Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

Still Enchanted, Still Busy

Although I doubt it's scientifically provable, I am almost completely certain that time moves faster in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world. I feel a bit like I'm in a time lapse video where time is flowing instead of ticking, shadows are swimming in and out and light moves a bit too quickly from day to night and then back to day again. It's a conundrum because it is one of the most magical cities in the world - I want to be here - but time slips away too quickly. I feel like a girl trying to catch water in my hands.

We've been busier than usual, partly due to a lovely visit from some UK family during the past few weeks. Dan's aunt, uncle and cousin swung by Tokyo following a short holiday in China. Though I haven't felt at all lonely during our travels, it was almost surprising how nice it felt to see familiar faces again. While they were here we pulled ourselves away from laptops and work a little more than usual and took in some great temples, smaller towns and Tokyo sites. Although I am definitely a city girl, it was so wonderful to get out into the country where the trees are all turning gold and red and just sit and take in the less hectic pace. Japan is such a contradiction. It's all bright lights, big city, overwhelming technology and modernity, but it's equally ancient, spiritual and traditional. I've seen a lot of Shinto and Buddhist shrines over the past few weeks and there will be much more of that when we eventually make our way to Kyoto.

In between being tourists, we've been working like crazy people. We've got a few big projects launching this week and we're in that frenzied, last minute stage of tying up loose ends and testing and then retesting again to try and avoid any bugs or glitches. I can say with complete honesty that, at the moment, we've got more demand for our services than we can possibly take on. I know that times are hard in a lot of industries but I suspect this might translate to some small gains for the freelancer - where companies are afraid to hire someone full time, which is a commitment, they are quite willing to fill their gaps with those of us looking to take on interesting, short term projects. Our plan is to take off most of December and focus a bit on some of our own ideas, which have take the back burner as we work on other things. It's a hard balance though, because we've also had some enquiries lately that are pretty amazing in scope and scale - some of these things would be pretty hard to pass up.

We'll be spending Christmas and New Years in Seoul. I'm excited about it, but it's kind of bittersweet. I do think I'll miss the turkey dinner and the quiet, insulated way the holidays usually feel. If anyone knows where to find a traditional Christmas dinner in Seoul, please speak up!

I think we'll try to have a quieter week this week. We've got a little grocery store across the lane from our flat and I've been cooking a bit in our tiny kitchen, which consists of one hot plate, one microwave, one frying pan, one pot, two bowls, two plates and some cutlery. The only thing I've missed a little it is having an oven, but even that is negligible. I can remember when I moved into my solo place in Cardiff and I felt the need to buy a ton of dishes and cooking things from Ikea. I was so used to having hand blenders and all kinds of pots and dishes that I thought I needed them. If and when we ever settle in somewhere again, I really think I'll feel quite differently about what I really do need. Although two burners would be nice, we've made due really well in our small Tokyo kitchen. I think the key is to clean as you go because there's no room for a mess and no extra dishes to allow for it.

And when we don't want to cook, we can pick up fresh sushi across the street for about £2. Not bad at all!


All photos by me. 

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British Oddities - Behold the Chip Butty

Let me preface this by saying that I've never eaten a chip butty and, unless completely plastered and desperate for carbs, I probably never will.

A butty is another word for sandwich over in these parts, usually reserved for combinations involving a bread and breakfast meat. Sarnie also means sandwich, though I'm not sure the difference between a sarnie and a butty. It's like how the Inuit people supposedly have hundreds of words for snow - the British have a lot of different ways to say 'stuff between bread'.

Did you know the word 'sandwich' came from someone named John Montagu who "revived the concept of bread as utensil" in the 1700s. He named his revival after himself - he happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Incidentally, Hawaii used to be known as the Sandwich Islands, named after the Fourth Earl by Captain Cook. The word butty came a few decades later and has less certain origins, though it is believed to be a slang combination of the words 'bread and butter' (how's that?) and originated in Yorkshire.

Only today was the concept of the chip butty unveiled to me and I just totally don't get it. The concept seems as goofy to me as the idea of eating pasta with rice on top. Has anyone eaten one of these? Was it good? Please enlighten me.

The chip butty so inspires some people that there is a song that is sung at Sheffield football matches - Sheffield being in North England where the chip butty is quite beloved. Sung to the tune of John Denver's Annie's Song:
You fill up my senses
Like a gallon of Magnet
Like a packet of Woodbines
Like a good pinch of snuff
Like a night out in Sheffield
Like a greasy chip butty
Like Sheffield United
Come fill me again....
Na Na Na Naa Naa Naaaaa, ooo!

