Sunday, 30 November 2008

impromptu thanksgiving

one of the nice things about living in england is that it is relatively easy for me to find comfort food.


when i lived in japan, i missed the simplest things: bagels, macaroni and cheese, burritos, deep dish pizza. when thanksgiving rolled around, the expat community would chip in together to buy a turkey that cost around $200 to import. then there was the scramble to find an oven, which is not a standard appliance in japanese homes. normally we ended up at someone's school's home ec classroom. we had some fun thanksgivings improvising in japan, but sometimes it's nice to walk into your local supermarket, get a turkey and some cranberries, and enjoy a feast mere hours later.


i hadn't planned to do thanksgiving this year, but i had a massive turkey craving on thursday combined with a twinge of homesickness for my family. c and k came over and we had a lovely time cooking, chatting, and watching casino royale. i used the rotitherm setting on the new oven to cook the turkey - it took 2 hours for a 3.5kg turkey and it came out nicely browned and still moist.

the menu:

  • k's crudites and houmus
  • roasted turkey with rosemary, thyme and paprika
  • cranberry sauce (made with apple chunks and lemon)
  • roasted carrots, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, baby tomatoes, red onions
  • roasted mayan gold potatoes with red onions and herbs
  • mashed maris piper potatoes with the skins on, naturally
  • c's green beans and leeks from 101cookbooks
  • sage and onion stuffing from a box
  • bisto onion gravy

very satisfying (even if i took a few shortcuts)! for dessert i made lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting. i know it's not a traditional thanksgiving dessert, but i have never liked pumpkin pie.

after dinner, c commented that she was surprised to find so many out-of-season ingredients in a recipe from 101cookbooks. the author usually makes a conscious effort to promote locally available, in-season produce. i mentioned that it was probably because, for whatever reason, many americans expect to eat green beans at thanksgiving. this prompted a discussion about traditional thanksgiving dishes. perhaps my own aversion tainted the opinion, but no one was too impressed with the concept of mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. despite getting a 4 fork rating on epicurious, i think everyone was grateful that i did not inflict such horrors upon our table.



thanks for coming, k & c!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

kitchen: the floor finished

More progress on the kitchen today.


We got the new floor! It's a nice sheet of vinyl - nothing fancy, but that was the point. Since the kitchen is so small, we wanted to keep it as bright and big as possible. We ruled out vinyl that looked like stone, wood or tiles - why not just use the real thing? - and went for something easy to clean. It's nondescript, but in a good way.


Those with eagle eyes may also have noticed that we got a new dishwasher. Our old dishwasher stopped working after our cycling trip (unrelated to the kitchen remodel - just a coincidence.) We held out as long as we could, but it became more and more evident that it was not going to fix itself. Ah, dishwasher, how we have missed you...

Speaking of missing things (sniff!) I got nostalgic and homesick for Thanksgiving today. I miss my family in California. Boo. It was nice to see them on the webcam - hurray, technology! - but I decided that being surrounded by friends and food was what I needed.


So I sent out an email and bought a turkey on my way home from work. We'll have our feast on Saturday. Gobble gobble!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008



How great was it to see palm trees and blue sky in November? It was certainly a welcome change from the windy, rainy weather we have been having in London.


True to form, we abandoned the kitchen over the weekend in favor of exploring sunny Lisbon. Neither of us had been to Portugal before, so that was an attraction in itself. I was also excited about being able to use my British passport to go through the EU queue on my own merit. We both took Friday off work to maximize our time there, and it was nice not to feel so rushed.

Themes for the weekend could roughly be fit into three categories: sight-seeing, food, and interesting modes of transportation (not necessarily in that order). We started with lunch at a tapas bar. Immediately we realized our mistake: Portuguese cuisine is heavy on seafood and eggs, two of the only things S cannot eat. I enjoyed the potato tortilla and ham in eggs, but S was a bit disappointed. Hopefully the view from the top of Santa Justa softened the blow.

Elevador de Santa Justa


The elevator (sorry: lift) connects the lower Baixa area to the upper Chiado area and offers a panoramic view of the city. It is hard not to admire the craftsmanship and ingenuity that went into it.


Riding back to the bottom, we continued our stroll down Rua Áurea to see the water. Lisbon is often compared to San Francisco, and a peek at the Portuguese version of the Golden Gate Bridge made it easy to see why.

25 de Abril Bridge, with statue of Cristo Rei visible to the left


We finished our first day at Ribadouro, on the swanky Avenida da Liberdade.


One of these langoustines would have set us back well over €100, but S opted for a steak instead. I asked about the prawns "brás style" and was told it was "shreemps, with sheeps and eggs." I was unsure about the "sheeps" so I asked "lamb?" and he said, "yes, sheeps." Whatever. It all sounded fine (if a bit weird) to me. I was relieved and surprised to find my prawns baked in an eggy potato fritter - sheeps, you know: chips. Our table was in between a group of nosy, yet friendly, Japanese tourists who were surprised when I told them (in Japanese) what we were eating and asked how they were enjoying their fresh seafood, and the grumpiest Spanish couple I have ever seen. Neither of them smiled once. The man kept sending everything back (poor live lobsters being shuttled in and out of the water at his whim!) and I don't believe the woman spoke at all. We enjoyed our meal, and S discovered a dark beer that he quite liked.


Café culture in Baixa-Chiado

More food on Saturday morning.

Assorted pastries, with our first pastel de nata in the middle



After breakfast, we took the 15E tram to Belém. We saw all the major attractions.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Padrão dos Descobrimentos


Torre de Belém


And of course the famous Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, the only place in the world where the pastéis de nata can be called pastéis de belém.


