Saturday, November 5, 2011

Winter is coming...

Oh, my favorite A Song of Ice and Fire Tumblr? Oh yes, winter is coming...

Especially with a post like this, which incidentally highlights Matt Ridley's point in The Rational Optimist about how trade and trust have raised our living standards so much that an impoverished person has a higher standard of living in these ages than a lord in medieval times (roughly the era for A Song of Ice and Fire).

I may just need to start a Tumblr account.

Back from London!

I was revisiting one of my favorite cities last weekend, London. I literally was there for a long weekend - flew in Thursday morning (was not tired because I got five hours of sleep on the plane), dropped my stuff off at the flat in Notting Hill my friends and I were renting, and then went out and enjoying the Tate Modern and Spitalfields Market.

As for Friday, we went back to Spitalfields Market, where I finally ran into a photographer who I had last met in autumn 2008 and whose stacked espresso cup photo I desperately wanted to buy for myself (after buying it in 2008 and giving it to a friend). I loved the slightly sepia photo and the Bialetti stovetop espresso maker in the background. Anyway, the photo is below for you to enjoy (and appropriately marked with the watermark telling you where to get it if you like it). I have not decided where it should go in my house yet - maybe in my kitchen?

The rest of the weekend was great too. We went to two markets, Portobello and Broadway. At Portobello, one of my friends and I browsed through antique maps, but could not find any that truly tempted us (a friend of mine in DC has a few great framed maps of Cyprus and the world, so I was looking for something that could compete, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). However, I found this amazing truffle olive oil that I will now use the next time I make the roasted squash and mushroom salad from the Otto cookbook, Molto Gusto.

At Broadway Market we grazed at the various food stands there - I enjoyed some street Persian food, some falafel like thing called a kookoo. Though looking it up later, it appears that it is usually a frittata.

Of course, I can never resist clothing shopping in London, and this time was no different. Rather than some excellent shirts from T.M. Lewin though, I ended up getting two gorgeous leather jackets from Tomcat Leather in Covent Garden. Coincidentally, it is right next to this wonderful cheap vegetarian restaurant that I had not been to since 2006. And yes, we went there for dinner too, where I had their Moroccan plate - almond couscous mixed with harissa (my idea), and some other Moroccan specialties which I can't remember because as good as they were, I got the plate for the couscous.

All in all, I had a great time visiting London again. I am not certain when I'll next be back there, but since I am applying for school there, I am crossing my fingers that my next visit will be more permanent. In the mean time though, I'll be recreating that almond couscous and posting pictures. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blending Teas

Recently, thanks to a colleague, I've rediscovered my penchant for drinking tea. Usually I eschew tea and coffee because of the caffeine - five years ago I absolutely needed it (coffee) because of two hour daily commutes each way followed by dance practice until midnight (I was competing in open ballroom dancing at the time - Standard and Latin - and therefore needed all the time I could get for practice). After doing that for a year or so, I stopped and had a saner commute and dance practice schedule. And today, I have a pretty sane commute schedule and dance only for fun now.

At times I've picked up the coffee habit again - when one of my economist friends in the government introduced me to the Bialetti stove-top espresso maker. Or when I briefly reconsidered competitive dancing again, and the household I stayed at in New York was one where french-press brewed coffee was a regular morning and afternoon ritual. I still use that Bialetti if I'm absolutely tired from the night before and have a long drive ahead of me, but that's maybe once every two weeks. Hardly much compared to once or twice a day as in the past.

As for tea, when my roommate, his girlfriend at the time, and I when to Hong Kong to visit a close friend from Georgetown and see the sights (and suffer hot weather and humidity that did not dissipate in the evening, mind you, making Hong Kong a place that I would probably not want to live in long term), we drank green tea with every meal. And my friend there introduced me to her tea habit, with a stunning variety of green and white teas. And some curious black tea blends, like a lychee black tea.

But like the coffee habit, I discovered I didn't care for the sleep disruption by drinking all the caffeine. Maybe five years ago I would not have noticed, but even in 2009 when I went to Hong Kong I had weaned myself off caffeine enough that it was quite a jolt. And I preferred, at the time, to keep it as a potential jolt for fatigued days.

So why the change now?

For one thing, I've recently been enjoying taking my afternoon Sunday tea at Leopold's in Georgetown, but using the rooibos chai blend from Harney and Sons for my tea while also enjoying the gruyère cheese and caramelized onion tea sandwich. And for another, my colleague introduced me to his portable tea steeper. So, for the past week, I've been on a kick, brewing loose leaf rooibos chai tea and enjoying it.