Image of the Chip Butty from Fotobank.

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Bread, According to Julia Child

I am nearly through the Julie Child autobiography My Life in France and I can't help but think that she was a little nuts. Despite that she says she's writing for the average North America home cook, some of her recipes are insanely complicated and difficult, such as this one for bread:
Transform a home oven into a simulated baker's oven, with a hot surface for the bread to bake on, and some kind of simple but effective steam-generating contraption. These elements are necessary for one to get just the right rise and just the crisp crust of true French bread. Eventually Paul's Yankee ingenuity solved the first problem, when he slid a tile made of asbestos cement onto the oven rack to heat up with the oven: a perfect, affordable baking surface. But creating the all-important burst of steam, which forms the crust, was more difficult. Eventually we discovered that, by placing a pan of cold water in the bottom of the oven, and dropping a very hot brick (or stone or metal ax-head) into it, one could produce the perfect steam-puff. Eh voila! We had created the first successful recipe ever for making French bread ... in a home oven. What a triumph!
Right. I'll get right on it.

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Why My Trousers are Too Tight - California Eating

A few weeks ago Dan, his mom Gwyn and I went on a one week whirlwind trip to California. Not one to take things slowly, Dan had prepared a fairly intense schedule that included time in San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Monterrey, Carmel, San Juan Battista, Santa Cruz and a drive up Big Sur. Though I've spent some time in California, most of it has been in cities - San Francisco, LA - and I genuinely had no idea how truly diverse and beautiful that state is.

We had really hot weather the entire time we were there, even in San Francisco, which is not known for its balmy summers. The day we arrived it was well over 30 degrees in San Francisco - perfect for dinner on a patio and cold Steam Anchor beer. This trend continued and by the time we were en route to Yosemite, about two days later, it had peaked at well over 35 degrees.

But this post is about food. Living in the UK, sometimes I forget how amazing eating really fresh produce is. The food ethos over here is so curious - they don't refrigerate things like eggs, which in my mind, clearly need refrigeration, but they do refrigerate tomatoes and avocados, which clearly don't. Don't even get me started on the challenge of finding a fresh, crispy leafy green...

California is geographically, a huge state, and because most of its mass runs north to south, it is also incredibly diverse. For a place that is so heavily populated, there is a shocking amount of space - from Yosemite National Park to the more flat fields where California's famous tomatoes and fruit grow in such abundance. On the road between San Francisco to Yosemite there were dozens of little road side stands selling everything from pears, apples and peaches to heirloom tomatoes, all local and fresh. With all of this available, it stands to reason that the state has some wonderful restaurants that pride themselves on serving beautiful, fresh, local produce.

1. Zuni Cafe - 1658 Market Street, San Francisco
I loved the brevity of the food menu at this restaurant. Instead of having pages and pages of possibilities, they had a very tight selection of dishes that they were confident they could do perfectly. I also loved that every single day the menu changes depending on what is fresh and available. They don't make squash soup unless it's in season. They don't do certain kinds of seafood unless it is available locally. Basically, they do everything a restaurant in a place as rich with local food as San Francisco should do.

We started with a gnocchi with an herb, thyme buttery wine sauce and little pieces of zucchini. It wasn't like pasta, the texture just absolutely melted the moment it went in my mouth. To begin, we also had these delectable little shoe string potatoes - fancy chips really.

My main course was a beautifully done (medium rare) tuna served with local vegetables and canneli beans. Initially, I wasn't sure about ordering it because I don't have a lot of experience with tuna apart from the odd raw piece with sushi or the canned variety. Fresh tuna is absolutely amazing and I've already made a point of having it once since being back in the UK. Canned tuna is quite fishy tasting but fresh tuna is lovely and flaky and mild. It was definitely one of the top five meals of my live.

2. Citizen Cake - 399 Grove Street, San Francisco
Let me qualify how good this place is by telling you that I didn't have anything chi chi here - I had a cheese burger and fries with a chocolate cupcake for dessert - and it was absolutely, fantastic. The beef tasted beefier then I can ever remember beef tasting, the cheese was cheesier, the chips crispier - it was a simple but beautifully prepared meal. Just thinking about it gives me a hankering for a hamburger, except that hamburgers are never this good. Ever. And the cupcake! I wish I had a picture because it was a truly lovely, insanely moist little cake with a gigantic dollop of butter cream icing on top. I love icing but the trick is to find a balance between sweet and not TOO sweet and this was perfect. The only other cupcakes that I've ever had that are even near the same category as this are Lola's cupcakes from the bakery in Primrose Hill (you can also get them at Selfridges).

