time round (so seemingly just the first episode was a bit dull).
- [Saturday 9th October]
Dad left very early in the morning, but Lorenzo was staying two nights with us so we had the day to spend together. Got up late and headed over to Reading Uni, where as a delightfully nostalgic treat we were able to have a pint and a plate of cheese and chips each. It is hard to describe just how ecstatic I felt being able to relive those golden university years with an old friend like this. After that we went for a further trip down memory lane, to visit some of our old digs. We then showed Lorenzo around the centre of Reading, mainly the Oracle, to see how much it had all changed since he left, about five years ago.
In the evening we had planned to go for a pub tour in Oxford, but eventually decided, as Lorenzo had an early flight the next morning, that a quiet night in might be more appropriate. Made a sort of fusion dinner between us - pasta with a truffle sauce followed by my trademark madras, all washed down with some rather nice sake just to top off the whole "fusion" thing. Yes, pasta and curry sounds like an odd combination but it actually really worked! Popped out briefly during the course of the evening for a quick drink at The Swan, before retiring back home for some very nice Spanish hot chocolate, and a bit more whisky (of course!).
- Dad and Lorenzo
- [Friday 8th October]
Funny how I often don't get any visitors for ages, and then in the space of a couple of days everyone seems to want to visit all at once...! Lorenzo was working in London, and Dad was working in Guildford, so both of them decided to come and visit whilst they were in the neighbourhood, so to speak. Had a really great evening, dinner at the Cross Keys, plus whisky tasting both before and after at my flat.
- Vera and Robin
- [Thursday 7th October]
My grandmother and uncle came for a brief visit as they were passing through. We managed to squeeze dinner in, at The Ditty, which was simple byt very nice.
- Chinese Takeaway
- [Wednesday 6th October]
Neither of us could be bothered to cook, so instead we headed out in the car to try and find a Chinese takeaway. We drove for at least half an hour, and ended up heading for our old favourite, Gold Coin. Shockingly though it has changed, and is now called something like Hong Kong City. We thought we'd give it a go, and it really wasn't that bad, but it just wasn't the same as it used to be. Still, all good things come to an end I suppose...
- Bubble and Squeak
- [Tuesday 5th October]
Made a kind of bubble and squeak for dinner. Sort of like a potato rosti, but with a bit of savoy cabbage in as well. Melted some emmental on the top as well. It was ok, but not marvellous. Didn't do much the rest of the evening.
- [Monday 4th October]
Went for a quick pint after work with David. For dinner made a kind of kimchi nabe, which came out rather well despite some slightly unusual ingredients. Didn't do much after that.
- [Sunday 3rd October]
Woke up at Mum's house around 9ish. Wrapped a couple of presents, had breakfast, then went out for a bit to show Chie round the exciting highlights of Castle Donington. I surprised myself with how much I had to say about the place, nearly every building we drove or walked past had some significance. I guess that's what you get from living 17 years on one place! We also fit in a quick visit to King's Mills, where the Trent meanders close to Donington, which was actually looking quite picturesque. Had an utterly delicious roast meal for lunch (thanks Mum!), and then decided to head off around 3.
We managed the journey in about 2 and three quarter hours, getting back just before 6. Spent some of the evening on the computer, with a break for dinner (a very light soup and salad), and then a further break to watch Michael Palin's Himalayas.
- Birmingham and Derby
- [Saturday 2nd October]
We had arranged to go up and see my Mum this weekend, but as she was at an exhibition Saturday daytime, we decided to go up Saturday afternoon, rather than the usual frantic rush on Friday night. Given that, in theory, we had all this time to play with, we decided to make a bit of a day out of the journey and stop off somewhere on the way. After some discussion we chose Birmingham, as we wanted to see what the new Bullring Centre was like. Unfortunately as I suffered a bit from a hangover, we didn't really end up with as much time there as we should have had. Still, we did get a chance to have a good wander round the Selfridge's store there, which I have to admit I quite liked. Obviously not as big as the one in London, but a very respectable effort nonetheless. As for the rest of the shopping centre, well, to a certain extent it was a lot like any other shopping centre, but the Selfridge's at least made it worth a visit.
We left the Bullring around 6:30 and headed off along the A38 for a complicated rendez-vous with Mum and Keith just outside of Derby. From there we went to a restaurant called the New Water Margin, somewhere in Derby, which I think all of us agreed was very good indeed. We finally got to my Mum's house sometime after 10, by which point both Chie and I were pretty knackered.
- Whisky Night
- [Friday 1st October]
Had a whisky tasting night at my flat with a few people from work, plus associated friends. It went pretty well I think - I certainly enjoyed it at least. We had about 20 different whiskies, a quantity which of course was somewhat regretted the following day. David handled the food side of things, which was nice, bringing along a load of nice breads, meats and cheeses. We rounded the evening off with a couple of pints in the Cross Keys, which didn't contributely that favourably to my state of health the following day, but certainly made for a nice end to a great evening. Overall conclusions of the evening seemed to be that: Decent blends (e.g. Johnny Walker Black Label) were actually very nice, Bourbon is in general just plain rank, and of the single malts 16 year old Lagavulin is very hard to beat. Took some pictures, but only a few as the actual drinking required the majority of my attention.
- Tidying Up
- [Thursday 30th September]
Chie was out for the evening. I stayed in by myself and didn't do a great deal apart from tidying up the flat, in preparation for Friday's whisky night. Had pasta with a tomatoey sauce out of a jar for dinner.