Misc


Right, here’s yet another Japanese TV show that I’ve been watching that I can definitely recommend. This one is Lunch ON!, an NHK World television show that is the English translation version of a NHK television show called Salameshi, dealing with the subject of lunches eaten by the working man/woman.

And yes, weekday lunches in Japan are just as exciting as you’d expect them to be. There are no sad sandwiches to be seen here; instead, there are noodles and dishes with rice and onigiri and, of course, bento. Oh, how I wish our work cafeterias served the dishes that I have seen on this show! Of course, it’s more likely that more unusual or quirky lunches and lunch traditions and customs are featured on the programme but it’s still a good insight into the country. Not so cool is the waking up an extra hour early to put together that bento, or in some cases, the making of many bentos for others. Just as interesting are the different jobs they cover, from various salespeople to archaeologists to scientists to shopkeepers, etc. Also of interest to me were the clearly delineated gender roles in Japan and it was heartening to see some men subverting these roles, making their own bento.

I’m not going to lie – the narrator’s voice is infuriatingly grating. I just sucked it up and watched everything I could though…my interest in the subject trumped her voice. I’m mentioning it here so you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Here’s one example episode on Youtube. Others can be found by searching for ‘Lunch On NHK’ on Youtube. Sadly, I’ve watched all that I could find already and I hope to catch new episodes on the NHK World app.

I’m starting to like the format of these short little posts that allow me to quickly expand on my thoughts of a place or a dish I’ve had recently. I like the instant publication of Instagram but something about it doesn’t allow me to wax on as I do here. One recent meal whose photo I posted was my lunch from Mother Clucker, who I encountered in the monthly KERB street food market in Sheldon Square, Paddington.

My £10 was exchanged for their lunch deal of 3 chicken strips, Cajun fries, and a can of soft drink.

Chicken strips and Cajun fries from Mother Clucker. They are freaking excellent.

Those chicken strips were huge! These tea-brined, buttermilk soaked and twice battered (that’s what their website says) chicken strips were utterly fantastic, very moist and tender and with a great crust. You know I love me some fried chicken and these were hands-down the best Southern-style strips I’ve had in a long time. As you can see, I also put good use to the proffered squeeze bottles of homemade lime mayonnaise and hot pepper sauce. Two thumbs up.

These guys are definitely worth seeking out.

Mother Clucker
All over London – check out their website for details.

Most of London woke to a light dusting of snow this past Sunday morning but while there are Narnia like scenes outside, we’ve got a bit of the Mediterranean inside. We’ve still got a handful of so of tomatoes grown in our garden and harvested last autumn.

Tomacons

Now what kind of tomato keeps for months like that?! Hanging tomatoes do – let’s ignore the fact that I haven’t actually hung mine. These thick skinned tomatoes are the kind to use for the famous Catalan pa amb tomàquet (literally ‘bread with tomato’) and are generally not available outside Spain, maybe not even outside Catalonia. In Catalan, these go by the names tomàquets de penjar (hanging tomatoes) or tomacons.

Have you tried making pa amb tomàquet at home with regular tomatoes? There’s not much to squish out of those fleshy salad tomatoes, is there? Many Spanish restaurants here, either unable to get the original tomatoes or who need to make lots in advance, tend to puree tomatoes and premix the puree with olive oil and salt and when it’s time to serve, brush this mixture onto toast. It really doesn’t taste the same.

These tomacons have lots of liquid and seeds inside their thick skins, making them absolutely rubbish for eating like a salad tomato but perfect for rubbing onto bread. Cut them in half around their equator, and rub their flesh vigorously onto a slice of gently toasted bread. You’ll find the tomato flesh give and release itself all over the bread, leaving empty skins between your fingers. Drizzle with olive and a bit of salt (and you could also rub a little garlic on the toast before the tomato) and you’re feasting.

We've gotta eat pa amb tomàquet while watching the Catalan election results! These are our home grown tomacons - the usual tomatoes used for this. I'll write a blog post about them one day.

And here's our pa amb tomàquet! #27s

Here’s a photo of another variety in a market in Barcelona. Oh look, they’re being properly hung for storage!

Hanging Tomatoes

You’ll notice that they look a little different than the ones I grew. Ours were tomacons of the variety mallorquí, which are quite distinct with their pointy bottoms. I’m growing a different variety next year – Domingo.

