Albion and Avalon

My lunchtimes in Shoreditch often involve a wander to Conran’s Albion Cafe, where they do the most splendid double pack of sandwiches for only £4.50. Quite reasonable. One of these lunchtimes I plan to enjoy a proper sit down lunch, so watch out for that review in a future episode. The cafe is connected to a bakery, full of nostalgic English fair such as pickles and biscuits that remind you of teas spent round a wooden table in days when screens were a rare treat not a constant immersive experience. Well worth a wander.

Albion, the caff, is situated on the corner of Boundary (such a wonderful word) and Redchurch Streets. Redchurch Street is an up and coming street linking the trendy zones of Shoreditch and Brick Lane. Every time I walk down there some new gallery, boutique or coffee shop is opening and the foot traffic is constantly increasing. Since we’re looking for an area to buy in, it strikes me we could do well to look to these areas that exist between already popular areas – as the upswell of growth for new, interesting places amongst those on a tight budget makes sense. London house prices are ridiculous at the best of times, and right now are the most resilient in the country by a long way.

On Shoreditch High Street sits another shop called Avalon, and for some reason these words both caught by eye today. It turns out they have some commonality. Both begin with ‘A’ for a start. Both also refer to islands; Albion is the oldest known name for Britain, and Avalon is a mythical island from Arthurian legend – the place where Excalibur was forged and Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds. The actual location of Avalon is, like Atlantis (another island beginning with ‘A’), subject for some debate with some people believing that Glastonbury Tor could even be the correct location. Although not an island in the traditional sense, the Tor does rise from the landscape like an island.

So what does this all mean and why did my mind fix on those two island words today? I’m still hoping to find out. Answers on a postcard please to the usual address.

Song 2: The Revenge

Blur have performed their first ‘comeback’ gig in a small railway museum, and by most accounts it was a jolly good romp. This is good news as next week we’re seeing them at their ‘mid size’ pre Hyde Park gig in Southend. Huzah! Well, that’s assuming our tickets ever turn up – which I’m assuming will be last minute so people tempted to tout them are screwed over. Not very helpful for us actual fans though is it? Surely is there no other way…. Coff.

Speaking of music, as I write this it sounds like we’ve acquired a female vocalist fronted band practice in an apartment next door. On the one hand she sounds pretty good. On the other hand not a big fan of live drums on any day, let alone a Sunday. Of course it could just be a very high fidelity stereo system.

So for those of you who haven’t noticed my lack of blog posts recently, I seem to be throwing more random musings onto my twitter. yesterday though my main iPhone based app Twitterific failed during the ‘Tweetpocalypse’. This is where the numerical unique identifiers for new messages went above a certain level, a very big number that is not handle by standard data types. So a lot of subsidiary twitter apps went south. Ah well.

Finally, a big thanks to mum & Henry for a) something they know about and b) for my Gordon Ramsey sunday lunch cookbook years ago. I finally did a couple o’ recipes from it last night to stretch the normal. In fact not only did I cook, in itself a strange event as I’m normally relegated to washing up duties, but I cooked a wild mushroom pasta (recipe: shallots, mushrooms + oil, cook) and ate it all. Blimey. We’re trying to be more veggie this week and that was a first successful step. To celebrate we ate a wonderfully unhealthy lemon posset (lemon juice, sugar, cream – how can you go wrong with that?). Mmm..

Jes’ Bean Recipe

While I was over in NYC the ever lovely Jes made a splendid vegetarian platter for us to enjoy. One of the things on this platter were heirloom beans, big, flavorsome beans that I couldn’t get enough of, so I asked for the recipe. And since I can’t ever find it when I need it (like now) I’ve decided to post it up for posterity:

  1. First up, find yourself some good, dried beans – ideally not too old. Jess recommends cranberry beans from Rancho Gordo who have a fine selection of heirloom beans. Unfortunately they don’t ship to the UK, so I ended up using a local supermarket packet of crab eye beans (barbunya) and they’ve worked out just fine (if not as wonderful as Jes’s!) (Note: an equivalent European bean is the Italian borlotti bean)
  2. Soak your beans overnight, at least 8 hours. I’ve been using filtered water and changing the water semi-regularly as this helps reduce the bean chemicals that makes you less popular at social events (if you get my drift). If you end up soaking them too much just put them in the fridge to stop them fermenting. The beans will at least double in size, so allow for that, and once they’ve soaked the skins should look a little bit wrinkly. Don’t worry – they’ll absorb more fluid in the next steps.
  3. Once ready, quarter an onion and about 4/5 cloves of garlic and throw in a pan with some olive oil. Cook until nice and brown.
  4. Drain the beans and put them in the browned onions, cover with plenty of water and add some ground pepper. Bring to the boil then pop in a bay leaf (don’t forget to take this out at the end.
  5. Boil for 30 minutes, then turn to medium high.
  6. After 15 minutes add some vegetable broth and salt and keep cooking. You’ll have to keep checking at this point to see how tender the beans are.
  7. Once they’re done, drain and eat! Or put in the fridge for a handy bean salad for the week. Yum!

It’s a great simple dish, dirt cheap, good for you and handy for lunches. The only downside is remembering to soak the beans the night before. So thanks for that Jess, you’ll make a vegetarian of me yet!

