Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Visiting Another Island: Notes and Bites from the UK

After much searching/cleaning of the house, I FINALLY found the cable to our camera! Which means I can now share some Kodak moments from my recent work trip to the UK.

First, the SITES:

I initially spent a few days in Newcastle upon Tyne attending a conference and fighting a head cold that Tony so generously shared just as I was leaving. So I didn't see a whole lot of the city aside from what could be reached on foot.

The Sage Gateshead. Normally a music venue, but it has several auditoriums that suited the conference. Despite the larval-like shape, it's a gorgeous building inside. Plus, the conference provided a really decent lunch, which made up for the lackluster poster session that served as the purpose for my trip in the first place.

Street art. I think. (I just like random pop culture and Pac-man references.)

Newcastle University. It sort of popped out of nowhere and I just stumbled on the campus.

The current production at the local theater. It's a musical.

2 1/2 days later and I was back in London, taking in the sites and getting my nerd on. I met a good from of mine (a Kiwi who's now living in the UK) at the Borough Market for lunch and a serious walking tour of the city center.

The Market is just the mother of all outdoor markets. It had EVERYTHING - meats, crafts, cheeses, produce. You name it and there's probably a stall for it. And it smelled AMAZING. I could have spent hours there alone, but I was starving. So, instead, said friend and I grabbed some ostrich burgers and one of the more decant brownies I've had in my lifetime for dessert, and caught up over lunch while sitting by the Thames. Very relaxing.

My trip happened to coincide with the Mayor's Thames Festival, an annual event and London's largest free outdoor arts festival. Neat! We had a look-see as said friend took me across town.

On this particular day, the Southward Bridge was home to the Feast on the Bridge event. Food vendors and family activities galore.

Stinky Cheese.

I, of course, was completely distracted by one of the community projects festival goers could enjoy: the Gingerbread Southward Bridge. You could decorate little gingerbread people to walk across it.

Said friend then took me out to enjoy some other sites the city has to offer...

The Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London.

Trafalgar Square. This is the Fourth Plinth, which changes every so often to display different commissioned works of art. This piece, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, is the first piece commissioned by a Black British artist.

By the time I made it back to my hotel from my walking tour, my cold was on it's last legs. That did not, however, prevent me from losing my voice entirely. I opted to stay in for the night and hit the British Museum the next morning.

The great thing about the Museum is that it's free. The bad thing about the Museum is that everyone knows it. The place is absolutely rammed - tourists are practically spilling off the stairwells. And honestly I got lost a few times just trying to navigate the place, which is indescribably immense. (That said, they're antiquities exhibit is off the friggin chain.)

Still, I managed to find the thing I really wanted to take a peak at. Not Cleopatra's mummy (which is on display. Weird.). Not the marble reliefs from the Parthenon. Nope, my inner geek craved something older:

It's the Rosetta Stone! Be still my nerdish heart!!

After a few hours, I had to leave. I was mentally drained and crowds of camera-wielding tourists are not my thing. Still, I cannot recommend the Museum enough. The only bummer from my visit was discovering that I wouldn't be in London long enough to check out their
upcoming exhibit.

Now, I was ALL kinds of giddy about finding this, because as a kid I watch a lot of Sesame Street and Sesame Street specials, including the 1983 classic, "Don't Eat the Pictures." The special follows the adventures of the SS gang after they're accidentally locked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a night. One of the story lines involves Big Bird, who with the assistance of pal Snuffle-upagus, is trying to help the ghost of a young Egyptian boy reach the afterlife.

Admittedly themes of the soul and afterlife are pretty heavy topics for the Children's Television Workshop, but I watched the crap out of that video nonetheless.

There were visits to Camden Town and a few parks here and there as well, but let's forget about that and move on to the important part of the trip.

Namely, the FOOD...

I visited more than a few cafes while in Newcastle. I had a few Newcastle Brown Ales and the odd sandwich. Since I wasn't feeling 100%, all I really wanted was some broth, which as it turns out is really difficult to find this time of year. So, I ate a lot of salads just to try to ingest some vitamins.