If you’re looking for seeds to grow them, you can, of course, get them in garden shops in Catalonia but I’ve also found them at Real Seeds – they’re listed as the variety De Colgar (Spanish for ‘hanging’). Ignore what they say about them being nearly extinct as that may be the case in the rest of Spain but it’s definitely not the case in Catalonia; you can buy them from pretty much any grocers. I believe those are the correct seeds!

Happy new year! This is an end-of-year update from our vegetable garden! Since my introduction to our vegetable garden, we’ve had quite a good summer and autumn of harvests. Of course, things are relatively dormant now but with the current mild winter we still have some chard going strong as well as a few carrots still in the ground. The cavolo nero still looks good and the rocket keeps putting up new leaves. The broad beans I’ve planted for overwintering are already almost 30cm tall!

Let’s see what’s been harvested! Chard. Lots of it and of the rainbow sort so that still tickles me.

I ran out in the rain to gather my first harvest of rainbow chard for brunch

Cherry tomatoes. A million.

I'm still in shock at how many cherry tomatoes can be produced from two plants.

Carrots. I planted way too many but they’re good to have around.

Pulled out these carrots this morning...

Cucamelons. I also planted way too many of these.

First harvest: 1 cucamelon. Second: 2. Today: 4. I see where this is going.

Near daily harvests.

This morning's harvest. The courgettes are winding down but everything else is going strong!

Even friends come over and help you harvest!

Hold a barbecue and your friends will do the harvesting for you!

Cavolo nero! Well, my plants are a little on the small side but they taste good.

Cavolo nero from the garden!

Then of course there was all the cooking with the vegetables. Most of it went into every day cooking and eating. There was a brief stint of bringing couscous-based salads to work.

Alright, let's see how long this packing lunch for work thing lasts. Probably until the veggies stop.

There were vegetables aplenty for having on the side with everything.

Steak and homegrown vegetables. This was our first proper green/runner bean harvest!

Most of the time the vegetables became the focus of our dinner. We made lots of truites (Catalan for tortillas) and soups.

Our garden has fed us and continues to feed us well. Swiss chard truita (omelette) with courgette soup.

Courgette carbonara.

The courgettes keep giving! They are monster plants now. Courgette carbonara tonight.

More vegetables, this time served with eggs.

Sautéed courgettes, fresh tomatoes, and sobrassada eggs for brunch! 🍳🍞🍅

This was one of our favourite meals which we called pasta de l’hort (garden pasta). This was hot pasta tossed with a chopped salad with many things from the garden: tomatoes, rocket, cucamelons, etc. Oh, and we’d toss in an avocado too and maybe some cheese.

Pasta de l'hort / garden pasta

Baby courgettes are good in instant noodles.

My favourite vegetables in our garden are those that pass the 'can I throw them into my instant noodles' test.

Some of those endless carrots were turned into a salad.

... And turned most of the carrots into this salad.

I’ve now learned to freeze some of the vegetables but lots were cooked as soon as we harvested them. Lots of things were cooked into various dishes here that we had with rice: runner beans with miso butter, egg and tomato, courgettes with Lao Gan Ma sauce, and purple bean omelette.

We used up the vegetables (and random stuff in the fridge) at dinnertime. Clockwise from top left: runner beans with miso butter, egg and tomato, courgettes with Lao Gan Ma sauce, purple bean omelette. All served with rice.

I’ve learned a few things along the way. When we returned from our summer holiday, we found our purple beans had fallen over – the supports we had used for them had got soaked in the rain and then the winds blew them over. The runner beans succumbed to the same a month later – lesson learned, never use these supports again! And then our tomatoes were struck down by blight – argh, what a terrible stupid disease! We had to pick lots for them to ripen indoors but some of the larger ones were turned into fried green tomatoes. They’ve all been eaten now except for a few Catalan hanging tomatoes that can keep all winter – I’ve been meaning to write about them in a separate post.

This is our tomato ripening station - and it's working!

Uh oh. Our green tomatoes are looking a touch blight-y. 😩

Our sunflowers were brilliant. We grew three and one flower head fell off after a fat bird or squirrel got to it. The other flowers survived though their seeds were attacked by pigeons, squirrels, parakeets, etc. We just managed to save most of the two remaining heads, enough to toast and snack on. They were fabulous!