Incidentally, when it comes to tea, while I prefer loose leaf, I am not as much of a snob as some literary characters I know, such as Frank Randall in the Outlander series:

Frank made a face; an Englishman to the bone, he would rather lap water out of the toilet than drink tea made with teabags. The Lipton's had been left by Mrs. Grossman, the weekly cleaning woman, who thought tea made from loose leaves messy and disgusting.

And two other points in favour of loose leaf, in my opinion, are that 1) I can steep it two to four times, depending on the leaf, and still have good flavour; and 2) I seem to have more variety, and exotic ones at that, including exotic blends, than with tea bags.

Recently though, I've reintroduced green and white tea back into my tea mix, but in small quantities. I've decided that I want to acclimate myself to small quantities of caffeine (useful for whenever I am at my friend Roger's house, where we cap off the night's Italian dinner with espresso), and I also want to experiment with blending different tea varieties. Also, there's a fitness professional that I admire because I'm no longer running on the elliptical for five hours a week, and dancing for an hour to two every other day, but feel healthier than then thanks to his advice. One of his penchants is to make bespoke tea blends, so I figure, why not try that myself and see if I come across any flavour profiles that I like and which are not in stores. (Celebrity and scarcity bias, eh?)

Thus far, I've only mixed the rooibos chai with a green tea, and with a green tea and King Peony tea leaves. I prefer the latter blend. I think I may next try blending King Peony tea leaves with cinnamon and cardamom. Ditto the green tea leaves. And with all the mint and basil growing in my garden, I think an herbal tisane and green tea blend is on the list too.

Anyway, it's a fun little thing for me to do while I am bogged down in studying for the CFA and pursuing other one year goals.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Summer Salad

One of my favorite blogs is 101 Cookbooks, where I take a break from reading about politics and economics, and instead delve into one of my favorite pastimes, cooking. This morning was no exception. I decided to browse the recent posts and came across Heidi's shaved fennel recipe.

Fennel is not an ingredient I use in my cooking, but the picture she posted was beautiful enough that I will be stopping by the grocery store on the way home to pick up fresh rockets and fennel. Actually, neither of those are regulars in my cooking, so I'm pleased at the chance to try what looks like a tasty recipe and changing that. No doubt I will not arrange the salad as beautifully as Heidi, but the flavor profile is what I enjoy the most. Presentation matters if trying to persuade others to sample, so I'll work on that only if I like it enough to include in my group dinner recipe repertoire.

Incidentally, I'll also be getting watercress and Roma tomatoes tonight - I will do a second attempt of the stir fried "foreign vegetable" and roasted tomato recipes.

Anyway, a good morning!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cafe Gitane Inspired Dinner and Stir Fried Foreign Vegetable

Last night I had a dinner with a few friends to try out two recipes inspired by my trip last weekend to NYC, where I ate out at Cafe Gitane for lunch one Saturday. The recipes I tried out were the following:

  • Whole wheat sourdough toast with guacamole (avocado, lemon, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt) - I think Gitane did this as deconstructed guacamole
  • Grilled eggplant with olive tapenade, pesto, and buffalo mozzarella on spring greens - Gitane did this with watercress and goat cheese, but everyone wanted the spring greens and I thought buffalo mozzarella would be cooler
  • Roasted tomatoes
  • Tasting array of Oleum Vitae olive oils (wasabi, raf tomato, ginger, pomegranite, and chive)
The first dish, the toast and guacamole, I classify under "guilty pleasure food I would eat when alone," which is why I was amused to see many people eating it at Gitane. The verdict on that from my guests was that it was passable. Personally, I enjoyed it, but it seems that it will remain a guilty pleasure food. Though maybe I'll enhance it with some of the chive olive oil and sauteed onions in the guacamole itself, and include roasted tomatoes as a side option if I serve it again.

As for the eggplant dish, everyone enjoyed that. Personally, I think I will need to tweak it before it is ready for a bigger party (note, I need to take a picture of it!). What I plan to do if serving it again is to make it more of a side dish. Last night I served it on a big bed of greens, which people could season with my spicy cilantro-chile spread or balsamic vinegar. In the future, I think I would cut the greens in half. As for the eggplant, the slices seemed too small, so I will try to do bigger slices so that I can stack them easier like Gitane does.