A Greek Quinoa Salad from Blake's Cafe, with a latte on the side. I would have thrown in some feta and maybe some pine nuts instead, but still pretty decent.

A phenomenal Tomato and Celery Soup from Cafe Bistro Buee. Wine on the side, of course.

A surprisingly tasty Veggie Club with Halumi Cheese from the cafe located in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Simple Gnocchi courtesy of my hotel's room service. I had to order in person because - having lost my voice entirely - they couldn't understand me over the phone.

Museum cafe treats once again. But seriously, when was the last time you had a Prosciutto and Roasted Tomato tart option at the Smithsonian?

By Sunday evening I was ready to resume full entrees again. Cue my good friend Jennie, who insisted we head to local gastro-pub for a proper English Roast and Yorkshire Pudding. We ended up at the Alma in Newington Green, which in addition to some fine menu items, also serves a healthy range of beers, wines, and NZ-based products. (Pineapple lumps, anyone?)

The Alma seemed to be quite the place to be on a Sunday evening (i.e., the place was packed). Rather than wading through the crowd for more beverages, we decided to make a pit stop at a second pub so I could have pint of bitters (at least I think that's what that was) and then it was time for me to head home.

Now I'm back State-side and still a tad exhausted, but thrilled I got to visit with some good friends over some exceptional eats. Here's hoping I won't be so long between visits next time.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Perks of Being a Blogger: Free Steak from Hearst Ranch

Sometimes it literally pays to be a blogger.

Case in point: Not long after returning from the UK (photos to follow shortly), I found out that I'd been picked to receive a free sample from Hearst Ranch. HR specializes in grass-fed, open-range meats, all of which is available for order.

(This photo isn't mine. It's from the site. But I could totally take a picture like it if I bothered to use something besides my phone.)

And thank GOD it is! I was a tad apprehensive initially, as the last steak I purchased from a local grocer had a mouth feel on par with cardboard. But, I needn't have worried: This stuff is fabulous - it practically melts in your mouth assuming you haven't burned it, and even then I suspect it would still taste pretty damn spectacular. I received two very well-sized flank steaks in the mail during the week. (I also received the dry ice it was packed with, which was fun to play with for 30 minutes or so.) Steak #1 is in the freezer for the next few weeks, but steak #2 was immediately thawed for consumption.

After returning from a weekend wedding trip to Rochester, NY (Congrats, Tiffany & Steve!!), I scrounged around for an easy, non-grill required recipe to prepare the meat. I ended up tweaking an old Cook's Illustrated recipe, adding on a balsamic reduction for additional flavor. Throw in some rice and diced veggies, and you've got yourself a meal!

I'll post photos and food stories from London and Newcastle soon (aka, when I find the cable to for my camera). But let me offer some items to distract you in the meantime:

Packing for Mars by Sarah Roach

Good if you like easy-to-digest science texts, space odysseys, or just really want to know just how astronauts use the bathroom in zero gravity.

The Archandriod by Janelle MonĂ¡e

For those who enjoy funk and R&B or who think that Andre 3000 is an under-appreciated genius.

Pan-Roasted Flank Steak with Garlic-Shallot-Rosemary Marinade
(Courtesy of Cook's Illustrated November, 2005)

6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

1 flank steak (about 2 pounds), patted dry with paper towels
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Balsamic Reduction
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. For Marinade: Puree all ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down blender jars as needed.

  2. For Steak: Using dinner fork, poke steak about 20 times on each side. Place on rimmed baking sheet or in large baking dish; rub both sides of steak evenly with salt and then with paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

  3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Using paper towels, wipe paste off flank steak; season both sides of steak evenly with pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Set steak in skillet and cook until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak; sear until second side is well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Place skillet in oven and roast until slightly less done than desired, about 4 to 5 minutes for medium-rare. Using potholders to handle skillet, transfer steak to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Using sharp chef's knife or carving knife, slice steak about 1/4 inch thick against grain on bias. Serve immediately.