Tonight's in-front-of-the-telly activity

Anyway, it’s time to start planning for next year. Things I’ll change? Perhaps not so many cucamelon plants. More green beans – I love them. Maybe I’ll try corn and maybe melons. The broad beans are already new.

One thing that’s been driving me stir-crazy all year are the stupid cats that come along and dig up my poor seedlings – it’s very difficult to raise any winter lettuces and cabbages if the young plants keep getting buried! Does anyone have any tips for detracting cats please? Should I just get garden hoops and cover everything with fleece/netting? Is there a cat repellent spray you can recommend?

It was Christmas in London for us this year and it was our first proper Christmas in our house! We have family visiting us and I’ve been cooking for the past couple of days.

Christmas day started with a massive brunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, sausages, croissants, hams, jams, etc. Oh, and hashwaffles. I’m not sure if that’s its correct name but I saw somewhere online that frozen tater tots could be cooked in a waffle iron. Well, it was just one step away from tater tots to frozen rosti from Waitrose and boom – I can vouch that they do indeed cook brilliantly in that multi-tasking device. Place them frozen into a hot waffle iron, apply constant pressure until the soften and the waffle iron closes fully and then let cook until done. They cook very quickly and are fabulous.

Christmas day brunch

Dinner was unconventional but it’s what we love doing for special occasions: hotpot!

The Hotpot Spread

Pork and Beef

All the Balls

Mushrooms

Vegetables, Tofu and Spam

After cooking all those ingredients, the broth is brilliant to drink afterwards. If you’re looking to host your own hotpot party, I’ve written general guidelines for it previously.

Boxing day is never an afterthought. The day started with brunch again – Catalan pa amb tomàquet with fried eggs and bacon.

Boxing day brunch

Dinner was steak!

The Boxing Day Dinner Table

Let’s zoom into my plate. There’s a ribeye steak covered in a black pepper, mushroom and brandy sauce, served with mashed potatoes and sauteed Brussels sprouts. The sauce is a family recipe, similar apparently to a pepper sauce served in a restaurant in Fraser’s Hill in Malaysia – we bring it out at every special family steak meal!

Steak with a Black Pepper Mushroom Sauce, Sauteed Brussels Sprouts and Mashed Potatoes

And now that Christmas is over, I’m looking forward to heading out in London to eat! Hope you’ve all had a fabulous holiday season!

Last month, I was invited to an event being put on by GingerlineThe Secret Island. I wasn’t familiar with the company and had to turn to their website to find out exactly what it was they do – and that turned out to be putting on dining experiences and The Secret Island was their first “multidimensional experience”. This event was being held in conjunction with the Singapore Tourism Board to celebrate 50 years of Singapore. As per their social media rules, no photos nor blog posts can appear until they give the all clear (that is, after their final day of The Secret Island). So yeah… it’s over now. You’re going to have to wait for their next event (their website indicates Autumn 2015).

My friend and I arrived at the secret location with plenty of time to spare before our “departure” to the Secret Island. The waiting area was set up like an old fishing port, complete with ferryman to take us on our journey and his daughter who played games with us. When our departure time was called, we all lined up to get into his “ferry” (some of us laden with wine bottles for the meal ahead) and we lay in there…

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… and whoooosh, our “ferry” sent us hurtling into another room, or should I say, another….jungle (there’s a great video of this experience on their website!). This was Singapore’s jungles, complete with colonial explorer in the grips of some tropical fever.

In the Jungle

The attention to detail was what really wowed me. Our first course of a mango and tomato salad were served in these plastic spheres which were dangling from the ceiling – I mean, “from the trees”! We were “foraging” for our dinners in the jungle!

Foraging

A small chest also appeared, filled with seared salmon sesame lollipops!

Sesame Salmon

Soon, we were ushered to the next room, which was fixed up to be a hawker market (styled in a way that’s perhaps reminiscent of Blade Runner). This was manned by one crazy hawker who certainly would not be passing Singapore’s strict hygiene laws!

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Luckily, our food wasn’t prepared by him but by an unseen kitchen hand beyond the room. We were served a Singapore chilli crab spring roll and an open fresh rice paper spring roll with char siu pork, coriander and rice noodles.

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When our allotted time was up, again we were ushered to the tranquility in the next, slightly smaller room – the Boardwalk.