I enjoyed the roasted Roma tomatoes, as did the others. They thought having them to go with the avocado toast would be best. In my opinion, I think the possibility of having the roasted tomato with an avocado topping, while also sounding like a guilty pleasure dish, is also tantalizing enough that I must test it out. Another thought for the roasted tomatoes would be to top with a little buffalo mozzarella towards the end of the roasting, or shaved Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Since I have a bunch of Roma tomatoes still, I'll be testing that tonight and posting a picture of the result.

Finally, out of the Oleum Vitae oils, everyone liked the chive one the best. In general, I thought the idea of a tasting of infused Spanish olive oils was fantastic. Unfortunately, since I've only been able to locate these oils at Despaña NYC, I just have to keep spare space in my luggage whenever I travel to NYC (or find someone who can buy them for me when they visit NYC...). Also, I need to find a good tray of small serving dishes for when I serve these in the future.

By the way, speaking of that watercress, since no one ate it, I was left with it to use today. I recalled that in World Vegetarian, Madhur Jaffrey had a recipe called "Stir Fried 'Foreign Vegetable'" where the foreign vegetable was the watercress since it was foreign to the Chinese whose recipe this was.

Here's the recipe ingredients:

  • 2 bunches watercress (10 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
  • 2 slices of peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic closed, lightly crushed and peeled but left whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
After trying this out, here are my modifications (I always have modifications when it comes to a Madhur Jaffrey recipe - for some reason the original never quite works out as is):

  • 2 or 3 bunches of watercress
  • Enough olive oil to coat your wok
  • Ginger powder (I prefer sliced ginger, but didn't have any)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced (think this works better)
  • Salt to taste (1/2 a teaspoon is too much)
  • Oleum Vitae wasabi olive oil
The recipe states it is enough for two to three, but when I cooked my two bunches of watercress, it was enough for one, i.e. me. Ah well. I'll have to see if I truly bought 10 ounces of watercress or if Whole Foods' bunches are less 5 ounces per bunch. I prefer olive oil for cooking too, but if I can find coconut oil, I'll use that for the recipe next time. As for ginger powder, I was lazy, but if I have ginger next time, that's what I'll do. With the garlic, I prefer slicing over cooking with whole garlic.

How to make this:

  1. Break the watercress stalks into 3 inch pieces (optional)
  2. Heat the wok over high heat (obviously, you would oil it before doing that, wouldn't you?)
  3. When hot, put the garlic and ginger in, stirring until the garlic turns golden (maybe 1 minute)
  4. Put in the watercress and salt, stirring and cooking it until completely wilted or about 3 minutes
  5. Pour in a little of the wasabi or other flavored olive oil you like
  6. Enjoy.
Next time, I may cook it for a little more than 3 minutes. It was a bit chewy when I ate it for lunch (along with a delicious omelet crepe with smoked paprika, shiitake mushrooms, and red onions). I enjoyed the flavor profile of the watercress with garlic and wasabi olive oil though, so I'll likely be cooking it again later this week or next weekend. Next time I make it, I'll certainly take a picture.

Spun Off


Since you're here, I thought I'd describe a little bit of what I'm doing with this blog. My other blog, Boring but Smart, was intended to be a catchall blog for my interests. However, it quickly became dominated by my thoughts on economics, history, psychological bias, and the idiocy of certain NYT columnists and their idées fixes. Hence, rather than crowd out my other pursuits I wanted to blog about, I've spun those off to this blog.

As a result, I'll probably be writing once a week about a variety of topics that interest me: food and wine; travel; clothing; skiing; tennis; fitness; and whatnot (maybe sailing, if I end up taking it up this year). Will anyone be interested? Who knows? Then again, with my other blog, I had no idea about that too, but I figure there is that possibility. After all, at my other blog, my most popular post was on St Paul de Vence, where I had pictures from my vacation there. Though that could be because those images came up in Google Images (France edition).

Whatever the result and whoever's reading, here I am blogging about my pursuit of happiness, or as I phrased it in my other blog, "savor whatever you're drinking at the moment, because so we commence on whatever I encounter in my odd pursuit of joie de vivre." Allons! 

NB: The background picture is a sailboat on Ullswater in the Lake District, Cumbria, England. I was there for vacation mid-November 2010. Though overcast and cold, I thought it a beautiful day.