Sunday, July 17, 2016


DSC02550When I first took a class in watercolour painting, I quickly learned that I lacked basic drawing skills.  While I could apply convincing and pleasing washes and blends, it was hard to produce  credible landscapes without some ability to draw a tree or a mountain.  I needed a good skills class.

Similarly, a recipe can carry me some distance, but I’m limited if I lack basic kitchen skills.  My w.wezen gave me a course-of-my-choice at Ann’s Smart School of Cookery in London, and I decided to use it to bone up on the basics.pic_gallery_big_21.jpg (367×550)

Like fishmongery.

A very British term, it implies the skills needed to reduce a whole fish to a pair of filets, nicely cooked and presented.   Knife work for boning and skinning, skillet tips for crispy skin and smoking, were the core skills.

Ann’s London base is out on Canary Wharf, out along the DLR about as far as you can get from Paddington Station.  The Star Wars Celebration (Europe) convention was being held nearby, so I was treated to lots of Storm Troopers and X-Wing Pilots,  Leias and Reys filling the coaches.

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Ann’s School is in the lower level of the West India Quay (Key), best found by keying off the nearby cinema and gym.  It’s a nice working space with lots of nearby restaurants along the water: arriving 30 minutes early, I took in a light veggie-English breakfast and the early joggers beneath the symbolic cranes.

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Once installed around the Ann’s kitchen, we were tasked with learning three skills, filleting, skinning, and braising.  The chef-instructor quickly dispatched  the first fish, slicing off the flank with a 7-inch knife before lifting off the ribs and trimming the fat.  We sized up our trouts in pairs and slashed in. I failed to cut  deep enough as the second man in our relay, and my filet was sadly pulpy and nicked.

Fortunately, we were headed towards Pâté, so it was all mashed in mascarpone  and seasoned anyway.

My skinning skills were much better: a bit of pressure on an absolutely horizontal knife yielded a lovely fillet and a satisfyingly clean skin.

DSC02552I was surprised to find that smoking was stovetop-accessible.  A layer of foil, rice and tea, parchment, herbs, filets and ten minutes gave a delicately cooked flesh with almost no effort.  We all plunged into trying to enhance the dish with spices: our lemon-garlic (with a hint of 5-spice) gave a delicate flavour against the smoke, while others went mad with chilies and peppers.  Ah, the excess of youth.

On to Sea Bass (and Pin Bones), Flat Fish (and ‘Y’ cuts), both with butter and caper braising.  The chefs approach crispy skin different than I have.  I follow the ‘Absolutely dry applied to absolutely hot’ rule. They prefer oils, butter, DSC02561and ‘never turn the fish’.  It produced a very nice result with far less smell, smoke, and drama than mine.

There was a lot that I could use from the course, from choice of oils to angles of the knives.  I am, sadly, of the ‘third time’s a charm’ school of learning.  As with fondants and poached eggs, so shall it be with filleting and braising seafood. 

Fortunately, trout are cheap and cooking only takes 20 minutes: easy to get lots of practice in a week of dinners.

Monday, July 11, 2016

At the Readi(pop Festival)

DSC02440 (1300x902)As the summer heat finally settles in, lazy afternoons turn to picnics in the park, beer tents, and music into the twilight.  Readipop is the annual festival held at Christchurch Meadows along the Thames.  A family fun event lies outside of the ticketed areas, while paid entry gains beer tents and food stalls, music tents and the main stage.

And close-up time with the steampunk sculptures.

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I credit the organizers for bringing in lots of local talent and for discounting the food and drinks to offset the entry fees.  There was a sad-song folk tent and a rockin’-loud modern tent, the worlds biggest ukulele band filling the main stage with orange and the old-geezer classic rock tent on the fringe.  The food was burgers and paella, ice cream and pulled pork; a variety of craft beers, lots of summertime Pimms and lemonade, gin and tonic.

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The bands did four of five songs each before yielding to the next, just long enough to get an appreciation without wearing thin.  It was fun to pick out the entourage of each in the audience and the emcee had personal stories of each singer that he had discovered.

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I am getting a bit hesitant to keep writing accounts of events, as they are already past when I post stories and pictures.  But lots of these come around every year, and they all give the flavour of the Great British Summer.   So I’ll keep mixing expat-entrepreneur observations with reviews of the local Feests for the time being.

Oh, and the steampunk.

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There was an encampment out by the rock tent that was creating lovely wheeled animal sculptures from metal and mesh.  Generally immense, each crowned and escorted with performers dressed as frilled clowns, decontamination squads, and deep sea divers.  The kids loved them: a lot of work and creativity that went into the whole traveling exhibition.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Healthy habits

IMG_20160703_224844It’s not just jet lag.

Long-haul travel has a lot of detrimental effects, from sleep deprivation to junk diet, sitting too long in one place and accommodating cultural shifts.  I know that my feet swell and my dreams intensify with every air mile.  My blood pressure and heart rate had crept up when the dentist too a quick measure, perhaps from the half-stone that I’ve put on beyond my target weight.

Returning, there’s always the resolution to ‘get back on the wagon’.

Easier promised than done.  Returning to Rossmore, it’s genuinely hard to confront the exercise bike again.  I know that I’ve got ground to reclaim, intensity and duration; I know I need to just get on with it.  But after a long day’s work, the saddle just isn’t appealing.  I needed something different.


I used to go four times a week with friends: we were renowned for choreographed spins and precision finesse. 

This would be easy.

Today in the UK, group floor exercise is Body-something.  BodyBalance, BodyAttack, BodyCombat…  I thumbed the undifferentiated list and reserved a spot in a neutral alternative: BodyPump.  Arriving, I introduced myself to the instructor: ‘coming off of PT but I used to do the routines.  I made some step-motions.

“A bit old-school,” she sniffed.'

Only 20 years ago: We’ll see.

It’s not a bad class: the step is only used for sit-ups, not for actual  aerobics.  But it’s otherwise a full hour of weights and extensions, not too taxing and a good complement to the bike’s cardio fitness.

But I needed more.

imageHIIT training (30 minutes).  I’ve been doing High Intensity Intervals on the bike (10 reps, 30 sec on, 60 sec off) during the past six months when I feel conditioned.  Doing it free-standing would be like cross training, right?


This was likely the most high intensity intervals I’ve ever tried.  Jumps, squats, sit-ups, rolls, presses.  ‘Out of breath ten minutes in, I started doing the push-ups on my knees and finessing the lunges.  The pace was double what I was used to, and I don’t have (yet) the lateral ankle strength to easily tumble up and down quickly.

‘good adaptations, the instructor yelled, flashing a thumb’s up.

I could only hope.

I liberally ached in places that I hadn’t in years for two full days afterwards.  Nonetheless, I told myself:  This is a step along the road to ‘better.

‘three days a week, minimum, for the next month, then report back to these pages.


DSC02382I also read a good NYT  article about the progressive effects of alcohol.  The two things that I took away were 1)  How easy it is for two to become three, and 2) the need to give the body a periodic rest. 

It’s the 5:2 regime again, and it made sense to couple diet and vice.

I was surprisingly (gratifyingly) easy to go cold turkey for a week, and to keep conscious moderation (one glass wine vs. two) thereafter.  My counselor suggests that it may have the added benefit of quieting the intensity of dreaming: I’m keeping a log for comparison.