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And yup, we sat on the boardwalk with our legs dangling over the “water” and sipped on cocktails served in bags, just like drinks (well, soft drinks) are in Asia.

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And then onwards we went to a dining room in a Peranakan home. Seeing this room and our hosts, the strict Auntie and her timid daughter-in-law, both dressed in Peranakan sarong kebaya, … well, it made me all warm and fuzzy inside as this was my heritage! The room was utterly beautiful, with its family portraits lining the walls (I wonder which family!) and painted lanterns.

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Served in a Peranakan tiffin was opor ayam with turmeric rice. The chicken dish was a spiced one with lots of rich coconut milk.

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On the table were bowls of chilli oil and sambal belacan to heat things up, …

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… a tomato raita to cool things down, …

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…and a green papaya salad for crunch.

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We were regaled with a lullaby in Malay and while Auntie fell asleep, we were rushed out to see the future of Singapore (hosted by the “great great grandson” of our previous hostess).

Singapore in the Future

I’m still confused as to whether this guy was supposed to be human or android. *shrug*

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Dessert was brought out from seemingly nowhere (hidden microwaves). Here was a pandan panna cotta, lychee gel, coconut puffed rice, yuzu and palm sugar caramel – a brilliantly modern dessert but with the traditional flavours found in Singapore.

Dessert

We’d never been to one of these immersive experiences before but thumbs up! It was fun! The food was a very gentle introduction to Asian food in general but it worked very well with the storyline. And I can only imagine how difficult it is to cater for so many people all night – there are a number of groups each evening and each group had about 16 people.

Thank you very much to Gingerline and the Singapore Tourism Board for the invitation! Tickets for this event were £50 each, and I’d expect it will be roughly that for their next event (don’t take my word for it). All my photos from the evening can be found in this Flickr album.

My garden! I never thought that I’d have my very own garden! Of course, it’s Blai’s too but he’ll be the first to admit that I’m the crazy one who insisted on growing almost all our vegetable plants from seed (our living room is south facing with lots of light and I’ve been treating it like a greenhouse). It’s a modest little patch (about 10 square metres plus a number of pots – the rest of the garden is lawn and herb/flower bedding) but so far I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to harvest from it, even this early in the season.

The tally so far in our garden is: 9 tomato plants, 2 courgette plants, 8 cucamelon plants, a small patch of carrots, 3 purple bean vines, 3 runner bean vines, a tiny patch of wild rocket, a small patch of cime di rapa, countless radishes dotted everywhere, a few spring onions looking like string, 2 little cavolo nero plants, 5 rainbow chard plants, 1 pot of pea shoots, 2 pots of cut and come again lettuces, 1 pot of strawberries, and 1 small potted fig tree. As you might be able to tell, I’ve aimed for variety and experimentation with yields in this first year and we’re not in any way looking to be self sustained from this little plot.

We’ve had a few great salads, radishes with butter, cime di rapa pasta, and quite a few strawberries. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

And the courgette flower this morning!

Our first itty bitty (unfertilised, I think, as there were no male flowers alongside) courgette and we ate it!

Yesterday's bowl of homegrown salad leaves!

Our first cima di rapa harvest!

And our little patch of wild rocket always seems to look full, even after picking lots for salads

Pre-breakfast radishes in the garden

🍓🍓🍓

Of course, not everything has gone to plan. My aubergine seeds didn’t germinate earlier this year and now I suspect that some of my tomatoes in pots are damaged by possible herbicide in the compost I purchased. But what really surprised me was how much I’m enjoying gardening and how happy the garden is making me. And the bees! I love seeing the bees do their thing with the flowers. I do know, of course, how lucky we are to have some green space (we have had no green space whatsoever prior to this), especially in London…

I should say that I really had nearly no experience whatsoever before embarking on this wild and crazy sowing scheme! Books that have been helpful include The New Vegetable and Herb Expert, the same in the series for fruit, and Alys Fowler’s The Edible Garden. The last book has an accompanying television series that’s watchable on YouTube. Useful websites and blogs are You Grow Girl (I’ve been reading this one for years!), Mark’s Veg Plot, Grow Your Own, the gardening section of the Guardian, and the Royal Horticultural Society.

If you have any tips/suggestions on what I ought to grow, do let me know!

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