3. Houston's - 1800 Montgomery Street, San Francisco
For those of you in Canada, no this isn't a Houston's like the Houston Pizza places (not that I'm knocking them - if you ever want real pizza, Houston in Saskatchewan is really the only thing there is). This was in a dark little place near the bay and it was heaving with people - obviously a local favourite. We ate here at our last night in California and we wanted to indulge. And oh, did we ever. A garlic cheese bread, artichoke and spinach dip, full rack of ribs, loaded baked potato and bottle of wine later, we weren't sure we would meet the weight limitation for our aircraft the following day. It wasn't fancy and the portions were huge in the way only North American portions are, but the food was done beautifully. It was exactly what BBQ should be - tender, tangy and filling.

4. Basil Seasonal Dinning - San Carlos between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea
With a name like that, you know it will be good and it was. First off, if you are having a meal there they automatically bring you out freshly baked bread with this beautiful pesto dip. In the UK that would be an appetizer they would charge £4 for! For my main entry I ordered a linguine in a white wine and garlic sauce heaping with local clams. It was simple and fresh tasting and really lovely. Dan had a steak salad and his mom had a pulled pork sandwich - everything looked really, really nice. The only complaint I have about this place is that, like a lot of Carmel, it was a bit snooty and that included the service. Our waitress wasn't awful but she was cold, a bit unfriendly and it was very obvious to us that we weren't terribly important to her. That said, my clams were worth it.

There were lots of amazing meals including a few we had at the restaurant at Evergreen Lodge just outside of Yosemite and the Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove, which is a short walk from Cannery Row in Monterrey. I could go on, but it's making me hungry.

You can see more California photos on my Flickr.

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Paul Sucks

Dan and I just had lunch in a patisserie called Paul (Soho branch). Apparently it's a chain, though it does genuinely look like a cute little Paris shop with its red banquettes and pretty looking sandwiches and pastries.

We each ordered a sandwich and a Sprite to share. At over £4 each, the sandwiches were quite a bit more pricey then the ones at Pret a Manger, another very popular local chain. The Sprite was warm and the baguettes were hard little bricks. It was actually difficult to eat the sandwich without scraping off the insides of your mouth and my jaw ached from the effort it took to chew. The fillings were mediocre and sparse at best.

When we were walking out Dan said thanks to the woman behind the counter. She barely mumbled a response and was something on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasant. Basically, there was nothing good.

I won't be eating there again and I don't recommend you do either.

(Image: Talk of Tomatoes)

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Lola's Kichen

(Photo above by Those Two )

The recent shopping guide in British Vogue led me to find an amazing bakery in Camden Town called Lola's Kitchen. I love cake! I love cupcakes! I pretty much love anything with any relationship to sugar, especially chocolate. My good friend Friday and her husband are expecting their first baby, a boy, in January and it seemed the perfect excuse for a beautiful Lola's Kitchen creation.

Yesterday, after visiting the midwife, Friday and I make the journey to Lola's. I was skeptical about how easy it would be to find given that street directions in London always confuse me. I am used to the faithful grid system and all the loops and bends over here require a completely new set of navigational skills from those I've grown up with. Despite this, we found it quite easily and enjoyed a nice walk through a part of Camden Town that was filled with beautiful old Victorian apartments and peppered with strange high rises that looked like they were built during the cold war.

Lola's Kitchen the physical space was not what I expected. It is located in the Primrose Hill Workshops, which is an industrial looking barn-like structure on a residential street. There is no fancy bakery with cozy seating and delicacies displayed under long shiny glass counter tops. Instead it is a bit like walking into a sweet smelling car repair shop.

"I can't imagine how they are inspired to make beautiful cakes in a place like this," said my traveling companion.

But oh, they did not disappoint.

First off, the cake was in a bright white box tied with a baby blue ribbon and a little card. The box alone was perfect and square and lovely. All cakes should come in boxes like this. The cake was perfect -- just the right amount of sweet, light airy cake, ample icing... It was heaven.

Happy baby J and B! X

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