What the guidebooks don't tell you is that the restaurant is massive. Maybe the Dr. Who creators had visited a few places in Lisbon when they designed the TARDIS - bigger on the inside than the outside? We got a table inside one of the many cafeteria-style rooms, but there was a queue building as we sat there. Amazing.


Back in town, S taught me how to take photos like this on my camera.

Praça Marquês de Pombal

Then we took the Elevador da Glória funicular to Bairro Alto.


Moon over Lisbon

Dinner at Cervejaria Trindade

S's veal kebabs

Similar to my shreemps with sheeps; but with mashed bread instead of potatoes


A final note on food: we stumbled upon the funniest cake in Pastelaria Suiça. So funny that it deserves its own blog entry.

It was a very pleasant weekend and I'm glad we got away!

Cake Wreck Submission: LOL in Lisbon

We stumbled upon this cake at Pastelaria Suiça in Lisbon over the weekend. It is so incomprehensibly funny that I decided to do a hide/reveal photo:


What could be hiding there? Hmmm, we have a nice lake scene with swans. Maybe a goose? Maybe a sailboat? Maybe a water-dwelling flower?

No? (Can you tell I am stalling? I can hardly bear to reveal the bizarreness.)


Did you guess a dopey octopus??? Me neither!

I am submitting this to Cake Wrecks. But in case it does not become a viral internet success, and you happen to know what's behind this cake, please tell me. I'm dying to know.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

kitchen: the floor fiasco

More progress on the kitchen today.


The fitter came back to hang the microwave and replace a few of the cabinet doors which had been scratched in transit. Admire all that counter space! It's a bit strange to have the microwave placed perpendicular to the cabinets, but we thought it would be easier to get food in/out, given that the door opens on the wrong side.

But it wasn't all great news... The floor is, to put it as politely as possible, a work in progress.


Here's what happened:

When we first approached JL Fitted Kitchens, we were told there were two things they did not do: tiling and floors. For flooring they suggested their JL Flooring Department, conveniently located upstairs from the Fitted Kitchens Department in their Oxford Street store. We went upstairs after our initial chat with the kitchen dept, but did not get anyone's attention. A few weeks later, the kitchen planner visited to measure for cabinets and work with us on the overall design. He told us that it would be easy for his dept to pull up the existing floor, and to coordinate with JL Flooring to get the new floor installed as soon after the kitchen install as possible.

We went back to JL Flooring to pick out our vinyl. Again we failed to get anyone's attention.

Two weeks before the kitchen install, aware that we were cutting it close, I went back to JL Flooring again. This time, I found someone and asked for an appointment to have the floor measured. I had planned to take the day off work on 13 Oct, but they did not have any open appointments until 15 Oct. I was assured that we would get 'first call', meaning that they would come between 8-9 AM. I also got a verbal quote of around £230-260.

When I got home, I noticed that the confirmation sheet they had given me said "13 Oct". Hmmm.

Well, the 13th came and went and the measurer never showed up. On the 15th, we waited until 9 AM. No show. Around 11 AM that day, S got a call: "I'm outside your flat, but you're not here..." Er, no. S got them to reschedule the measuring for 30 Oct instead, but at this point we were getting a bit annoyed.

The kitchen was installed during the week of the 20th. Meanwhile, I decided to shop around for other floor options, and discovered that Marc Edward Carpeting was just up the road from our flat. I popped over on my lunch break and had a good chat with one of the salesmen there. He gave me a verbal quote of around £160, so already I liked his approach more. I made an appointment for him to come measure the floor on the 27th. We relished the thought that we could have a new floor put in before JL ever made it over just to measure. Ha.

Unfortunately, the MEC quote was substantially higher than the verbal quote, so we decided to give JL another chance. They came, they measured, we waited. However, clever S noticed that part of the MEC quote was taking up the old floor, which we had already paid for as part of our agreement with JL Fitted Kitchens. Ha!

This brings us to today. The fitter was not very happy about having to take up the floor. In all fairness, he never should have been asked to do it, but the planner had made a foolish promise... I heard some banging and chiseling and then, oh no. The floor was not coming up easily at all. We decided to abandon the project before it got much worse.

As for timing, the JL Flooring quote came in today's post and it's also more than the verbal quote. So we now have a decision: go with JL or MEC? It's a cliffhanger, for sure.

Oh - and we still need to do the tiling. Another choice: DIY or hire someone???

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

yes, we did!

(I stole the title of this blog entry from my sister, who texted the news overnight. Woo hoo!)

Waking up to the news of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama made my day! Here are a few things I am happy about and proud of this morning...

• America has elected its first black president

• We chose hope over fear

• No more Sarah Palin or Joe the Plumber (at least for a while, sigh)

• For the first time since I moved to the UK, I won't have to apologize for picking the losing team.

To mis-quote Michelle Obama, I feel proud of my country for the first time in a long time. Bravo, Barack!

Monday, 3 November 2008

get out and vote!

like many obama supporters, i am anxiously waiting not for tomorrow, but for wednesday. with the time difference, we won't hear the election results until the radio wakes us up on the 5th. i have all my fingers and toes crossed for a resounding landslide!

in somewhat related news, condolences to barack obama and his family. it seems that his grandmother did not make it to the 4th.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

kitchen: DIY stage 1

We have reached the part of the kitchen remodel where we have to do some of it ourselves.


So we rode our bikes to the local Home Base, bought some plaster and tools, and taught ourselves how to replaster the walls.


It's not perfect, but we're proud of our job. (Until the kitchen fitter returns later this week and tells us that it's not nearly as perfect as we think it is.)


We will seal the plaster with PVA adhesive later this week. Then we need to tile, paint, and do the finishing touches. We also still need to get the floor done.

If nothing else, we are very relieved that we did not mess up the pretty new countertops!