  4. For Balsamic Reduction: Over medium-low heat, add the vinegar and brown sugar to the pan used to sear the steak, and whisk to combine, scraping up any bits still on the pan. Cook and reduce until thick, about the consistency of maple syrup. Whisk in 2 tablespoons butter and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve over the slices of steak.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time for New Art: Jersey Free for Alls and a Full Sunday Menu

Hey, everyone!

I’d apologize for the lax blogging, but it seems to have become my new bad habit. And it’s really a shame given all the shenanigans (as they are) that have come to pass.

Firstly: Congrats to my buddies Monica and Jason on their newest addition! Little Eleanor and her head FULL of hair joined the rest of us on this side of the womb late August. She is a beauty and, thankfully for Elle, looks just like her mom. Mazel tov!

In other news, in keeping with the first half of this blog’s title, I have acquired a new piece of skin art. My latest tattoo came courtesy of Andrea over at Have Fun Be Lucky, conveniently located here in the Hampden section of Baltimore. Andrea does AMAZING work – and can hang in there like an endurance athlete. The piece she did on me took roughly 8 hours, and she did it all in one go. All I had to do was sit there and when I stood back up, I had this to look forward to:

It’s a Jizo Boddhisattva, a figure in Japanese Buddhism who traditionally looks after children (particularly unborn children), travelers, and expectant mothers. I saw a figure at the Museum of Asian Art in Dallas and have been transfixed ever since. Andrea came up with the design after I provided a few ideas and photos. I’d say she knocked it out of the park, wouldn’t you? We celebrated with drinks a few days later, including this delightful little champagne-based cocktail called a Golighty designed by the good folks at Golden West.

I can happily report that things remain busy as ever back in the kitchen. I had a slight reprieve late last month while attending the wedding of my friends Alex and Kathy in New Jersey. I know Jersey hardly inspires images of fine food, but I’ve gotta tell you – that was the best spread I’ve ever enjoyed at a wedding reception. The cocktail hour alone (which included oysters on the half shell, a carving station, and mini peirogie) was worth the trip. Dinner included Chateau Briand and dessert ended with strawberries dipped in the chocolate fountain, mini cannoli, and a purse full of candy. (The latter had much to do with the oft-visited open bar, which served champagne and gin ALL NIGHT.)

Back home, in an effort to thank my friend Sally for several job leads, I prepared a full menu for several of my closest confidants. It was an interesting experience, given that Sally lacks a few pantry staples, like vegetable oil and flour. I’m still not sure how she and her boyfriend feed themselves.

Anywho, dinner turned out smashingly. The night’s menu included…

Herb Roasted Chicken

Pureed Sweet Potatoes

Porcini Risotto

Mrs. Wiley’s Famous Corn Pudding

Champagne Cake

Mini Baked Donuts

Just click on each item to find the recipe, except for the risotto, which was a packet mix, and the corn pudding, which is a family thang. (Totally worth it.) I will say that the only real disappointments of the night were the donuts, in part because I don’t own a donut mold and ended up making cupcakes, but also because the resulting baked goods still weren’t up to par, in my opinion.

This week, I’m in London and Newcastle for work, trying to find places to eat that won’t exhaust my limited per diem (which was set for the wrong city – good job, travel department!) Due to some overly conservative planning on my part, I now have a 6hr layover in Heathrow before my next flight. British Airways won’t let passengers switch flights with less than 24hrs notice, and Tube workers are currently on strike, which is making travel into the city a bit of a hassle. For the moment, I’ve holed up in a pub that has, so far, played “The Macarena” over the loud speaker. Followed by “You Can’t Touch This.” No joke.

I’ve heard more jokes than compliments about British cuisine, so if anyone has any suggestions about places where I just have to eat, feel free to let me know! I’ll report on my findings accordingly.


Herb Roasted Chicken