Milk in Bags: A Canadian Import

It appears me and M are not the only things to come over from Canada recently. The BBC has a report on milk in plastic bags coming to our supermarkets soon. The technology correspondent makes a bit of a pigs ear out of putting the milk bag into its dispenser and pouring it, but I can totally understand. The first time I came across milk in a bag at the M’s family house near Toronto I was flummoxed too, however the way they use it is to have a small plastic jug with the top of the milk bag sticking out the top – then to use the milk you snip a small triangle off the corner of the bag and voila! Pourable milk.

It will be interesting to see if it catches on here, as the environmental benefits of less packaging are high. The downside is that the plastic bags are more susceptible to breaking when you take them home – plus I can just see some gangs of kids finding it hilarious to throw the bags at people to watch them explode! More news as it happens…

Concientious Meat Eating

When I first came to New York, myself and my then girlfriend would always share one main course between the two of us. Normally this would involve some annoyance on the part of the server, and often either a surcharge or a requirement that we both had a starter, but what it never involved was either of us being hungry. New York portions, like most portions in America, are huge. Only when you eat at really up market restaurants do the portion sizes flip flop, and you end up paying more money for much less food – quality not quantity.

Unfortunately after years of living in New York I’ve gotten used to eating a whole single portion myself, as my gut will attest and last night was no exception. On the way home from a talk I decided to stop by a local restaurant for a lovely coq au vin. This came in a bowl over-flowing with chicken, with very little space for the sauce. By the time I’d finished I was pretty darn full, from a dish that was mostly meat and maybe two small onions. Food coma set in rapidly.

This question arose in my mind while eating – why don’t I become vegetarian? I know that we can survive without eating animals, plus kittens are cute and fluffy as are calves. The only problem with this idea is… I like meat. Yep. That’s a biggie. So I’ve now hit on the concept of ‘concientious carnivorousness’. My premise is this; in choosing to continue to eat meat we all have a responsibility to the animals that gave up their lives to make best use of their sacrifice. This can be carried out by simply eating every piece of meat on your plate and trying not to put too much meat in your meal to help make sure you eat all of it. To that end restaurants could help by setting up an objective measuring system for how much meat is in a portion, and offering reduced size portions. Simple really. Coff.

Pigging Out

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Now we enter the year of the pig, apparently a very prosperous year for all – especially for people who are little piggies themselves. And a big thanks to the Huang clan for another lovely communal soup-bowl cooking experience. Putting vegetables and meats from your plate into the boiling soup, then fishing it out, or possibly someone else’s food, a bit later is a great way to eat and share good times.

Mmm, chewy

Well my first batch of mince pies taught me to roll the pastry a lot thinner! I also need to go shopping for a proper baking tray for them rather than trying to get a cheapo aluminium (pronounced ‘alum-in-um’ over here of course) muffin trays to work. Nowhere near as nice as the ones from Myers of Keswick but they contain a lot more love, and of course grubby fingerprints.

I’ve also discovered that I now have enough airmiles from Virgin to fly to Hong Kong and back, or South America. Wow. I found that out while I was trying to book a flight back for Christmas. As I watched Orbitz and Expedia the flights got progressively more expensive. ‘Tis the season to be flying to the UK apparently. I was also faced with the quandry that if I follow through with my current plans of travelling come February I only have a few short months left in New York. This means I wanted to try and spend the minimum amount of time back in the UK and consequently I’m not staying there for New Years. Unless I change my mind of course… I normally do. Or do I?


As I wait for my mum to arrive (having just landed at Newark) I contemplate the shared arrival of fresh supplies of British snack food. I just made a leek pie following a Floyd (British TV chef) recipe that relies on having the best tasting butter, not the weird foamy/waxy yellow substance that claims to be butter in American supermarkets. Consequently it tasted a bit weird, to say the least. It’s things like this that can really get to me sometimes – why is it so different? How much variation can you put into making butter? I suspect the American substance has never even been near a cow, let alone anything as wonderfully unhealthy as cream. Although I am sure that whatever faux-cream substitute has been used is infinitely worse for you than simple cream.

Even with the crappy butter I had a lot of fun cooking, though I seriously need to practice at making pastry before my next attempts! Plus I need to get hold of some scales so I don’t make approximations that are so far off. Working from a non-beginner’s cookbook was also interesting. Sizes were not fully specified and entire steps were left out. Instructions like “make the pastry” don’t really help when you’ve no clue where to start. This is in stark contrast to most books on computer languages which seem to always start with an explanation of the most extreme basics – the cooking equivalent of “carefully open the salt container, measure out 0.5 cubic centimetres of salt and sprinkle evenly over the surface” rather than “add a pinch of salt”.

Last night I ended a week of not drinking with a few glasses of wine and a superb blue sky martini in Marions on Bowery. The drinks there are amazing and very cheap ($6) but the food doesn’t live up to the same standard unfortunately. Having written my last plea for a loss in weight I seem to be fully ignoring it and going full steam ahead to bloat-dom. Sigh. Why are New York restaurants so nice??

The long weight is over

I just found an old spreadsheet I was recording my weight on back in April 1999… I weighed 185 lbs… Now I weigh 205 lbs… that’s very depressing!!!

Damn you tasty cheddar sandwiches! Damn you delectable sushi!! Damn you all cheap and affordable new york cuisine!!!! And a special damning for all you lunch buffet bars out there… see you in hell!